Elton John seems to be first among aging popsters who don't make you cringe. When the Stones gear up for yet another "final" tour, the jokes about walkers and hearing aids up on stage start to fly. Maybe they didn't listen to their own line, "It's better to burn out than fade away." John, however, whose own career took off in the early 1970s, has continued to make great music and keep his dignity. Sure, a lot of his allure is in his greatest hits, but with Songs from the West Coast, he shows that he's still adding greatest hits-worthy songs to an already impressive catalog.
The songwriting team of John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) is a marvel of artistic achievement. How could these two guys work together so seamlessly? And it's too bad that Taupin doesn't get his name above the title, too, as the lyrics throughout this CD are among his best ever. Any discussion of lyrics on this CD has to start with "American Triangle," which starts out as almost a pastoral and then takes a very dark turn: "Looks like a painting, that blue skyline / God hates fags where we come from." It's a song, you soon discover, about the Matthew Shepard murder in Wyoming ("It's a cold wind blowing, Wyoming").
But John's piano playing is front and center as well, carrying the more upbeat tunes, like "Look Ma, No Hands," "Birds" and "Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes." If you like the epic scale of John' past hits and his punchy piano playing, here's a CD that will replace those greatest hits you've listened to about a billion times.