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Le recensioni di Andy Geisel

Andy Geisel da Los Angeles ha scritto queste interessanti recensioni originariamente per 22nd Row che le ha messe on line nel corso del 2003, ma ci ha concesso di raccoglierle e pubblicarle integralmente qui.

Victim Of Love
21 At 33
The Fox
Jump Up!
Breaking Hearts
Empty Sky
Elton John
Are You Ready For Love


11 luglio 2003
 New Elton remasters - "VICTIM OF LOVE"

As many of you already know, UME/Rocket recently released five more Elton John titles in remastered form. These discs covered the gap left between "A Single Man" and "Ice On Fire" (with the exception of "Too Low For Zero"). Originally, SIX albums were to be released, but for some reason yet to be revealed, "Leather Jackets" was left off and remains the only full album in the Elton John catalogue not remastered to date.
Being a frequent contributer to the Row, I thought it would be fun (not to mention challenging) to go in chronological order and lead off with no less than "Victim of Love"! The butt of many jokes, especially among Elton fans, it has the dubious distinction of being widely considered the worst Elton John record ever. Taking that into consideration, and that Universal/Rocket decided it was worth remastering and re-releasing, I plan to look at the record objectively and check the "VOL" jokebook at the door, as it were.

That having been said, here we go!
First off, of late you have to admit there's a certain attraction to seeing the words "Elton John" and "remastered" on a new CD. It portends that even though you may have heard the material before, it's probably better now than you remember it and has some neat little goodies tucked away inside the packaging. No less is true of "Victim of Love".
Originally released in October, 1979, John Tobler accurately points out in his liner notes (that do have one or two errors which should have been caught) that "Victim of Love" is arguably Elton's least accessible record. It also didn't see the commercial success of any of his albums released before or since. Tobler speculates a bit in his notes about "Victim..." being brought about possibly by Elton reacting badly to the clash between his release of "Blue Moves" and it's slight decline in sales compared to what he was used to and the arrival of the Punk Rock movement. I personally think it was due to Elton's semi-retirement of the time and his wanting to stay relevant in a music business that was seeing stars like Donna Summer, the Bee Gees and the Village People all over the singles charts that had ruled for so many years. Elton was no stranger to the "Disco" scene, hanging out frequently at clubs such
as Studio 54 during their late seventies and early eighties heydays.
His friendship with Pete Bellotte, who co-produced no less than Donna Summer and her string of smash hits and would also be the brains behind "Victim of Love", goes back to the 60's and when Bellotte approached Elton with the concept of doing a disco"-oriented project, I'm sure Elton thought it might be at least a good experiment.
According to Tobler, the only restrictions EJ put on the project were that he wouldn't write or play on any of the songs. Bellotte apparently conceded, co-writing with his various composing partners six of the seven tracks, the only exception being the cover version of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode". While piano can be heard fairly prominently on several of the tracks, it clearly isn't Elton's playing style and if he did put down any piano, he isn't credited on the musician's list.
On the other hand, many famous musicians ARE credited on the record, quite a few of whom played with Elton John on other occasions. Notable names include Keith Forsey on drums, who would go on to produce hits for Billy Idol only a few years later... veteran percussionist Paulino Da Costa... backing vocals from Stephanie Spruill, Maxine and Julia Waters who would appear on various other Elton sessions... Michael McDonald and Patrick Simmons from the Doobie Brothers, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather lays down lead tracks on two tracks... and sax ace Lenny Pickett, whose work on "Caribou" should be well remembered by Elton afficianados.
The seven original tracks on the disc feature the standard "thump-thump" disco kick drum featured highly placed in all the mixes. (Note: No bonus tracks are included and if any were recorded, no mention of them is made in the liner notes) All the songs are chained together by slight tempo changes in the kick drum, except "Born Bad", which originally faded and closed out Side 1. This is more or less "grafted" onto the into to "Thunder in the Night" and the edit works fairly well all things considered.
Now, let me state for the record that I wasn't a huge fan of the album when I first picked it up and gave it a spin. However, in a conversation with Tom Travers who picked up his copies about the same time mine were on the way, he indicated the sound alone on the remastered record really deserved some attention.
He was quite correct!
The sound, digitally remastered from the original masters by Gary Moore at Universal Mastering in London, has turned "Victim of Love" from a "toss off" to a "toe-tapper"! The tracks really pop and with Moore's giving more stereo spread and clarity to the overall mixes, what we would dismiss as a humdrum disco era "mistake" actually defies you to NOT get up and dance!
Maybe it's the sound quality, but for some reason the remastered record plays now as being more "fun" than "frivoulous". Frankly, it's pretty good party music! For my money, if you're looking for a disc to bop along with in traffic, put this one in the player and see if you don't find yourself actually enjoying the ride!
Taking into account that "Victim of Love", much like "The Thom Bell Sessions", isn't a true Elton project, time and Gary Moore's touchups have actually caused me to rethink its reputation in relation to the rest of the EJ catalogue. It's a disco album and Pete Bellotte and his writers don't write anything close to a John/Taupin tune (or Barry Gibb for that matter), but as a disco album, the record does have some catchy tunes. Only "Warm Love In A Cold World" strikes me as being something of a clinker, with the weakest set of lyrics on the disc. Highlights include "Born Bad", "Street Boogie" and "Victim of Love", all with very inventive musical hooks that stick with you and make the tracks ultimately listenable and certainly danceable, if one were so inclined! The spirited cover of "Johnny B. Goode" opens the album with a lot more kick than I remembered and features a blistering sax solo by Lenny Pickett.
The entire record is played, with few synthesizers and almost no sequencing, by some talented musicians who lay down some really funky grooves to some just-right arrangements and overdubs, overseen by Bellotte, featuring his trademark producing technique he refined on many disco era hits of the day.
Where does Elton fit into this whole picture? Well, one standout on all the songs is the familiar and solid vocal work by our man Elton, who puts down his best British/soul-singer amalgam to perfectly sell the lyrics across the whole album. Elton seems to have enjoyed playing with his vocals on this disc and sounds like he's having fun with the songs, varying his approach to fit each number in ways we typically don't find on his own works.
Made to be a sort-of "song cycle", what does appear lacking is a smash hit single, but that could be because we just don't emember there being one from the album. Elton and disco were never really synonymous and in its day "Victim of Love" probably served to confuse his audience more than grab them.

The lyrics and original album artwork are faithfully reproduced here and all one can thin that might be missing is the blue/pink on the CD's silk screen label, but this is found on the pages of the booklet, so technically it's there. There's even pictures of the cover for the sheet music book and the sleeves for the singles "Johnny B. Goode" and "Victim of Love"!
Tobler concludes his notes by stating that Elton occasionally proves he's human and is capable of miscalculation. Is "Victim of Love" a miscalculation? At the time, one could certainly agree that it probably was. Twenty or so years later, however, "Victim of Love" serves as a historical marker for a period in time that saw Elton experimenting with his career a bit while finding the path he would eventually take that would lead him to his status as a legend. Not taken too seriously, it also serves as a record that's also a lot fun and right at home at parties! Try saying that about "Elton John". Just kidding! I'm not trying to compare one to the other but in all seriousness, I would suggest that if you're a true-blue EJ fan you pick up "Victim of Love", free your mind and let the CD do the talking. You might be surprised at what you hear, but more importantly what it has to say.

"I'd like to say I'm sorry but I can't..." Bellotte/Bastow '79


16 luglio 2003
 Remaster Review: "21 at 33"

Okay, fellow Row readers... here's the next review of the recent Elton remasters. Keeping with the chronological order previously established with "Victim of Love", we now turn our attention to Elton's next release, "21 at 33".
Elton's first fully-fledged album after "A Single Man" in 1978, "21 at 33" was issued in May of 1980 and, though not necessarily a "landmark" album in terms of overall Elton chronology, it WAS a milestone release in several ways. If you count all the compilation discs and "The Thom Bell Sessions" up to that point, Elton (who had recently turned 33 at the time) was indeed up to his 21st LP! It was also his last release on MCA until the latter part of the decade, with his next six records appearing on Geffen Records in the US. One other notable point about this album, as CD reissue veteran sleeve writer John Tobler points out in his liner notes, is that Bernie Taupin's words once again appear on an Elton studio album, Taupin's first contribution since "Blue Moves". Bernie did, however, write the lyrics to Elton's much underappreciated "Ego" single in 1978... and though they wrote and recorded several songs that would end up as b-sides during this time, Bernie's songs were absent upon the final assembly of "A Single Man".
The songs that would eventually make up what was to become "21 at 33" were all written, along with material that would end up on "The Fox" and flipsides of singles during the previous August, with recording beginning in earnest in February of 1980. For this album, as with the session for "A Single Man", Elton and Clive Franks handled the production chores and while the record isn't as focused as "A Single Man", it's also nowhere near as DARK!
"21 at 33" is a "happier" album, at least happier sounding than Elton had been in a while. Technologically, it was state of the art for the day and actually didn't sound too bad to begin with. and the remaster, while not dramatically improving the overall dynamics, has engineer Gary Moore getting a more defined and cleaner sound. There are no bonus tracks, which is unfortunate since several were recorded during this period... at least a couple that would have at least made fun bits of fluff to tack onto the end of the album program!
But, what we do have is a fine Elton album that's quite enjoyable, even if it's not "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or "Too Low For Zero".
Recorded with a diverse group of musicians ranging from Dee Murray and Nigel Olsson to guest vocals from Peter Noone and The Eagles, there are some stellar names on the credit list. Session vets Alvin Taylor and Reggie McBride on drums and bass, James Newton Howard, members of Toto including David Paitch & Steve Lukather, Richie Cannata on sax from Billy Joel's band. Then there's Jim Horn, Jerry Hey, Bill Reichenbach and Chuck Findley who backed A&M jazz superstar Chuck Mangione on several recordings, Victor Feldman and Lenny Castro on percussion, David Foster's signature string arrangements which were very in demand at the time, and "Blue Moves" fans will recognize the familiar backing vocals of Bruce Johnston and Toni Tennille along with John Joyce, Joe Chemay and Curt Becher. Pretty good company all around!
Elton signals Bernie's return by leading off the album with "Chasing The Crown", easily the most aggressive track on the collection. Bernie wrote 3 of the record's tracks, including the superlative, snappy and aptly named biographical "Two Rooms At The End Of The World", with the remastering really paying off during the big horn section finish that was in 1980 the closer for Side 1.
Other writers of course were the order of the day for the next couple of records and Gary Osborne is naturally part of the fold. He contribues one of his very best lyrics ever in the warmly romantic "Little Jeannie", the album's #3 charting single that became Elton's first major hit since "Don't Go Breaking My Heart". Elton's knack for a catchy verse/chorus/hook combination is in full-effect on this song, and his vocal is instantly ear-catching in classic Elton tradition, making for perhaps the album's best all-around moments.
Singer/songwriter Tom Robinson makes his Elton album debut with "Sartorial Eloquence", a very touching ballad and a highlight of the disc and also contributes "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again", a sweet if somewhat cheeky ballad that has one or two humorous self-parodying lyrics... see if you can pick them out! And Elton's generosity is not lost on Rocket Records prodigy Judie Tzuke co-authored the album's closer, "Give Me The Love", which is a nice song that regrettably suffers from too much "David Foster" in the overall production and a strange vocal rendering from Elton, that is fine, but ultimately could have and probably SHOULD have been better.
Cynical moments are few on the album, with "Dear God" being the standout, and even it is a far cry from the very pessimistic "If There's A God In Heaven (What's He Waiting For?)". Even the jovial "Take Me Back", with it's decidedly country arrangement complete with Byron Berline's fiddle solo plays like it's a sad song, but actually does so with the song's lyrical tongue planted firmly in cheek, not unlike the b-side "Can't Get Over Getting Over Losing You".
There wasn't much actually to the original album artwork beyond lyrics, credits and disembodied hands with cards and poker chips, but the remaster's booklet has improved on all that by incorporating pictures of Elton, another Elton signature sample (there's also one on "Victim Of Love"), playing card backgrounds behind the lyrics and credits, and photos of some memorabilia which once again includes the sleeves to the 7" singles released at the time.
"21 at 33" was if nothing else an album Elton had to do, not only for contractual reasons, but to get himself back into the studio and prove he could get back on the musical horse. That he charted a hit single proved his relevance in the record/radio marketplace and gave him the confidence he may have needed to once again head out on the road and even play Central Park. The September, 1980 concert that would be a monumental event in Elton's career and a determining factor of whether or not his future days as a world pop music leader were numbered. Not only did he hit a home run, he batted the ball out of the "park" and proved that not only was he a leader, he was relevant, entertaining and, when a half-million fans cheered him on while he rocked out as Donald Duck, he was still every bit at the top of his showstopping form.
With "21 at 33", the Bitch was sending out notice that he was Back... and this was just the beginning.

"For where there is one room, you'll always find another..." EJ/BT '80

22 luglio 2003
Subject: Remaster Review: "The Fox"

Okay, fellow Row residents, we've now reached the midway point in our examination of the latest Elton John remasterings... and this is one I've looked forward to for a while!
So, without further delay...
Hard to believe, but "The Fox" was originally released 22 years ago in May of 1981 as Elton's first album under his new contract with Geffen Records. David Geffen's new label not only boasted Elton, but also had released John Lennon's smash hit album "Double Fantasy" in late 1980, and would go on to have hits over the coming years with artists such as Berlin, Wang Chung and Don Henley. Geffen had sought after Elton in the early seventies when the record mogul was an executive with Elektra/Asylum (the label the Eagles recorded on). He's famous for saying in 1973, "We're going to sign Elton John and then we're going to take over the world!" If Geffen had managed to do so, who knows where Elton would have taken Elektra or where he himself would have ended up. In the end, however, MCA made him the offer that won the bidding war and the rest, as they say, is history.
Recorded in two parts, the record was produced LARGELY by Chris Thomas. As many fans are aware, Thomas knew Elton from their days at the Royal Academy of Music, years before Elton was a spectacled superstar and Chris was working with no less than Pink Floyd (one of his many career highlights is that he supervised the mixing of "The Dark Side Of The Moon"). "The Fox" would mark the beginning of a long and reasonable prosperous association between John and Thomas, who would go on to produce several Elton John albums through the eighties and nineties.
Three of the tracks, "Heart In The Right Place", "Carla Etude/Fanfare/Chloe" and "Elton's Song" were produced by Elton John and Clive Franks and were leftover material recorded for but not included on "21 at 33". Chris Thomas may have overseen some of the finishing for these songs, but based on an interview bite from Thomas in the liner notes one gets the impression that he was brought in after they were completed.
Rocket/UMG have done a fine job of cleaning up these recordings and generating nice sleeve art, but once again the disc comes without bonus tracks. In the case of "The Fox", the French version of "Nobody Wins" and it's b-side, the smartly urban shuffle "Fool's In Fashion", would both have made for nice souvenirs. However, that doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the album as it was originally released and again bearing that in mind we'll once again look at the merits of record on its' own terms and not muse any further about what was left off or could have been added.
For starters, this is one of the record that I always felt could have used a bit of cleanup and Gary Moore has once again done great work on the remastering. What really stands out here is the dynamics and considerable reduction in overall tape noise. "The Fox", like all other Elton John records prior to it, were all recorded on analouge tape and while the original master wasn't full of hiss, it was still a bit on the noisy side, especially during the album's quieter passages. Moore has given the record considerable more kick than it originally had, but reduced the tape noise during the softer moments and made them more listenable at a wider range of playback levels and affording the instruments and vocals much more clarity.
As to the lineup of musicians, "The Fox" (the second of three consecutive Elton John albums NOT including Davey Johnstone) features a more concise lineup than did "21 at 33", but there are some great names on the credits. Back again are guitarist Ritchie Zito, Alvin Taylor and Reggie McBride on drums and bass for the three leftover tracks. Some of the more mainstay positions were covered by James Newton-Howard on keyboards and orchestral arrangements, Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. They, along with Ritchie Zito and Tim Renwick (from "A Single Man") were the touring band that Elton played with during up until 1982, so this isn't entirely surprising.
A few guest artists include electronic drum genius Roger Linn, session ace percussionist Victor Feldman, a second engagement by Rev. James Cleveland and the Cornerstone Baptist Church Choir (they also sang on "Blue Moves" in 1976) and harmonica great Mickey Raphael (best known for working with Willie Nelson).
As John Tobler points out, "The Fox" is a strong album, despite the ongoing use of several lyricists. Bernie Taupin contributed four tunes: "Just Like Belgium", "Fascist Faces", "Heels of the Wind" and "The Fox", which are hands down the best tracks on the album. Proof that Elton musically responds to Taupin like a duck to water is no more in evidence than on "Just Like Belgium" featuring a spirited and perfectly played Alto sax solo by session veteran Jim Horn captures the exuberance of young men on the romp in Europe as only Taupin can. This is in direct contrast to "Fascist Faces", one of Taupin's few pieces of overt political commentary, which features a ripping guitar solo by Ritchie Zito. "Heels Of The Wind" kicks along just fine with Elton delivering and driving major-key pop melod y and strong vocal delivery to lyrics thatspeak of a relationship that's just not working out. Finally, there's "The Fox", which has always been for me one of very Elton's best album moments, and a great John-Taupin song that should have been heard by a wider audience. Featuring an engaging lyric, Taupin writes for Elton as if he were inside his partner's own head, with words that are as cunning and wiley as 'the fox' itself (or perhaps "himself") and Elton supplying music and vocals that match perfectly, with the tone perfectly topped off by Mickey Raphael's wonderfully grass-roots harmonica perfomance.
Gary Osborne, however, manages to hold his own with "Breaking Down Barriers" opening the album on an aggressive note and letting the listener know that Elton's ready to go and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. "Heart In The Right Place" rocks along with a deliciously tongue-in-cheek lyric skewering the twisted relationship between the press and a celebrity. "Chloe", while not as engaging as "Little Jeannie" but still very good, on its own would be just another Elton ballad, but somehow coming at the end of the gorgeous "Carla Etude" and the spritely "Fanfare", it finds its rightful place and after all these years one can't fathom the sequence with out it anymore than "Funeral For A Friend" without "Love Lies Bleeding". However, "Chloe" was good enough to chart an additional Top 40 hit for Elton.
Osborne and Jean-Paul Dreau co-wrote the English version of "J'Veaux de la Tendresse" which turned out to be the Euro-disco based "Nobody Wins", the other Top 40 single from the album. And Tom Robinson contributed lyrics to one of Elton's best ballads on record, the hauntingly beautiful "Elton's Song".
Elton's piano is featured prominently and his playing, while short on solos, had many stylish runs and flourishes. Elton also provides the introductions on almost all the numbers. Elton especially shines on "Carla", where his classical training comes back into the spotlight backed by the London Symphony Orchestra again to the nearly the same level of brilliance he had with "Tonight" in 1976.
The CD's booklet is near perfect on this collection, with my only comment being that I would like to have seen the lyrics and credits recreate the italic type style of the original sleeve and the recording credits page's type size is very tiny and just barely legible. Otherwise, while there is no Elton signature this time, there are the usual single sleeve cover reproductions, photo outtakes and a thankfully unused cover art design.
With an interesting mix of rock and roll, pop tunes, pretty ballads and classical moments, "The Fox" is an elegant album and typical of Elton's mixing styles across the entire lineup. Yet, all the songs fit the overall "sound" of the record and considering that Chris Thomas was brought in originally to "salvage" the record, he feels (as do I and many others) that the record turned out just fine to both producer and artist. This many years later, very little of the album's material comes across as dated and much of it still stands up very well for itself... to quote Taupin, "a fascinating cross of sharp as whip and tough as an ox." Yes, that is "The Fox".

"Being wiry and thinking loudly 'bout the things sent to make you move... "  EJ/BT '81


31 luglio 2003
: Remaster review: "Jump Up!"

Once again, fellow Rower's we meet around the 22nd Row campfire and exchange stories! This edition, we'll examine (objectively, as always) a fan-favorite: "JUMP UP!"  Elton John released much product during the 1980's and at least a few of his album releases from this period can be considered classics. First off, there's the unqualified smash hit "Live in Australia", the masterful concept album "Sleeping With The Past", and of course the evergreen pop perfection of "Reg Strikes Back". All of these have been remastered and reissued. However, at least one more record Elton put out in the early part of the decade can easily be added to that list.
Released in April 1982, "Jump Up!" was Elton's second album for Geffen, his new label in the United States. It was also his first really focused record of the new decade.
Recorded almost entirely at Air Montserrat, it was his first produced entirely by Chris Thomas. Like Elton's most recent records around this time, several lyricists are represented on the album. Bernie Taupin and Gary Osborne both contributed lyrics, and a newcomer to the fold made his first appearance in the form of Broadway veteran Tim Rice, whose collaboration with Elton on the intricate and interesting "Legal Boys" would culminate (as John Tobler points out in his liner notes) with an Oscar for "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" some twelve or so years later.
However, that's where the similarities end. Gone are the album sleeves that find Elton in hiding or not to be seen at all, as well as the sedate designs. Elton is front and center on the cover and back cover and the artwork is playful and gregarious to say the least! Gone too is the wide assortment of musicians. For "Jump Up!", Elton and Chris Thomas chose to use a studio band, but the same musicians appear on all the tracks. Though there are guest appearances, very few supporting players contributed to the album.
The core band, again minus Davey Johnstone who would be absent from an Elton album just one last time, was made up of very strong players who had all previously served as studio sidemen for Elton. Laying down his very distintive bass was Dee Murray. On fire behind the drums was Jeff Porcaro who was on loan from Toto, one of Elton's favorite bands of the day. Ritchie Zito again handled most of the guitars, turning in some of his best work on this album, and keyboard ace James Newton Howard supplied a myriad of additional keyboard parts and leads as well as string arrangements. Guests included Steve Holly on tambourine, who had played on "A Single Man" and was also a member of Wings, and making his SECOND appearance with Elton was Pete Townsend kicking in acoustic guitar on "Ball and Chain". Pete had previously played additional guitars on "Pinball Wizard" in 1974, though he would not claim credit for it on the "Tommy" soundtrack album. He and Elton had been and still remain very good friends. And The Martyn Ford Orchestra (credited humorously as "Mountain Fjord") make another invaluable contribution to an Elton John album. Backing vocals were all done either by Elton himself or along with Dee and Gary Osborne.
As Rolling Stone commented in their original review, the album showed Elton as a "rare master of pop form" and noted that he was "feeling frisky". One listen will tell you that this was exactly what Elton intended the album to convey.
From the rapid-fire open of "Dear John" to the majestic closing of "All Quiet On The Western Front", Elton was indeed feeling frisky, as evidenced by a strong lineup of songs executed with equally strong performances by Elton and the band, and captured in one of the richest and most exciting mixes ever to come out of a Chris Thomas album.
All the numbers are well crafted, even "I Am Your Robot", which in my opinion is the weakest track on the album and yet a driving danceable track slathered in guitars and synthesizers coupled with Elton's cheeky delivery of cheeky "space age" lyric references, it's so cheeky it's good!
As with nearly all Elton albums, there are some excellent singles, one of which is the John/Taupin classic "Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnnie)", a beautifully written and played tribute to John Lennon that not only stands as the best of those written about him but to this day still brings a tear to your eye, it's that good. (Rumor has it that Elton himself was so moved upon hearing the playback that he cried.) The other single that is a more likely candidate for the Top 40 is "Blue Eyes", a simple, lovely Gary Osborne's lyric that features a breezy arrangement and a silky-smooth, lower-register delivery from Elton. (When I first heard it in 1982, it took me a few listens on radio to figure out that it was him before I acquired the album!)

Once again, there are no bonus tracks, but the original album lineup flat-out CRANKS! Remastering guru Gary Moore needed to make this mix really jump out of the speakers at you and boy does it ever! The crack of Jeff Porcaro's snare will put bullet holes in your walls. Dee Murray's bass lines thunder off the disc, Elton's flashy piano is crisp and clear and go hand in hand with the guitars, keyboards and strings. The emphasis on enhancing the already big dynamic range can be heard across the board, even on "Blue Eyes", and are especially prevalent on "All Quiet On The Western Front", whose soft intro gives way to a crescendo at the end.
"Jump Up!" finds Elton in GREAT form, covering a wide range of the vocal spectrum between leads and backing vocals, and his piano work is razor sharp and prominently placed in the mix across the whole album. He also generates some great solos and all of this is accented by the remastering. Instruments and effects are afforded so much more clarity than the original versions and one can actually hear subtle things in the mixes that previously went unnoticed. Vocals, especially the backing tracks, come through clean and present and the mix interestingly enough sounds like it could have been done only a few years ago instead of the twenty that have passed since the album came out.
Audio highlights include "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" with a pulsing soulful rhythm section and a Gene Page-esque Philly-soul style string arrangement that pays homage to the classic soul singers and groups. "Princess", the pretty pop tune with a beautiful electric piano solo and Elton falsettos that have aged like fine wine. But to be fair, all the songs on the record play well especially cleaned up so well.
Original album art is pretty faithfully reproduced here, with the exception of some of the sleeve photographs that for some reason are missing and there are two odd photographs that have been included, one from the 1984 "Breaking Hearts" tour programme and one from an early seventies TV or concert appearance that both are a little out of place since they are not from the original album artwork and are not from this period. No Elton signature this time, but back again are the single sleeves and a shot of the "Jump Up!" tour poster, this one being the legs that included Geffen label-mates Quarterflash as special guests.
The tour is another point of interest. Instead of taking his studio players with him on the road, Elton made a cunningly smart move and reformed the original Elton John Band, retaining only Dee Murray from the album sessions, bringing back Nigel Olsson and hooking up once again with Davey Johnstone, who with the exception of some solo piano tours, has been on the road with Elton ever since. Audiences were stunned to hear that Elton's original bandmates were playing together again and flocked to the shows in droves. The tour sold-out all over the world, setting records in many stops on the way. The shows themselves were nothing short of spectacular, with Elton wearing an all new assortment of costumes and playing with energy and enthusiasm not seen since the mid-seventies. Elton and the band even made an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" as the musical guest of a show hosted by no less than country music legend Johnny Cash!
"Jump Up!" and its singles ("Blue Eyes" and "Empty Garden") placed well in the charts both in American and Europe, with US record buyers responding in particular to the album, which improved a great deal over "The Fox", finishing just outside the top 10. Only "All Quiet On The Western Front" didn't fare so well in Europe.
Well-written and almost flawlessly executed, "Jump Up!" was an important album and proved to be a great experience for both Elton and fans as well. While perhaps not at the fever pitch of his mid-70's heyday, Elton mania was definitely returning and could be felt across the country and around the world for the first time since those days. The collaborations with Chris Thomas and Taupin were key in that these songs, the resulting performance of the album and the phenomenal success of the tour with the reunited band all helped set the stage for the full-scale reunion to come in 1983's "Too Low For Zero".

"I don't want to worry you none, but I've got the hurt on the run..."  EJ/BT '82


15 agosto 2003
 Remaster review: "Breaking Hearts"

Greetings, fellow Rowers... can't believe it's been four albums already, but this review brings us to the end of the remaster reviews... at least until more arrive. I'm sure we'll all be chiming in on the re-release (yet again) of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" during the fall, but for now this will have to do! So, without further delay, you've waited long enough for it and after apologizing for the delay I'll get right to "Breaking Hearts".
By the time he got around to recording "Breaking Hearts", Elton John had firmly re-established himself as a force in the music business and on the record charts. His singles were performing well overall, with several top-40 and top-10 hits in numerous record charts around the globe and particularly in the US and the UK.
His record sales were strong... beginning with "The Fox" and "Jump Up!" and accelerating further with the world-wide smash "Too Low For Zero", gold and platinum awards were once again becoming commonplace for Elton's albums.
Elton and the band's concerts were selling out around the world and he had successfully made the transition from radio star to video star with a couple of strong music videos, not the least of which was the lavish, colorful and campy tour de force "I'm Still Standing".
Taking a short break from touring, Elton and company owed Geffen a followup to the best-selling "Too Low For Zero" and decided that since the formula of John-Taupin compostions + Dee/Davey/Nigel + Chris Thomas = hit records worked so well on the last album, they would use it once again.
Recorded principally at Air Monserrat and released in the summer of 1984, "Breaking Hearts" was the kick-start to a very busy time for Elton John. Coming off a fairly extensive world-wide trek for "Jump Up!" and "Too Low For Zero", the band was taking a rest before what looked to be one of their biggest tours to that point.
But before the concerts would come the recording. Based on the speed and precision that "Breaking Hearts" was assembled, it seems the album came together easily. Elton and Bernie were generating songs as they once did back in the seventies, the remote island studio gave everyone a chance to unwind while they recorded and the renewed energy was captured in what would prove to be some very spirited recordings.
"Breaking Hearts" took the consolidation of personnel that had begun on "Jump Up!" and continued on "Too Low For Zero" even further, with all tracks written by Elton and Bernie except "Passengers", which in addition to Elton and Bernie also had contributions by Davey Johnstone and Phineas McHize, of whom little is know... perhaps a nom de plume as suggested by John Tobler in his liner notes, or perhaps a writer who composed a part of the song on which the final track was based.
Also, only Elton and the band appear on all tracks, except for one lone guest appearance by Australian session sax player Andrew Thompson, who blew a scorching alto lead on "Lil Refrigerator". The only other major change was in the engineers. Bill Price stayed home on this one and Chris Thomas instead chose to work with Renate Blauel, a German-born engineer, who assisted on "Two Low For Zero". As history will note, Elton began a relationship with Renate during the sessions for "Too Low..." and the two were married on Valentine's Day of the following year.
"Breaking Hearts" is an interesting album, and though not necessarily a fan favorite, it's still a very good album and historically important to the Elton John timeline. For one thing, it performed well with the album scoring a very respectable Top 20 finish in the US and stunning #2 position in the UK, not to mention the FIVE singles that came from the record.
It also marks Elton's formal "debut" on keyboards other than piano, harmonium, mellotron and harpsichord - that being the new staple of pop music bands during the 80's known as "the synthesizer". Indeed, electronic keyboards and the advent of MIDI technology really took off during the mid-eighties, with Kurzweil, Synclavier, Roland and Yamaha all competing for customers in various price ranges. Perhaps the best known keyboard of this time has to be the Yamaha DX-7, which was (and still is) widely used by any number of touring bands.
The synthesizer had appeared on Elton records before, with early versions of the Arp synth appearing on the "Elton John" album as early as 1970, but Elton himself hadn't really played them all that much, if at all, over the years, preferring to assign those chores to other players, such as Ken Scott, Dave Hentschel or James Newton  Howard. "Breaking Hearts" finds less of Elton on piano on most of the tracks, though his keyboard parts are all over the album in one form or another. Yamaha is credited as supplying the synthesizers for "Breaking Hearts".
For this remaster, once again the pattern is generally the same, though I must say that the packaging for "Breaking Hearts" is possibly the most consistent of the five discs, with original artwork reproduced faithfully, including additional photographs all from the "Breaking Hearts" period. While there is no Elton signature, single sleeve artwork is once again included as are complete lyrics and credits, and shots of Bernie and the band members, who were left off the US issue of the original CD release.
Gary Moore's mastering is impressive again here. The original masters of "Breaking Hearts", at least the ones used for the first CD transfers, were very noisy and lacked not only dynamic range but clarity. While this version doesn't improve the dynamics dramatically, this is more than acceptable in light of how much noise has been removed and clarity had been improved. I would have been happy with a less noisy master, but it's amazing the things you can now hear and better appreciate with Moore's sonic refinements.
Musically, "Breaking Hearts" could very well be the album that "Caribou" aspires to. We all think of "Caribou" fondly through the perspective of time and distance, but when one places it in context between "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "Captain Fantastic", it's actually a musical mess. Gus Dudgeon's post-production work salvaged the record and pulled together the tracks in a sequence that works, but it's a terribly unfocused piece of work when you consider it in detail. "Breaking Hearts", while not a masterpiece by any stretch, had the disadvantage of coming after "Too Low For Zero", but made the most of its limitations and couple with Chris Thomas' production actually is a fairly focused and cohesive collection of tunes.
There are the obvious rockers, "Restless" and "Lil Refrigerator" which while not on the par of say "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" are improvements on even something like "Whipping Boy".
There are also the the obvious singles in "Who Wears These Shoes" and "Sad Songs Say So Much", both of whom are catchy, danceable and in the case of "Sad Songs..." instantly memorable. One of my favorites on the disc is "Did He Shoot Her?", a psedo dance track that features a growling Davey guitar solo and intermixed with his sitar layered against Elton's keyboards.
There are of course the obvious ballads in "In Neon" and "Breaking Hearts". Bernie made his directorial debut on the video for "In Neon" and it's certainly my hope he does more directing, as this piece of film was quite good and tells the song's story in pictures very well. That point notwithstanding, these two tracks are every bit as good as any John-Taupin ballad and illustrate why Elton and Bernie are among the very best at the genre. These two tracks also let Elton step out from behind the sythesizer and lay down some real piano, which reminds us quickly that he's not left behind his true instrument and certainly that he's not forgotten how to play it!
There are the "filler" tracks, like "Burning Bridges" and "Slow Down Georgie", which are really deserving of a better title as they stand up very well for themselves and help chain the rest of the songs together... far above the level of most filler on most albums by lesser artists.
And few Elton albums would be complete without one or two excursions off the beaten path in a track such as "Passengers", an ecclectic little number about apartheid and segregation in Africa and Australia that percolates along nicely to Nigel's drums and Davey's myriad of acoustic guitars and Elton's melodic and recurring keyboard riff.
Special mention should be made of Dee and Nigel, who can both be heard prominently across the entire record and prove again how brilliant they played together. Regrettably, in another sadder milestone, "Breaking Hearts" marks the last time on record that they would supply rhythm section along side Elton and Davey. Thankfully, the "choir of three" reunited once again to supply vocals on "Reg Strikes Back", but personally I know we all wished there had been more albums with Dee on bass and Nigel on drums. Nigel has recently returned to work with Elton, but sadly Dee lost his battle with cancer in 1991 and a full-scale reunion is out of the question.
After "Breaking Hearts", Elton's personal life was in turmoil and his recording and tourning tended to mirror that in many ways. Elton once again changed the band and would go through a few different lineups. In many ways, "Breaking Hearts" marks the end of an era. It isn't a stellar work, but it is a solid album and if you're looking for a single body of work that truly bottles the essence of what Elton and Bernie are capable of in a pure pop setting, you need look no further than this collection of fine songs performed by one of the best all around bands rock music ever produced.

"It's not the night reaching in a touching me..." EJ/BT '84

25 settembre 2003
Remaster Review: "Empty Sky


"Lady Samantha" b/w "All Across The Havens"
"It's Me That You Need" b/w "Just Like Strange Rain"

(This is the first of an ongoing series that will cover the Elton John catalogue of remasters. Titles already covered: "Victim of
Love", "21 at 33", "The Fox", "Jump Up!" and "Breaking Hearts")
The year is 1969 and while an unsuspecting world is soon to witness the sunset of the Beatles, followed by the losses of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, good things are about to happen in the world of rock and roll.
In the studios of Dick James during December 1968 and the spring of 1969, Elton John and his songwriting "brother" Bernie Taupin were hard at work on the tracks that would comprise the very first Elton John album, "Empty Sky".
This album and its related singles were not Elton's first recordings. Coming off of his tenure with Bluesology, Elton had already been on three of the band's singles between 1967 and 1968.
Produced by Steve Brown, originally on staff with DJM (later to go on to work for Elton as his project coordinator), "Empty Sky" ironically had no singles generated from the nine tracks on the original album, but the sessions for it produced two 45's that came out prior to the LP.
The first was "Lady Samantha" with "All Across The Havens" as its' b-side. A solid single, it was Elton's first "turntable hit" - a designation for a single that didn't sell well, but got lots of airplay. Released in January, 1969, it no doubt came out of the December recording sessions and got enough notice to be covered by Three Dog Night the following year.
Later in the Spring came the issue of yet another single, "It's Me That You Need" and its flipside, "Just Like Strange Rain". This single (the only track from the sessions recorded at Olympic Studios) is interesting since it features the first use of strings and horns on an Elton record, though who did the arrangement is unknown and currently under investigation.
All four of these are included as bonus tracks on Rocket's remastered issue of "Empty Sky", which we'll look into forthwith.
Remastered by Gus Dudgeon from the original mix masters, "Empty Sky was part of the first group of discs released under the "Classic Years" banner, and if you're starting in chronological order, then this album is a good showcase for the pluses and minuses of both the audio and the packaging.
Before we get to that, let's look at some of the featured highlights. First off, "Empty Sky" is not unlike Billy Joel's "Cold Spring Harbor"... not a brilliant album but the signs of brilliance to come are all around. Joel's album featured "She's Got A Way", the first of his ballads that embodied his burgeoning songwriting ability. And so perhaps the piece de resistance of "Empty Sky" is Elton and Bernie's stunningly beautiful "Skyline Pigeon" that showcases their growing mastery of the genre.
But that's not all... the title track could well be the best Rolling Stones track the band never wrote, an obvious tip of the hat to one of Elton's favorite bands. Following that are an interesting assortment of tracks ranging from the metaphysical lyrics of "Valhalla", to the pop confection of "Lady, What's Tomorrow?", to the blues-rock flavored "Sails" (with a spectacular guitar lead by Caleb Quaye) and the qwirky, ambitious and slightly bizzare "Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise" medley, complete with its jazz improvisational break intercut between the dark dirge about the recollection of the death of beloved dog. The "Reprise" part of the track is an odd mixture of "Gulliver" and snippets of all the tracks before it all cross-faded until coming to a screeching halt at the end of the last bars of "Gulliver".
In all fairness, while much of the songwriting, but later standards is pretty average, considering when it was done, it more than shows off the promise of the future to follow. Elton's melodies, while slightly pedestrian at times, go hand in hand with Bernie's now -and-then pretentious and abstract lyrics. When they work, however, they are pretty effective and any shortcomings can be written off to youth. Bottom line: the songs on "Empty Sky" were good practice and by the time they sat down to work on the follow-up, the improvement was dramatic.
Technically, "Empty Sky" has had the best remastering (esp. Gus's) can offer it. It's new CD version features better bottom end, improved clarity and less noise than previous discs, though some of the inherent shortcomings in the original production are still (and probably forever more) part of the recordings. Even the bonus tracks sound generally as if they were meant to be part of the collection and with the exception of "It's Me That You Need", which is only a stand-out because of its additional instrumentation.
MOST of the CD artwork is reproduced and John Tobler's notes are typically enlightening and interesting, if in need of a bit of editing. What is missing is the original back cover artwork featuring the two reviews that were part of the sleeve design. Also, there are no specific credits relating to the bonus tracks. Some description about them is made here and there in Tobler's liner notes, but one is more or less left to assume certain things about them, which is fine, but if you're going to the trouble to assemble a remaster and include the tracks, spend a little extra time and annotate them better.
Even though it's his first solo effort, there are some impressive and historically notable things in evidence on "Empty Sky". There's the first appearance of Nigel Olsson on "Lady, What's Tomorrow?" and some brilliant guitars by Caleb Quaye, who would do some superlative work on several Elton recordings in the future. Bass player Tony Murray also turns in stellar work, as does Roger Pope. There are some great guest bits turned in by Graham Vickery on sax and harmonica and Don Fay on flute.
Elton himself plays multiple keyboards including piano, electric piano, organ and harpsichord. He even double tracks his voice well, though it's plainly obvious how untrained it is at this point. And as if that weren't enough, Clive Franks makes his first appearance as Tape Operator and provides whistles on "Hymn 2000"!
Not bad for a relatively obscure record by one of rock's legendary royals! "Empty Sky" in spite of its title isn't really EMPTY. It's actually full of very listenable songs done by a young singer full of youthful energy, partnered with a gifted lyric writer, written and performed with on a tiny budget to be sure but with enough tender loving care that it makes the final product rise above its technical limitations.

"Those bars that look towards the sun at night look towards the moon..." EJ/BT '69

1 ottobre 2003
 Remaster Review: "Elton John"

After the commercially disappointing, but critically successful release of "Empty Sky" in 1969, Dick James was persuaded by Steve Brown to commission a follow-up album on the strength of some demos Elton had submitted, one of which bore the quaint title "Your Song".
This album would actually have a proper budget, unlike "Empty Sky", which was largely recorded during the middle of the night on unused studio hours and funded more with donated time and talent than actual money. The album was to be recorded during January, 1970, but this time Steve Brown decided to step aside as the project's producer. Feeling that if this was to be a "real" album, it would need a "real" producer. The search wasn't a long one, but several producers were approached, including famed Beatles producer George Martin, who agreed to do the gig providing he could also do the string arrangements. However, this was not to be since those chores had already been contracted to Paul Buckmaster who had recently done the arrangements for David Bowie's "Space Oddity".
Brown asked Buckmaster if he had any suggestions and the arranger nominated Gus Dudgeon who had produced the Bowie smash hit disc. Dudgeon initially passed on the project, not wanting to commit himself to working with such an obscure artist. However, like Steve Brown, one listen to the demos changed his mind and soon the team of musicians was assembled and recording commenced on the self-titled album that would become affectionately known as "the black album". (Note: The "Your Song" demo can be heard on "To Be Continued..." Disc 1.)
This album and its related singles put Elton on the map; though in only a few months he would dash all those images of the introspective balladeer singer-songwriter pictured on the cover when he caught the eyes and ears of the rock press during his now legendary stint at LA's Troubador. This caused his American record label, MCA, to upgrade his status from the smaller boutique Congress Records marquee to the much more prestigious Uni monicker.
"Elton John" is a fascinating disc and it presents the listener with some of Elton's finest moments on record, though by NO means the ONLY ones! The remastered version on Rocket restores this landmark recording to a near perfect image of the mix tape that was made at Trident Studios thirty some odd years ago.
For starters, the dynamics and stereo spectrum are considerably enhanced, but under Gus Dudgeon's watchful ear, the recording stil retains the "closeness" and "intimacy" that made listeners fall in love with it. This album shouldn't "sparkle" and Gus makes sure that it doesn't, choosing instead to make it "clearer", but not necessarily "brighter". Tape noise is considerable reduced and the

songs, from the opening notes of "Your Song" to the ominously orchestral closing of "The King Must Die" (the album's last song, but not the CD's) all the way through the rollicking "Rock and Roll Madonna", make you feel as if you're sitting right next to Elton at the piano the whole way through.
Album artwork is completely reproduced with all photography, lyrics and credits, except for the bonus tracks... and Tobler's essay on this disc is one of his best edited compositions.
Elton and Bernie's songwriting took a quantum leap forward and I don't think I have to spend much time on that when you can listen to "The Greatest Discovery" and "I Need You To Turn To" and discover that for yourself.
Three of the four additional songs finished during these sessions are included as bonus tracks. "Bad Side of The Moon" (b-side of "Border Song"), "Rock and Roll Madonna" and "Grey Seal" (a & b sides respectively). "Into The Old Man's Shoes" was included as a bonus track on the CD remaster of "Tumbleweed Connection". "Rock and Roll Madonna" is interesting to note here, as its use of added "audience" makes it a sort-of "dress rehearsal" for "Bennie and the Jets" three years down the road!
Four singles were spun off the album and related tracks: "Border Song", "Your Song", "Rock 'n Roll Madonna" and "Take Me To The Pilot". Not bad for Elton's first full-fledged album! Aretha Franklin covered "Border Song" and Billy Paul covered "Your Song" as a b-side to his #1 million-seller "Me and Mrs. Jones".
"Elton John" gives us a chance to experience the first collaboration between Paul Buckmaster and Elton and we can easily take notice of the artistic importance Buckmaster's work would play in augmenting the Elton John sound in years to come. Elton's band included several notable session musicians, including Caleb Quaye again on guitars, bassist Dave Richmond from an early version of Manfred Mann's Earth Band, drummer Terry Cox from Pentangle, session vet Barry Morgan also on drums, Skaila Kanga on harp and Diana Lewis on synthesizer. Backing vocalists include Tony Burrows, singer for Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and Lesley Duncan.
The "Elton John" album peaked just outside the top 10 in the UK and at #5 in the US and earned a gold record award for its merits, which are many. It also gave us "Your Song", Elton's signature piece and the tune he's probably played at more concerts than any other. An exercise in simplistic perfection, it stands out to this day as one of Elton and Bernie's best work. John and Taupin have given us so many wonderfully memorable songs, but if this is the only one they must be remembered for, so be it! There's enough magic in that one song to make "Elton John" a lasting gift to music.
Thankfully for all of us, Elton and Bernie would give us more... a LOT more.

"No man's a jester playing Shakespeare... round your throne room floor..." EJ/BT '70

3 ottobre 2003
 Remaster Review - Special Edition: "Are You Ready For Love?"

Just got my copy of Elton's latest single and figured I'd jot down a few comments.
As all of us know, Elton took time off between 1976 and 1980 to stop and smell a few roses, some of which saw him working on some tracks with legendary soul producer Thom Bell, who helmed many hits in the seventies, including may top singles for the Spinners. Elton credits Bell with changing his approach to his vocals from that point forward.
Written by Thom Bell, Leroy Bell and Casey James, and featuring backing vocals by The Spinners, "Are You Ready For Love?" was one of three tracks included on the EP "The Thom Bell Sessions" in 1979. There were other tracks recorded during those sessions, including alternate mixes of the original EP tracks, that appeared on CD as "The Complete Thom Bell Sessions", though this is something of a misnomer, since they didn't feature the original vinyl mixes.
The single edit of the track proves conclusively why this pretty, bouncy, catchy and certainly danceable tune went to Number 1 in the UK and should do very well in the US.
While this version of "Are You Ready For Love?" sounds more like a remaster and new edit and not at all like a remix, if it IS a remix it's done so craftily that can't tell you what they added to it! Elton John and Clive Franks are credited for the mix on the sleeve, so assuming it's not a new remix, it's still a great edit. The mastering has punched it up a few notches so that not only does it sparkles and shines like it was recorded last month instead of 24 years ago, but at a concise 3:33, it's very radio friendly!
The original EP cover art is reproduced here (in pink, no less!) and apart from original musician credits, there wasn't much more to the 12" sleeve anyway, so not much loss to speak of there.
One neat bonus feature, if you can get a copy of the single that includes the video, spend the extra buck or two - it's worth it! Shot in '79, it features footage of Elton laying down vocals to the song at Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle, with Thom Bell, Leroy Bell, Casey James, the Spinners and a large party of onlookers dancing and clapping in the control room. Intercut with this is footage of Elton in Los Angeles during the '75 Dodger Stadium shows and people in the crowd dancing cut to the track (which oddly enough wouldn't exist for another four years)! There isn't any real rhyme or reason for it, but the footage is cool and all in all it's a fun bit of fluff!
Also included is the original Thom Bell EP full-length version of the song, and "Three Way Love Affair", the last track on the Thom Bell Sessions 12" vinyl disc. (NOTE: These tracks, along with "Mama Can't Buy You Love", were previously released on CD as b-sides to the single of "The Last Song".)
Kudos to the gang at Southern Fried Records for doing such a great job treating this fantastic single with such thoughtful attention. I only wish they included the engineer  who did the remastering so we can give them proper notice here on the Row!  

"Sing a song to yourself, think of someone listening... " Bell/Bell/James '79

15 novembre 2003
Subject: "11/17/70" - 33 years on...

I'll be resuming my continuing posts about the remastered editions of 
Elton's albums soon... and if memory serves I still have to get 
through "Tumbleweed Connection" before going on to "11/17/70" (or 
"17/11/70" to many of our European friends), but I just wanted to 
post a happy anniversary message about this memorable album.

"11/17/70" to me is a distillation about some of the best qualities 
of Elton's shows.  First and foremost is the music, which speaks for 
itself.  Second is the incredible energy put into the delivery. 
Third has to be the great musicianship... it's plain to see even 
before Davey's arrival on the scene that the core rhythm section of 
Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray, both of whom would play indispensible 
parts in Elton's success during the coming years, was clearly and 
plainly working in complete harmony even this early in the game. 
Elton credits their performance in particular in the liner notes. 
About himself Elton's said he very likely hasn't played that good 
live since this concert and while that may be debatable, his piano 
skills are certainly razor sharp and on display in abundance 
throughout the concert.

What really sets this show apart in terms of Elton-ology, though, is 
that it signaled to the world that you could listen at home to "Elton 
John" and feast on the introspective singer-songwriter all you 
wanted, but when you came to the live shows, be prepared for 
something VERY different.  John Tobler writes in his booklet for 
"Here and There" that Elton's live shows during the early to 
mid-seventies were nothing short of breathtaking.  I'm sure he'd 
agree that this assessment is no less true for "11/17/70" as well.

One might also add "heartstopping", it's that good!

Andy Geisel
Los Angeles, CA

"Who'll walk me down to church when I'm sixty years of age?"  EJ/BT '70

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