August 15, 1988 12:00 PM

Elton John

John has always produced enough hooks to keep the Atlantic fishing fleet oversupplied. There are plenty of them on this record— I Don’t Wanna Go On with You Like That would be an albumful of infectiousness for most people—but the commercial tracks are mixed in with some often trenchant social commentary that suggests a love-hate relationship with pop culture. Goodbye Marlon Brando, for instance, reflects about as much disenchantment as anyone could muster: “Say goodbye to gridlock/ Goodbye to Dolly’s chest/ Goodbye to the ozone layer/ If there’s any of it left.” And: “Say goodbye to hair styles/ Goodbye to Heaven’s Gate/ Goodbye to Rocky Five/ Six, seven and eight.” Town of Plenty includes this line of wishful thinking: “There were many archives/ We had no media/ Only art survived there.” Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two) is an ambivalent pop treatise on New York City, decrying its harder qualities and extolling its art: “Just focus on the brush strokes/ And the bouquets the dancers hold.” Heavy Traffic lambastes drug use; Poor Cow sympathizes with (and takes some digs at) working-class wives and mothers. It’s not that John has avoided this kind of thing before—you don’t have to go back any further than Candle in the Wind—but this is a particularly intense batch of songs, even when they have sugar coatings. They’re generally inventive variations on pop music, written mostly by John and his longtime collaborator, who now goes by the name of just plain Taupin. (This bit of pomposity makes the former Bernie sound like a discontinued model of a Chrysler Corporation automobile.) The album title suggests that Reg Dwight has gotten more than a little tired of being Elton John, creating a rare moment of pop-music dialectics: Instead of being concerned with taking Elton too seriously, it may be time to worry about not taking him seriously enough. (MCA)

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