The Lockdown Series
Recorded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elton John’s 32nd album “The Lockdown Sessions” is a spectacular collage of collaborations with some of the biggest names in music.
Featuring artists like Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Young Thug, Charlie Puth, Gorillaz, Miley Cyrus, Brandi Carlile, Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks, the recording sessions were done under strict health and safety regulations. In a statement explaining the project, John said he stepped out of his comfort zone several times throughout the making of “The Lockdown Sessions.” He added that the album consists of diverse material that is completely different from anything that he is known for.
John demonstrates this with the inclusion of different genres in the second track of the album “Always Love You.” The song begins with a rich piano ballad, then switches into a trap beat where Young Thug and Nicki Minaj present simple verses with satisfying rhythms. Minaj’s verse is performed over lovely R&B-style vocals.
Young Thug’s lightly sung melody in “Always Love You” plays a paramount role in making sense of Elton John’s place in trap music; this is one example of how “The Lockdown Sessions” finds creative ways to unify John with these varying genres.
“The Lockdown Sessions” emanates an overall positive energy. Some examples of this message of optimism are the high-energy, electronic dance songs like “Cold Heart,” “It’s a sin,” “Orbit,” “Stolen Car” and “Beauty in the Bones.” These songs also have a commonality of intricate production and rich use of the piano and different synthesizers. The songs “Learn to Fly,” “Chosen Family” and “Nothing Else Matters” consist of uplifting lyrics about overcoming obstacles and having faith in one’s own strength and perseverance.
“Simple Things” is another example of John redefining a genre in order to amalgamate his esteemed sound with something unrecognizable to his fanbase. This Brandi Carlile collaboration is an existential country song that opens with a luscious piano melody and transitions into a classic, twangy country song over a strumming acoustic guitar.
The masterful production value of “The Lockdown Sessions” is sometimes forgotten when unrefined, unexciting lyrics are sung in tracks like “Beauty in the Bones” and “Chosen Family.” “Chosen Family” is a dynamic track featuring Rina Sawayama that carries a compelling message about how one’s family does not need to be restricted to who is blood-related to a person.
Despite the relatable message that certainly came from John’s own personal experience being estranged from his parents for multiple long periods of time, the lyrics on “Chosen Family” are obvious and somewhat shallow; “So what if we don’t look the same?/We been going through the same thing/Yeah, you are, you are/My chosen, chosen family.” The same unprofound lyrics are repeated five times with only two short verses in the entire song.
John, Watt and the other collaborators of “The Lockdown Sessions” have found a way to make every recognizable aspect of John’s musical style stunningly cohesive with all of the sundry genres integrated throughout the album. Often when artists diverge so sharply from their expected sound, there can be choppy transitions and discomfort for the listener, especially when it comes to an iconic name like Elton John. The fluency of this album is jarring, as John thoroughly embraces rap, country, rock and gospel in “The Lockdown Sessions” and, at this point, it seems implausible for there to be anything Elton John can’t do.