With ‘Songs from the West Coast,’ Elton John Returns to his Roots

Posted in MusicWorld on October 31, 2001 by

The Bitch is back . . .

With 34 gold record certifications, 24 platinum albums, and Grammys, Tonys and Oscars to his credit, no one could accuse Elton John of resting on his laurels. But critics and fans agree that Elton's new CD is a phenomenal achievement, even by the singer's own perfectionist standards. Songs from the West Coast is Elton's 27th studio album and his 40th disc overall, and it's an indisputable masterpiece. Lyrical, melodic and organic-sounding, the disc hearkens back to Elton's '70s classics with "Madman Across the Water" and "Honkey Chateau." The first single culled from the new album, "I Need Love," has resulted in an engrossing music video featuring actor Robert Downey Jr.

Recorded during two sessions in late 2000, Songs from the West Coast finds Elton fully returning to his roots. The disc reunites the legendary piano man with members of his '70s band, including drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone. Strings were arranged by conductor and longtime compatriot Paul Buckmaster, while the album's evocative lyrics were penned by Elton's indispensable collaborator, Bernie Taupin. These old friends have assembled to create an album that possesses the snug, familiar feel of a vintage coat or an embracing heirloom blanket.

Songs from the West Coast began taking shape in 2000, when Elton and Taupin expressed a mutual desire to get back to basics. "We had to be really harsh on ourselves," Elton said recently. "We drew a line in the sand and said: 'by the time this album comes out, I'm going to be 54. I want to make it really strong, the best album I can do.' And I think we've really achieved that."

Just days into recording, it was apparent that Elton and Taupin had accomplished their goal. As Elton recalled: "I'm there at the piano, singing these songs as we were putting down the rough tracks and thinking, 'God, this sounds really good.' It was how we used to do it years ago at the Chateau with the old band."

Critical acclaim for Songs from the West Coast has been unanimous. Rolling Stone gave the album a rare 4-star rating, while Details magazine described the disc as, "the best Elton John album to come along in years. . . . It's as if he's rediscovered his passion for making rock music."

The new disc is the latest achievement in a career that apparently knows no bounds. Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in Middlesex, England, Elton John's career began in earnest when he answered a "songwriters wanted" ad placed by Liberty Records. Responding to the same ad was lyricist Bernie Taupin, and the company teamed the duo to provide material for the label. A publishing deal eventually led to a recording contract. Elton's self-titled sophomore album became an international best-seller, yielding the classic hit single, "Your Song."

The rest is musical history. Elton's '70s albums - including Tumbleweed Connection, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and others - are among the most acclaimed pop recordings of all time. And while many fans' fondest memories are of Elton's flamboyant '70s period, the singer cannot be dismissed as a "Me Decade" relic. In fact, Elton has demonstrated an uncanny talent for surfing the notoriously fickle tides of pop culture. Through the '80s, '90s and to the present, Elton's hitmaking streak continues unabated.