Madman Across The Water was the third studio album released by Elton John in the United States and the second in a row that did not contain any big hits. Despite the lack of successful singles, however, it would sell over three million copies. While this would be his least successful studio album until 1979’s Victim of Love, it was still a breakthrough release as it established him as a commercial force to be reckoned with.
I have to admit that this album is not one of my favorites. It contains four excellent tracks and a number of average ones. What it does have going for it, though, is lyrical precision and the use of strings and orchestra to enhance its sound. It also contains some excellent piano work by Elton John.
John surrounded himself with a stellar cast of musicians in the studio. Drummer Nigel Olsson, bassist Dee Murray, and guitarist Davey Johnstone all appear on various tracks, forming what would become the core of John's concert band for years. Chris Spedding and Rick Wakeman also make notable contributions.
Two songs were released as singles and while neither cracked the American Top Twenty they would eventually become well-known. “Tiny Dancer," which eventually gained a wider audience as a part of the soundtrack to the Oscar nominated film Almost Famous, is a beautiful love song with a chorus that just propels it along. It is early seventies pop at its best. “Levon” contained another smooth vocal and was one of the first social statements of his career.
There are two other songs of note. The title track is haunting and melodic as it rocks smoothly along. And “Indian Sunset” is a soaring story song about the Native Americans during the Colonial period.
The remaining five tracks fall into the average to forgettable range. “All The Nasties” is both beautiful and odd but the use of a choir is a distraction. “Razor Face,” "Rotten Peaches,” and “Holiday Inn” are all up-tempo but they pale in comparison to what would follow during the next several years.
Madman Across The Water found Elton John gathering himself as an artist as his next seven albums would all reach Number One, selling close to seventy million copies. Ultimately it remains a flawed album and often overlooked which is probably as it should be given that his catalog is one of the best in music history.