Songs from the West Coast
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2002, Volume 9, #1
Written by John Metzger
It's been a long time since Elton John has released a great album — or even a halfway decent one. But with Songs from the West Coast, he forgoes the Disneyland fluff that he's been peddling for the better part of two decades and sinks his teeth back into the type of songs that defined his career. Be it the recent resurgence of The Beatles, his own solo tours with Billy Joel, his self-professed admiration of Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright, or his reconnection with his legendary songbook — John is finally back on track.
For sure, there are moments when Songs from the West Coast falls a little short — most notably on Original Sin's inept lyrics and pedestrian melody — but the fact remains that this is unquestionably John's best outing in decades. Highlights include the Beatle-esque first single I Want Love, the Harry Chapin-style story-song Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes, the haunted tribute to Matthew Shepard American Triangle, and the Billy Joel classicism of The Emperor's New Clothes. Each is molded in the organic style of John's earliest productions, designed to spotlight the poetic lyrics of longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.
But although Songs from the West Coast often recalls everything from the fully scored orchestrations of Madman Across the Water to the simplistic beauty of his self-titled release, John also throws in numerous new twists and turns that show that he refuses to be tied too closely to his past. Consequently, he accomplishes what few artists are willing and able to do in the wake of such a lengthy, successful career. That is, use his prior compositions as a starting point, while avoiding any sort of preconceived formula. Clearly, John's final chapter has not yet been written, and he still has plenty left to say.
Songs from the West Coast is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box