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Rock of the Westies
Elton John

MCA 2163
Released: November 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 26
Certified Gold: 10/21/75

Elton JohnAlready the most commercially successful solo rock act since Elvis, Elton John continues to grow in popularity and there's no end in sight. Like the greatest show-business personalities, John displays phenomenal energy, shrewd professional judgment and a strong instinct for self-preservation -- gifts that should ensure him his place as the quintessential Seventies pop star for as long as he desires.

But beside the fact that Elton John is a great live entertainer, his records, while commercially essential to his career strategy, have come to seem more and more artistically inconsequential. Rock of the Westies is mostly high-energy rock & roll produced by Gus Dudgeon with characteristic gloss. Though the personnel in John's band have changed somewhat, Dudgeon and John have altered only superficially the basic Elton John sound, which is seamlessly mechanistic. Rock merely steps up the pace and accentuates the gaudy textures of electric keyboards and synthesizers at the expense of orchestration.

As for the album's new songs, they barely accomplish their objective of providing the latest in synthetic boogie. Though this stuff may be great live, it doesn't hold up on record. Of the nine cuts, the most vivacious are "Yell Help," part of a three-song "Medley," the Jamaican-flavored hit, "Island Girl," "Grow Some Funk of Your Own" and "Hard Luck Story." These numbers, which take off from the basic Stones sound, also parody the Stones' preoccupation with sex and violence so nonchalantly that the themes are devoid of sensuality, menace or psychological nuance. If John's singing approaches Jagger's in technical polish, it is at the expense of subtlety. Unlike Jagger, whom he imitates time and time again, John sounds completely uninvolved with his material; he just belts nonstop.

Perhaps it's just as well, since close listening uncovers songs that seem scarcely complete. With the exception of "Island Girl," John's tunes are minimal. And among Bernie Taupin's lyrics, only "Feed Me," a song about incipient insanity, seems more than a glib, slapdash effort. And whoever bothers to listen to the lyrics of "Island Girl," might well find them racial and sexist and without the redeeming eroticism of "Brown Sugar."

Though Rock of the Westies gives no clue to the future direction of Elton John, I'm hoping that one of these days he, Bernie Taupin and Gus Dudgeon will make the great album I'm convinced they're capable of. At present, their only work that is likely to last is Honky Chateau and a handful of singles, most of them collected on Greatest Hits.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 12/18/75.

Bonus Reviews!

This should be quite useful to anyone researching just how cynical a performer can get. You may think such people have enough to study already, with Bob Hope's monologues, David Bowie's choreography, and Howard Cosell's syntax already threatening us with data pollution on the subject of what some celebrities think they can get away with, but here it is, anyway, a momentous, muddy, slapdash, utterly rotten album. Elton John is not musically illiterate -- you can easily tell he's not when you listen to any of his other recordings, whether you liked them or not -- so he must have been up to something when he contrived this mess. I can't imagine what it was if it wasn't to test the frontiers of gullibility. His other albums have a certain sound to them; regardless of how preposterous Bernie Taupin's lyrics were at times and regardless of how exploitative and glittery and cute a figure John cut at times, you had to admit he was always stylishly melodic. Not this time; anyone exposed to fifteen minutes of chord change patterns could have written this "tunes," and they are run through what sounds like a road band being broken in (or rehearsed for the first time) gently on the easiest, most obvious routines. There is, fortunately, a limit to how far Elton John or anyone else can take this kind of thing; the most gullible audience possible is the youngest audience possible, all other things being equal, and it isn't very far from this album to the cut-off point -- a recording that already exists, thanks to the wonders of modern science, of the sounds a fetus hears inside the womb.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 2/76.

Complete with new band, Elton is back to rock and roll again with a set full of potential singles. Davey Johnston remains on guitar from the old group, as does drummer Ray Cooper. Roger Pope on drums, Kenny Passarelli on bass, James Newton Howard on various keyboards and Caleb Quaye, one of Britain's top guitarists, round out the new group, which provides Elton with a funkier backing than he's enjoyed in some time. A few ballads, but the majority of the cuts are rockers with the familiar screaming yet controlled Elton vocals and the excellent Bernie Taupin lyrics we have grown accustomed to. The last several LPs have been adventuresome, and while this one may not move in any great new directions, it is the kind of rock and roll that made the artist the superstar he is. Particularly good guitar work from Quaye. Best cuts: "(Yell Help, Wednesday Night, Ugly)," "Island Girl," "Grow Some Funk Of Your Own," "Street Kids," "Hard Luck Story," "Billy Jones And The White Bird."

- Billboard, 1975.

First time I read the lyrics I got angry, but not at the lyrics, which are Bernie's best. I thought the new band's machine-tooled hard rock and Elton's automatic good cheer was negating their toughness and clarity and complexity. But I was wrong. Intentionally or not, the marimba accents of "Grow Some Funk of Your Own" and the faked-up Caribbean inflections of "Island Girl" elaborate the songs' racial ironies, while the band's fiery temper on "Street Kids" and "Hard Luck Story" cuts through John's arbitrary ebullience. Now if only Bernie furnished every song with a perfect out like this one, from "I Feel Like a Bullet": "You know I can't think straight no more." A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The title signals that this album is short on ballads and long on bouncers; the hit was "Island Girl," but the real key to this album's thinness is that it came a mere five months after its ambitious predecessor, and even for Elton and Bernie, that's a bit too soon to expect much quality. * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

A farewell to the first golden era. There's only one ballad here, yet what a ballad: "I Feel Like a Bullet (in the Gun of Robert Ford)," Elton's best Western, and a breakup lament that should have been a hit.

- Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone, 3/23/17.

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