In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Elton John’s career was in a bit of a drought. After years as an untameable glam-rock icon, he had settled into an Adult Contemporary rut, making albums like Leather Jackets and Made in England, which sold well among his dedicated fan base, but failed to make a dent with critics, or add any new staples to his catalog. As Reg entered his 50s, it couldn’t help but seem like he would never get his old groove back. It seemed fitting that the only work of his from this time to get much recognition, aside from his soundtrack work, was his Princess Diana-themed remake of “Candle in the Wind.”
Anyone who pronounced John’s career over, however, would be proven thoroughly wrong, as he would turn things around entirely, embarking on a hot streak that has lasted for about 15 years now. The moment where the turnaround really started happening was 2001, where he gave us Songs from the West Coast. When promoting the album, he said that two of his biggest inspirations were Ryan Adams and Rufus Wainwright, and sure enough, you can hear the influences of both coming through here. If the problem with his ’90s albums was that he was simply rehashing familiar love song tropes, what made this album different was the thorough character studies of tracks “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes.” After several albums where he merely bashed out songs, Elton John was finally telling stories again.