Elton John The Diving Board (Capitol) ***
Like Tom Jones’s Praise & Blame or Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs, Elton John’s 30th solo outing courts career-rejuvenating authenticity. He’s called it his most piano-orientated album to date and it’s largely a sober, musically studious affair. One doubts Elton will be wearing his star-shaped glasses when he performs it live. The producer T-Bone Burnett has led the singer down a sparer path. So while there are strings, brass and even a soulful male choir in places, the emphasis is on rootsy, stripped-down arrangements that highlight John’s intricate and intimate ivory-tickling and the detail-rich story lyrics of his long-term writing partner, Bernie Taupin. While Oscar Wilde Gets Out surveys the eventful life of the great Irishman and The Ballad of Blind Tom pays tribute to the American slave and piano prodigy Tom Wiggins, the standout track is Voyeur, a classic-sounding John-Taupin song with typically thoughtful chord modulations. The Diving Board packs slow growers rather than obvious hits, but our host sounds relevant again; much less in danger of self-parody. Elton John ageing gracefully? Who would have thought?