Friday, March 13, 2020

Elton John 13: Rock Of The Westies

Having felt something of a rut setting in, Elton John fired his longtime rhythm section, replacing them with players from the early days and a couple of Americans found along the way. The sound was bigger but still Elton, as demonstrated on his next album, once again recorded at Caribou in Colorado. Rock Of The Westies is an odd little album, full of strange song titles but plenty of commercial sheen.
The opening “Medley (Yell Help – Wednesday Night – Ugly)” finds him harmonizing with himself over James Newton Howard’s funky clavinet (part of Elton’s new band strategy being that he’d stick to piano). The funk continues on “Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future)”, which namechecks a sci-fi hero of British comic books amid other garbled lyrics; amazingly, the closing vocal chorale sounds just like Queen. “Island Girl” is the latest attempt to immortalize a woman from an exotic place, musically very interesting given the unconventional bass line. It was the album’s only hit single, unlike “Grow Some Funk Of Your Own”, something of a take on “Gimme Three Steps” and not entirely convincing, or “I Feel Like A Bullet (In The Gun Of Robert Ford)”, which takes Bernie Taupin’s cowboy fixation to the extreme, in an arrangement already perfected in the arrangements on the last album.
The howling guitar and riff at the top of “Street Kids” recalls Bad Company until the congas kick in, and the tricky meter manages to keep it interesting. However, “Hard Luck Story” is fairly pedestrian, with a chorus that sounds flown in from a completely different song than the verses. “Feed Me” is all yacht-rock swagger; these days we want to add “Seymour” to every time he croons the title. But nothing prepares the listener for the bombastic arrangement of “Billy Bones And The White Bird”, which in no way suggests the “ancient mariner” tale hidden in the lyrics. “Check it out,” indeed.
Rock Of The Westies isn’t bad, and not strange enough to be a failed departure. It came out a mere five months after its predecessor, and as a whole suggests that maybe a little more time than that was needed. (The eventual expanded CD included two extras from the album sessions: a low-key take of “Planes”, later covered by the lead singer of the Zombies, and the lovely B-side “Sugar On The Floor”, written by new protégée Kiki Dee, of whom more would be heard and soon.)

Elton John Rock Of The Westies (1975)—3
1996 CD reissue: same as 1975, plus 2 extra tracks

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