If you'd have told me a week ago that I'd be hailing a new Elton John record as anything more than a contractual obligation or mere muscular reflex of a man who has made 32 previous studio albums over a career now spanning 46 years, I would have, at the very least, scoffed in your general direction.
While this writer has adored Elton's music for most of those 46 years, to say that his recent output has lacked a certain amount of fire would be an accurate way of stating a truth that can't help but occur once an artist becomes accustomed to a life of gluttonous opulence and unceasing adoration.
So it was with some trepidation that I greeted the prospect of listening to the new Elton John album.
Admittedly, my spirits were raised upon noting that the album had been produced by T-Bone Burnett, whose name is not always a sign of supreme quality, but his batting average is high enough to grant him the benefit of the doubt.
Whether the resulting album is, indeed, noteworthy or not tends to rest upon whether said artist hired Burnett for the cache that his name automatically brings with it, or because they realize that their music has long lacked anything remotely resembling a beating human heart and wish to get back in touch with that fire that first ignited their musical journey.
The album opens with the jaunty, piano-driven title cut, setting a jovial, celebratory mood before settling into a mid-tempo groove with "In The Name of You" and "Claw Hammer", both of which pack the sort of choruses that would surely have been all over Top 40 radio back in the day and joined the likes of "Island Girl" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in John's growing canon of smash hits.
As it stands, masterful tracks like "Blue Wonderful" and "A Good Heart" deliver beautiful sentiments deserving of a wider audience than the current state of the industry can deliver.
T-Bone's presence is distinctly felt on the barroom rocker "Guilty Pleasure", with its ambient claps and tremolo guitars, and on the pulsing album-closer "England And America", which seems tailor-made for the stage.
The genius of this album isn't in reinventing the wheel, but, rather, in finding new joy in familiar elements and Elton's fiery refusal to not grow old quietly.