This past April, Elton John was so confident that his 30th solo album, The Diving Board, was complete, he released a 10-song track listing – but when the disc got pushed back to early 2013 for promotional reasons, John started to have second thoughts.
“This is the first time that Elton’s had time to live with something before it’s come out,” producer T Bone Burnett tells Rolling Stone. “There were like seven or eight songs that were so completely of a piece that they have an identity. I think he thought, ‘You know, maybe I should write some more things in that mode so that the album has a tighter identity.’ Some tunes were maybe too happy for the overall identity of the album.”
The album was recorded in January and February at a Los Angeles studio. In a return to a format he used on the road in the early 1970s, John recorded the LP accompanied only by a bassist and a drummer. “The first time I heard Elton it was with a trio at the Troubadour in 1970,” Burnett says. “And he absolutely killed it. I told Elton I had this profound drummer named Jay Bellerose and you won’t need anything else. He plays melody and tone and groove. Then the idea came we should just do it as a trio. Elton called bassist Raphael Saadiq. We cut the whole thing with that really tight kill team.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone this past March, John was tremendously enthusiastic about the disc, which is his first solo album since 2006. “It’s the most exciting solo record I’ve done in a long, long time,” he said. “It just came flooding out. Quickest record I’ve ever made. I’m as psyched about it as I was with [the 2010 Leon Russell collaborative album] The Union. As I said with The Union, I had to go forward to go back, and it’s the same with this record.”
The Diving Board was originally supposed to hit shelves late this year. “It’s disappointing that our new music won’t hit the streets sooner but in order to get things done right it makes sense to delay its release by a few months,” lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote on his blog in April. “It’s no fun having to sit on something you’re truly excited about but hopefully our fans will understand and that eventually the wait will be worth it.”
In the early 1970s, John toured accompanied only by bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson. Their powerful live show is preserved on the live album 11-17-70. “What I loved about those shows was that you really heard Elton’s piano,” says Burnett. “He wasn’t mixed into a whole lot of other things.”
Fans are hoping that John will promote the disc with a series of live dates with the trio format. “I haven’t heard anything about that yet,” says Burnett. “I’m sure he will though. Why wouldn’t he? It’s a good deal.”
John never met T Bone Burnett before cold-calling him a few years ago to see if he’d be willing to produce his album with Leon Russell. They formed a tight bond during those sessions, and John has since said he never wants to work with any other producers. “That’s okay with me,” says Burnett with a laugh. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”