These days Elton John is probably just as well known for his flambuoyant lifestyle and infamous temper tantrums as he is for his music, though commercial success is still somewhat of a given as 2002’s multi-platinum selling Songs From The West Coast triumphantly proved. So it seems whatever is said about this latest offering from the artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight and his long-term songwriting companion, Bernie Taupin, sales will remain unaffected and there will be yet more platinum discs to hang in his flower-filled palace in Atlanta.
In spite of this, complacency does not seem to beset the man who has been a familiar feature of the charts since 1970’s Your Song, as opener Weight Of The World illustrates. The words “Fortune and fame is so fleeting / These days I’m happy to say / I’m amazed that I’m still around” show a surprisingly humble gratitude for all he has achieved and the worldwide stardom he retains today, far from sounding like the arrogant prima donna he is publicly perceived as at times.
A similar humility is also displayed on current single All That I’m Allowed (I’m Thankful) which states “I’ve got all that I’m allowed / It’ll do for me, I’m thankful now” and could just mean Sir Elton has finally mellowed and discovered a peaceful retreat from his much-publicised inner demons. Though it must be remembered that all of the lyrics on this album were penned by Taupin rather than the faux-haired rocket man himself so just how close to his own heart or autobiographical they truly are remains very much open to question.
What can be said is that much of the music, featuring Elton on the controls as producer for the first time, is reminiscent of the golden era that saw him rack up a seemingly endless stream of hits. The chorus of It’s Getting Dark In Here soars and shines just as brightly as Rocket Man and the piano-led Too Many Tears contains the classic vocal-harmonies that were a trademark of the Watford-born warbler’s early material of the seventies.
A country influence asserts itself throughout, no doubt absorbed from the singer’s deep-south surroundings, with steel guitar being used on many tracks and Turn The Lights Out When You Leave sounding like a full-blown Dolly Parton cover, (which is much better in practice than it may sound in theory).
The album tends to plod with most tracks waltzing in at ballad pace but, then again, the thought of a 57-year-old singing Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting is frankly laughable so this is expectedly safe, finely-crafted pop. When the tempo does temporarily rise on They Call Her The Cat the result only ends up sounding like a lame Blues Brothers cast-off anyway.
Overall, this is as middle of the road as it gets but, rather than discovering the aural equivalent of tyre-tracked road kill you may expect to find there, this is actually a pleasant-sounding set of songs with a country twang that at times echo Sir Elton’s ultra-successful seventies heyday.
The petulant prince of pop ploughed his furrow long ago and continues to tread the same ground today, albeit in a more responsibly mature way. This is a likable, well-constructed offering from a man who will still be creating headlines well into his sixties. Longevity in the fickle land of popular music does not come easily and the polished Peachtree Road shows an established star willing to put the effort in to keep shining, rather than trading off past successes like many of his contemporaries embarrassingly attempt to do.