Songs From The West Coast

Elton John

Rocket / Universal Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Elton John has had more hot and cold streaks than a Chicago weather forecast. Anyone who has at least a working knowledge of John's discography can point out the peaks and valleys musically, almost as if they were tracking the stock market.

Songs From The West Coast is supposed to be a return to the more organic sound that John became known for, richer in piano than in the heavy orchestration that has marked his last few studio efforts. Yet the spottiness that has marked John's career at times is evident on this disc, though the fault is not purely John's.

In fact, the lion's share of the faults that this disc has have to be laid at the feet of longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, who seems to try his hand at "stream of consciousness" writing from time to time on Songs From The West Coast. (Memo to Taupin: Who do you think you are trying that - a music reviewer?) The album's opening number, "The Emperor's New Clothes," shows how unomfortable such an arrangement sounds, as John seems to struggle to find any type of a voice - lyrical and musical - with this one. It's not the most comforting way to open an album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

After a little bit of discomfort on "Dark Diamond" - another weak lyrical effort supported by a strong rhythm track and helped by John's vocals - the upswing begins for John. "Look Ma, No Hands" is an entertaining, yet bittersweet, tale of a man continually seeking his mother's approval for the life he's chosen, even as he enjoys the fruits of success. "American Triangle" is a damning portrait of America and its view of homosexuality, making numerous references to the murder of Matthew Shepard a few years back. I mean absolutely no disrespect by the following comment: A straight singer could never accurately capture the venom of this song as John does, since it's so politically and religiously charged right out of the gate. It's simply the most powerful song on this disc, and the best that John offers up.

The bulk of Songs From The West Coast rides the peaks and valleys, though they don't quite go to the extremes that the first half of this disc does. "I Want Love" is making the rounds as the latest single, though I always thought this was the Wallflowers every time I heard it at my second job. (Osco has to get a better sound system.) It's not the best vehicle for John's talent, and he's had other hit singles in recent years which easily outclass this one. That said, it's not a terrible song, but it is a bit of a letdown, as are "Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes" and "Mansfield". Others, such as "Original Sin," "Love Her Like Me" and "The Wasteland," dhow that even after 30 years in the spotlight, John still knows how to craft a song which has wide appeal.

It would be wrong to call Songs From The West Coast a comeback album, since John hasn't really gone anywhere the past 10 years. But it would also be wrong to rank this disc among John's best works, as there are many other efforts of John's which shine brighter than this disc. Yet John is successful overall in creating a disc worth checking out, even if you have to tread carefully along one or two paths. In a sense, that's exactly how you could describe John's career as well.

Rating: B-

User Rating: A-


This album marked the return of Elton John to top form and the piano styles that originally made him a superstar. After it came out, I thought it was a classic. Since then I have come to prefer Peachtree Road - but it's a close thing. The secret of the return to form is the revival of the partnership with Bernie Taupin. It's great to have them both back and on form,

© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rocket / Universal Records, and is used for informational purposes only.