Songs from the West Coast
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Songs From The West Coast
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Elton John - Songs From The West Coast - Cd
The appearance of "Rocket Man"-era cohorts Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone as backing vocalists touches this CD with one of the trademark sounds of Elton John's 1969-75 LPs. John has acknowledged those records--his most typically singer-songwriterish--occasionally, if mostly to revisit audience favorites in concert (1987's Live in Australia, a late-'90s VH1 show). But on Songs from the West Coast, his admiration of Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright (a guest here) inspires him to recall the stripped-down, lyric-driven sensibility of his early days. The tone of the words Bernie Taupin feeds this notorious diva is elegiac, rooted in a wearier version of the romanticism that fueled oldies as diverse as "Your Song," "Love Lies Bleeding," and "Burn Down the Mission." West Coast sidesteps bombast with a couple of exceptions; only "The Wasteland," with its invocation of Robert Johnson, is enough to provoke a dismayed "oy." The standout track is "I Want Love," a Lennonesque rumination that's their most impressive writing, separately or together, in more than a decade. --Rickey WrightSee all Editorial Reviews
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The back to the basics approach brought to the album is evident from the first track, "The Emperor's New Clothes." With its dangling, broken piano chords and angelic harmonies courtesy of evergreen stalwarts Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson, it is apparent that Elton came into this album with a fully realized vision that he intended to stick to. The rest of the album adheres to this concept, relying on sparse instrumentation and limited vocal trickey to give the album a laid back, organic feel as opposed to the rigid studio trickey present on his more recent efforts (with the exception of "Made In England").
In addition to Elton, Bernie Taupin also makes a solid return to form. On "The Big Picture," his lyrics drifted too far into the realm of the maudlin, largely inspired by his failing marriage, giving the album a repetitive feel and ultimately underwhelming results. Here, Taupin returns to the rich character studies and evocative imagery that defined his best compositions. On the chilling "American Triangle," Bernie and Elton draw out the sadness, revulsion and anger generated inside both their minds over the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming. The song starts off quietly, but slowy rises (in a manner not dissimilar to "Indian Sunset" from "American Sunset") into a stinging damnation of bigotry and fear that is up there with "Ticking" as quite possibly the most singularly power piece of lyrics Bernie ever wrote.
However, for all the plaudits that can be lauded on this track and others, it is on "Original Sin" that all the most admirable elements of the album come together seemlessly to create one of the most hypnotic and haunting recordings of Elton's career. Elton's vocal makes Taupin's evocative lyrical touches (with delacies such as "Up in the balcony, all the Romeo's are bleeding for your hand, blowing theater kisses, reciting lines they don't understand") come alive, as Paul Buckmaster's strings soar in an almost angelic fashion.
Similar moments of sonic nirvana are achieved on the album's two most remembered songs, the Lennon-esque "I Want Love," which recalls "Imagine" as well as Elton's own "Believe" in that it features the same steady, swaying melody and a simple but power plea for the most powerful force known to man, and "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore," which is one Elton's most emotionally draining performances, his vocal perfectly reflected the metaphorical trainwreck depicted in the song. The tear in his voice on the bridge as well as the last "I used to be the main express..." is heart shattering.
The rest of the album is uniformly excellent, if not quite as noteworthy as the tracks mentioned above (though "Dark Diamond" is worth a mention for its bouncy rhythm, poignant lyrics and brilliant harmonica works from none other than Stevie Wonder). "Songs From The West Coast" is an instant classic easily in the Top 10, if not Top 5, of Elton's best efforts.