Records are the constant in Elton John’s life. Records gave the young Reginald Dwight refuge during an unhappy childhood, records delivered him to stardom, records were his indulgence during the height of his 1970s stardom—Tower Records on the Sunset Strip used to shut down so Elton could ransack the racks in private—and records were his sustenance during his recovery from his myriad addictions, providing him a path into a stable, sustainable life and career in middle age and beyond.
Which is why it’s odd that Rocketman (Music From The Motion Picture), by many respects the record of Elton John’s life—at least his life as it is depicted in Dexter Fletcher’s fantastical film of the rock star’s journey—is such a stilted affair. Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Fletcher and producer Matthew Vaughn, who decided the music be sculpted to fit the contours of the silver screen, reworking and re-creating John’s original hits so they matched the emotional tenor of the stylized story being told. To that end, the production team hired the right music supervisor for the job: Giles Martin.
Known now as the man overseeing reissues of the prime jewels in the Beatles’ catalog, Martin cut his teeth bringing the Fab Four to Vegas, creating the mashups that fueled Cirque Du Soleil’s extravaganza Love. Rocketman doesn’t take nearly as many risks as Love—at no point on the soundtrack are digital drum beats grafted upon the melodies—but Martin doesn’t quite treat the original recordings as sacred gospel. Sometimes, Martin slyly opens up a familiar tune so it feels slightly left of center: “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” begins with a blast of guitars before dabbling in both mock-reggae and diluted psychedelia. But more often he favors productions that carefully tease out nostalgic memories without succumbing to rote replications. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” swaps out melancholy majesty for pomp and circumstance and “Take Me To The Pilot” submerges Paul Buckmaster’s gorgeous strings in aggressive R&B rhythms. The alterations aren’t as much reimaginations as they are a play upon our collective subconscious.