For someone as instrumental to the foundation of modern music as Elton John, one tribute album is simply not enough. On April 6th, both Revamp and Restoration were released in homage to the Elton John and Bernie Taupin songbook in light of the recent announcement of John’s retirement from touring. Revamp is laden with today’s prominent pop voices, whereas Restoration takes the English songwriters on a visit to Nashville.
Tribute albums always run a high risk of falling short, disappearing into the shadow of the original beloved songs. However, both albums avoid this ill-fated trope and are strong enough to stand independently as creative celebrations of John and Taupin’s work. The covers do not try to compete with the originals, instead they expand upon the existing legacy in a fresh way.
Revamp is a star-studded collection featuring artists like Lady Gaga, The Killers, Florence and the Machine, Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith, among others. Florence and the Machine rises to the challenge of the iconic “Tiny Dancer” and delivers both ethereal and soulful vocals, making the track one of the album’s most successful moments. Sam Smith’s smooth vocals seem specifically tailored to capture the poignant nature of “Daniel.” Disappointingly, Lady Gaga’s version of “Your Song” feels constrained and leaves listeners longing for Gaga to unleash her full power. Revamp also pays tribute to some of John’s greatest hits including “Candle In the Wind,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and “Bennie and the Jets.”
Restoration, however, explores the deeper cuts of the John/Taupin catalogue such as “I Want Love” from John’s 2002 album, Songs From the West Coast, which Chris Stapleton covered at the request of John himself. The song could convincingly find a home on one of Stapleton’s own albums. Miranda Lambert substitutes John’s classic piano for a gently strummed guitar on “My Father’s Gun” and her natural twang perfectly delivers the song’s emotions. In a particularly unique moment of the album, Miley Cyrus takes “The Bitch Is Back” out to the rodeo, complete with fiddles, banjos and barnyard animal sounds. However, Little Big Town’s rendition of “Rocket Man” is one of the album’s weaker moments; it would be more appropriate on a Glee album. Other notable stars featured on Restoration include Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack, Dolly Parton and Rosanne Cash.
Having two separate genres pay homage to John’s career is a true testament to the star’s lasting impact on music. John may be retiring as a performer, but his songs will never disappear. Listening to Revamp and Restoration makes for a worthwhile journey back into John’s catalogue, creating a new experience around old familiar songs.