The striking thing about Elton John’s second album — his first to be released internationally, and the one that made him a rising star — is that it starts with two of Bernie Taupin’s most straightforward early lyrics and is then followed by eight of his most cryptic. “Your Song” so captures the style of Elton’s idol Leon Russell that it even mirrors the sentiments of Russell’s similarly classic “A Song for You,” which hadn’t been released when this LP was recorded in January 1970; “I Need You to Turn To” swaps piano for harpsichord, but follows similarly in grateful, but relatively light, love mode.
The rest gets mighty heavy — not through rock’s usual guitars, but with hugely heaving orchestration. Arranger Paul Buckmaster piles on severe strings, foreboding choirs and blaring horns that position the singer closer to his prog-rock contemporaries than “Your Song” suggests. Elton’s Stones fixation gets blatant through his Jagger-esque delivery of “No Shoestrings on Louise,” and there are similarly clamorous gospel cops on “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Border Song.” Like his immediate predecessors in the Beatles, Elton proves himself a consummate magpie: His choice of chords and the way he structures his melodies is hugely sophisticated, yet as just as informed by American pop as it is by Bach. “Your Song” may have labeled Elton a softie, but the rest is much more Scott Walker than James Taylor.