|1. Town Of Plenty|
|2. A Word In Spanish|
|3. Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters (Part Two)|
|4. I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That|
|5. Japanese Hands|
|6. Goodbye Marlon Brando|
|7. The Camera Never Lies|
|8. Heavy Traffic|
|9. Poor Cow|
|10. Since God Invented Girls|
|11. Rope Around A Fool|
|12. I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That (Shep Pettibone Mix)|
|13. I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That (Just Elton And His Piano Mix)|
|14. Moda Lisas And Mad Hatters (Part Two) (The Renaissance Mix)|
While I had long heard that REG STRIKES BACK was near the bottom of Elton's best, I was encouraged to buy it for "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That", which I consider to be one of his best works even from a fallow period in his career. Sure enough, Elton sounds vocally invigorated on this song, growing into the deeper-textured voice that either came as a result of the surgery or just the passing years. Also, while Elton may have been playing more keyboards than actual piano by this time, this song is enough to make one admit that the man could still play! The public seemed to agree for "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" peaked at an impressive #2, becoming his highest-charting hit in over a decade.
Commercially, that was perhaps the extent of REG STRIKES BACK's success, although one more single did manage to chart somewhat high. "A Word In Spanish" is another song that Elton's fans don't quite rank high on their lists, and granted, it's not that stellar. But for a love song at a time when Elton & Bernie were starting to see that these guaranteed them hits more than the rockers of yore, "A Word In Spanish" still retains the intelligence of their older romantic songs. The airy exoticism of "Japanese Hands" & lush Beach Boys tribute of "Since God Invented Girls" do a much better job in the ballad department.
All in all, REG STRIKES BACK is more scattered in terms of good, presentable songs, with the prevailing atmosphere one of jubilant celebration having come back from the brink (though Elton had just begun), explaining the emphasis on rhythm. "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters [Part Two]" is a much more syncopated number than its prequel of 15 years before, but lyrically, it's a fine way of updating the tune from a man who had indeed grown a lot in the years since.
"Goodbye Marlon Brando" (an all-too-apropos title recently) is a frenzied, funny way of bidding farewell to the excessive 1980s, which Elton is maybe the first to admit at being an active participant in (just look at the album cover). Although I'm not sure you could count off all the defining characteristics of the decade in just 3 1/2 minutes.
"The Camera Never Lies" is another uptempo "anti-love" song like "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That", but with a more unsettling subtext, one hinting at voyeurism with the whole camera motif. On the other hand, "Town Of Plenty", "Heavy Traffic" & "Poor Cow" sound like they're coming from the still substance-addled minds of Elton & Bernie, maybe showing their insistence on words that simply sound good together rather than mean something.
The bonus tracks are rather nil on the reissue of REG STRIKES BACK, favoring alternate mixes than lost tracks. "Rope Around A Fool" is the real find with its bluesy atmosphere, and what sounds like a rare time in this period that Elton forsook his keyboards for a good old Steinway. On the other hand, the "piano-only" (but of the remix) version of "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" is another indication that no matter what kind of keyboard he plays, Elton is a wizard. Some people have claimed that the remix of "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" is an improvement over the original, which I think is a stretch. Rather, it's equally good & comparable, Shep Pettibone giving it a distinctly 1980s-kitsch flavor as a knowing wink to the anything-goes mood of the era. The same goes for the recasting of "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters [Part Two]".
Maybe the 1980s was not the best time to be an Elton John fan for while commercially, he was still moving full speed ahead, creatively, it seemed that train had left the station once Bernie Taupin departed for the first time. Nevertheless, it was admirable that Elton & Bernie realized it was time to get back to business & win back their old fans with the "renewal" of REG STRIKES BACK. Looking back, it was not the ultimate "strike back" that was expected, but it still had enough reminders of the old genius days to give fans hope that a full-scale return was in the works.
At the height of personal problems, Elton, once again, has risen to the occassion. If he had continued to put out poor product like 1985's Ice on Fire and it's follow-up, Leather Jackets, it could have been dooms day for the English piano player. Instead, what he delivers here isn't necessarily his best album, but certainly a turn in the right direction.
The album cover explains it all: in the midst of the crazy and tackiest 70s and 80s stage costumes, stand little Elton, or in this case Reg, his real name. It seems as if an awakening of sorts had dawned on him - get rid of the excess baggage and get down to business and make a fun rock album. And that's what he and lyricist Bernie Taupin do. So, does the music live up to all of the expectations?
Starting with Town of Plenty, Elton sings with utmost conviction on a song about the media and the constant struggle fame brings. The music is pretty shallow however and ultimately goes no where. Plus, Taupin's lyric is very difficult to sing along with. But the band and particularly the backing vocals, try hard to make you enjoy it. The next song, A Word In Spanish, is a beautiful ballad that has a terrific guitar solo by Davey Johnstone. This was the second single from the release and though it peaked in the Top 20, it deserved a place in the Top 10. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part II) resembles nothing close to its 1972 companion, but how could Elton try to mirror the original melody without ripping it off? The music here is jubliant, upbeat and fun. This second look at New York City is more celebratory instead of downbeat. Whether or not it should have been associated with the former version is up for someone else to decide. Standing firmly on its own, Part II is a welcome addition to this album. The big hit, I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That follows and is everything an Elton single should be: catchy, fun and memorable.
The rest of the release follows pretty much the same formula. Goodbye Marlon Brando is one of Elton's best rockers, Heavy Traffic laments the drug war albeit with a very progressive melody line, and Since God Invented Girls is a homage to the Beach Boys and is a pleasant enough ballad. Some of the misses on this album include: Japanese Hands, which isn't over done but is just way too long; Poow Cow, a very obnoxious song that should have been left for a b-side somewhere with its tale of a poor girl who gets abused by her husband; and lastly, The Camera Never Lies, seems to be filling in space.
Producer Chris Thomas give a fresh polish to these songs and for once, doesn't bury the album in wall of sound foolishness. Also, the backing vocals by the original band give this album a very reminiscent feel even though except for Davey, they don't play on the release. My only quibble would be that Elton's piano is made part of the mix, not the sole focal point. Vocally, Elton sounds charged up and determined win us over.
Lyrically, the album is all over the place but Taupin still delivers his well branded style of pop lyrics. They may not be as moving or introspective as previous efforts but at least he keeps it interested in his own way.
Reg Strikes Back was a new beginning (how many times has he renewed himself musically?) for Elton John. His best album? No. But it showed the pop world that he still had plenty of life in him.