Jump Up is the album that redeems Elton John from his famine years as a fallen superstar exiled to less verdant pastures. Showing more spunk than anyone might have expected at this late date, he’s put himself back on top simply by making a tour de force of a record that says he knows he’s worth it. Even if he never again comes close to inciting the mass hysteria of the mid-Seventies, the sheer stylistic breadth of Jump Up should secure Elton John’s reputation as a rare master of pop form.
From the muscular lurch of “Dear John” to the Philly-soul stylings of “Princess,” Elton is feeling frisky again. Those trademark piano rolls and crisp cadences never sounded so good as on “Spiteful Child,” and he’s found a new expressiveness in his singing (witness the dramatic, mock-Brechtian reading of “Legal Boys,” which redresses the paper chasers with eloquent vehemence). And, for a guest-celebrity change of pace, there’s “Ball and Chain,” a catchy little tune that rolls along to the inimitable percussive strum of Pete Townshend’s acoustic guitar.
Lyric-writing duties are divided between Gary Osborne and Bernie Taupin. The former seems to coax a more effervescent melody from John, while the latter plumbs for emotional intensity — be it vengeance (“Spiteful Child”) or sentimentality (“Empty Garden,” a heartfelt paean to John Lennon).
Elton John just might be rock & roll’s equivalent of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. His songs have a kind of mechanical vigor, he’s a one-man pop-music assembly line, but the guy’s got a heart that won’t quit. “I am your robot/I am your robot man,” he sings on Jump Up, in a way that suggests he’s content with this self-assessment. Yeah, he may be a robot, but he’s our robot, all right. God bless him.