Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 2001 album Songs From The West Coast by British pop legend Elton John. However, was this coastal trip all sunshine, or more 2p machines? Read on…
Not only do you get pop royalty Elton John here, but you also get album producer Patrick Leonard whose CV also reads like a Who’s Who guide to music over the decades. He’s responsible for helping bring the likes of Madonna into mainstream 80’s and 90’s pop success.
The album opens with some very bright and cheerful piano in the intro of The Emperor’s New Clothes, sounding like he’s having a little tinkle in the corner of the room. Elton is swiftly on the mic, and he’s sounding rich and somewhat country music styled, as he delivers his reflective narrative song. He’s flanked by guitars and bass, and some wonderful backing vocal harmonies that sound almost heavenly in the chorus. It’s a nice little opening song for the album, and feels like it has enough roots in his back catalogue as it does feel fresh.
Dark Diamond follows this, and it throws in a nice little shuffling beat, and plodding bass. This is a swaggering song and it gives Elton a chance to show off some of his softer vocals. Then suddenly a harmonica is heard, and yes, of course, it’s Stevie Wonder as seemingly there’s no other harmonica player in the world. It is a great performance though, and it sits perfectly alongside this mellow track.
That’s followed by piano intro into Look Ma, No Hands. Here Elton is once again quick on the mic, and this song sustains that country style as he sings about visiting different American places. The brushed snare works well here, and it sits perfectly under the guitars, vocals, and backing vocals, and Elton seems to enjoy the playful melody.
American Triangle is next, and we’re down in tempo and sat beside the piano. Here we also find Rufus Wainwright tucked away on the vocal harmonies. ‘God hates fags where we come from‘ he sings as just one of the sharp stabs at American culture in this song, and rightly so, with this song being about the brutal murder of college student Matthew Shepard. He also rhymes ‘blowing’ with ‘Wyoming’ multiple times, and that takes skill.
Next is the third and final single from the album, Original Sin. It’s quite a nice slow song, with Elton delivering some wonderfully full vocals alongside piano and guitars. About halfway through, strings slide in, helping to keep the song evolving, and adding emotive warmth to the track – and it really benefits from this. The track stumbled in the UK charts though, although gave him a Top 40 single, when it stalled at #39.
Birds take up perch next, and the intricate piano sounds like he’s convinced Chas and Dave to record with him. Here, Elton sounds like he’s throwing some Paul McCartney-esque vocals down instead. The tracks, throwing in some harder electric guitars to roar briefly towards the end of the track. It’s a fun and upbeat little song.
Next is lead single I Want Love, which gave Elton another top 10 hit UK single, hitting a peak at #9. This song has a pleasing piano and bass chord sequence, and throws us some heartfelt vocals from Elton. Again, this feels a bit McCartney, and I’m left thinking of The Beatles’ Free As A Bird. It’s a nice enough plodder, and as an opening single, it’s a good comeback sound for Elton and his album.
Next up we’re into some kind of creep-show sounding The Wasteland, and this sounds like Elton in his element having great fun singing a characterised chugging rock n’ roll song, with a full band and backing vocalists behind him. It’s a great song, and stands out here against the rest of the album.
That’s followed by Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes which puts us into a melodic narrative, once against flanked by bass, guitars, backing vocals, and strings. It results in a really nice rich song, that sits perfectly with Elton’s vocals.
Love Her Like Me is next, and we’re treated to another up-beat song, and some nice little twangy guitar riffs. Elton’s vocals dance around on top, and he’s given plenty of opportunities to show off his vocal power and range – he sounds in his element here. It bounces along wonderfully and gave me the first foot-tapper of the album. This should have been a single.
Mansfield follows this, giving us a more mellow guitar-lead song, with the piano taking more of a back seat here. Strings arrive mid way through and help to flood the ears with sound. It’s another good strong song here and Elton gets a good vocal diet of highs and lows to perform, which he seemingly does with great ease.
The album closes with the wonderful 2nd single This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore. It’s a heartfelt song and the perfect one to close the album. The video is also worth watching, as it stars Justin Timberlake as Elton, Pee-Wee Herman, and lookalikes for Liza Minelli and Cher. Sadly, despite all that, the sneaking in of Take That’s Gary Barlow on backing vocals, and the brilliant 70’s styled video, the song stalled in the UK singles chart at #24. Definitely deserved higher.
Over all, quite a bit of this album certainly feels like Elton wanted to make an American album, and at times it feels like he’s throwing an accent in. I’m not a country music fan, so this has been a slight annoyance throughout.
There are some great songs here with Love Her Like Me, The Wasteland, This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore, and I Want Love, all sounding great. It’s a shame that the first of these was not chosen as a single as it really works well. There are of course some lower points although no stinkers – with Look Ma No Hands, and American Triangle just sounding quite middle of the road and within the context of this album quite similar to other tracks.
It is a strong album, and what else could you expect from Elton, Bernie, and Patrick Leonard. The use of Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, and Rufus Wainwright is subtle, and it might have been nicer to have made more of that.
- POP RESCUE 2023 RATING: 4 / 5
- 2001 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #2, certified 2x Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: 49p from a Barnardos store.
Based on all of the Elton John albums we have reviewed so far, we are able to calculate his average score as
3.66 out of 5.