*** ELTON JOHN. “Reg Strikes Back.” MCA. John sounds as if he’s gotten his second wind on his first studio album since returning to MCA Records. The first single, “I Don’t Wanna Go on With You Like That,” is as seamless and irresistible as his peak ‘70s hits. But John has always had a knack for catchy singles. What makes this album special is its consistent quality.
Though many of John’s recent hits have been ballads, the focus here is on up-tempo material. The sassiest track is “Goodbye Marlon Brando,” which has the biting edge of “The Bitch Is Back.” John also tips his hat to ABBA-style Eurodisco on the sardonic “Poor Cow,” and to Creedence on the shuffling “Heavy Traffic.”
The most intriguing cut is “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two),” a sequel to the song that first appeared on John’s 1972 album “Honky Chateau.” The original was a weary, disillusioned look at New York City, but this is a more positive reappraisal. The music fits the city much better, too: The vibrant, jazzy piece features a searing trumpet solo by Freddie Hubbard.
The pop veteran misfires only once, on “Since God Invented Girls.” The ode to feminine beauty features a light-hearted Bernie Taupin lyric that recalls Brian Wilson’s girl-worshipping Beach Boys classic “California Girls.” But John takes it all too seriously and turns it into a heavy-handed ballad. On this cut, Reg strikes out. But for the most part, he’s hitting home runs.