Bespectacled pop bigwig takes a chance on nu-disco underdogs, with dazzling results.
Kate Hutchinson 2012
When one of the world’s most successful solo artists decided that he wanted to team up with hip electro younglings on an album, few predicted that those lucky two would be Aussie duo Pnau. It’s a leftfield choice for a legend that could have had his pick of rent-a-Guettas, or chosen to work with Pnau frontman Nick Littlemore’s infinitely more recognisable band, Empire of the Sun.
Still, the story goes that John heard Pnau’s Ed Banger-aping electro assault, Wild Strawberries, while stuck in Sydney traffic in 2007. He thought it was the best thing he’d heard in 10 years, and swiftly signed them to his management company where stardom awaited.
Except that it didn’t. Pnau released their fourth album, Soft Universe, earlier this year to the sound of crushing indifference. But such a superfan is Elton that they’ve been given free rein to shape his expansive back catalogue between 1970 and 1976 into shiny new models.
The results are dazzling. New remixes of golden oldies rarely succeed in balancing the classic’s magic with modern context, but Pnau have produced eight surprisingly original and sublimely brilliant pop nuggets with a Balearic and cosmic disco sheen. They’ve steered away from his biggest hits and instead use up to nine Elton micro-samples in one song, blurring them almost out of recognition.
The title track is already a club hit; a simple and uplifting reimagination of Elton’s Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters which recalls Modjo’s millennium smash, Lady. Black Icy Stare, meanwhile, plays with the funky brass of John’s Caribou album and could be a remix by Scandinavian re-edit prince Todd Terje.
Experimental still, Foreign Fields and Telegraph to the Afterlife stray into psychedelic slow-motion house territory. Only the cinematic Karmatron is out of place, with its Mark Ronson-does-a-Bond-theme shtick.
It’s surely a vanity project for John, an opportunity to flirt with the sound of Ibiza’s youth-soaked terraces before he gears up to release his next solo album. But when daring collaborations are as fruitful as this, we wonder just what eargasms could happen should the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and – whisper it – Prince take a chance on an electro underdog, too.