The Big Picture was released in September of 1997 and remains Elton John’s last top ten album in The United States to date. Approaching the forty year mark in his career, he had settled into the adult contemporary pop/rock genre. In some ways this album and the ones which would follow are interchangeable as there is a sameness to them. As such, they are not particularly adventurous but they are solid, pleasurable, and present the work of a mature artist.
Immediately noticeable is the lack of a long list of instrumentalists which is usually a good sign on an Elton John album. Here he basically uses his concert band, so there is a tightness to the sound and probably a relaxed atmosphere in the studio.
For the second album in a row Bernie Taupin delivered a stellar set of lyrics. Here he is in a storytelling mode as he deals with such topics as fame, death, love, redemption and other realistic glimpses of life.
Princess Diana died between the recording on this album and its release. The first single would be issued with a double A side. “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” would be paired with a tribute version of “Candle In The Wind,” which is not on this release. It would sell more copies than any single in British history. It would be equally successful in The United States spending fourteen weeks at the top of The Billboard Magazine pop charts. In The USA “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” would be the side that would spend over a month at the top of The Adult Contemporary Charts. It is a wonderfully poetic ballad with a superb emotional vocal by Elton.
“Live Like Horses” is a second ballad that is of the same quality as the first. Taupin’s father had passed away and this was his tribute to him. The sound is filled in nicely by the use of strings and Elton John delivers another powerful vocal that presents the lyrical imagery well.
“If The River Can Bend” has a gospel feel to it and features some nice piano work. “January” is interesting musically as it has a series of mood changes which fit the romantic theme well. “I Can’t Steer My Heart Clear Of You” is another melodic ballad that is just very smooth. “Wicked Dreams” is a little different with some very interesting and surprising lyrical twists.
If I have one criticism of this album it is that it’s a little slow paced, as eight of the twelve tracks are ballads. Still The Big Picture is a fine album that finds a modern Elton John creating very listenable music.