At 74, Elton John has clearly had his legacy at the forefront of his mind in recent years. In 2019 there was the hit movie biopic Rocketman, followed swiftly by his riotous autobiography, Me. Last autumn he released Jewel Box, a box set containing a mighty 148 songs, and meanwhile a shorter hits collection, Diamonds, was released in 2017 but has sat in the UK top 20 throughout this year.
Then there’s the mammoth “farewell” tour, now scheduled to run until May 2023. That’s more than enough Elton for anyone, you might think, but The Lockdown Sessions are something different entirely. These 16 collaborations, some recorded remotely on Zoom, show the same Elton John who has now hosted over 300 episodes of the Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music: a pure fan, zipping around today’s scene in a restless search for the new.
That means there are plenty of fresher acts here, including rapper Young Thug, leftfield pop star Rina Sawayama, dance producer SG Lewis and British pop’s current queen, Dua Lipa, while at the same time he can gently remind you of his legendary status by throwing two Stevies, Nicks and Wonder, into the mix. The Dua Lipa duet, which has just hit number one on the singles chart, is a particularly slick updating of classic Elton, lifting bits of a few old songs – most notably Sacrifice and Rocket Man – and grafting them into one smooth dance number.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t sound like he’s welcoming all these singers and rappers into his throne room. Rather he’s visiting them. The Gorillaz collaboration, The Pink Phantom, and the Lil Nas X duet, One of Me, sound a lot more like them than they do him. They’re examples of a few songs here that have already appeared on other albums.
He has likened this process to his early days as a session musician. It means this collection doesn’t hang together particularly well as an Elton John album, but it’s easy for individual favourites to emerge. When he’s with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on E-Ticket, he’s a raucous rock and roller. With Brandi Carlile on Simple Things, he’s a weary country singer. But he really catches fire when Olly Alexander of Years & Years smears himself across his piano to sing It’s a Sin – as seen at this year’s Brit Awards.
So while most of us were holing up with family, he spent his lockdown widening his already expansive circle of friends. It was well worth the effort.