With blunt song titles like "Pain" and "Lies," this album seems to promise a less gaudy, more introspective Elton. But when the messenger for the once-flamboyant singer is his longtime lyric collaborator Bernie Taupin, what you get too often are banalities. Taupin attempts to examine John's struggle with excesses but simply ends up offering such ersatz insights as "I've lied for a drug or two" and "We've buried our feelings/A little too deep in the ground."
Fortunately the music itself fares better. John gets off on the right note with the single "Believe," a power ballad that hints at John Lennon during his pop-obsessed "Double Fantasy" era. "Made in England" is a prototypical Elton rocker that should echo nicely off the concrete walls in the stadiums he'll play in this summer. "Man" highlights John's soulful R&B side, source of some of his most emotional material.
John's chops and love affair with his composer's craft show little sign of fatigue. If only he could hold his writing partner to the same standards. (Rocket/ Island)