Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the Rodgers and Hammerstein of rock 'n' roll, are in the unusual position of competing with themselves this month. Composer-singer John and lyricist Taupin took the world stage Sept. 6 in Westminster Abbey, having reworked "Candle in the Wind" into a eulogy to Princess Diana. That song has already been released as a single in England and is due in U.S. stores Tuesday (with proceeds to the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund).

On Tuesday, John also releases his latest album, which doesn't contain the single. The collection is brightened by "Something About the Way You Feel," an elegantly crafted pop song, and "Love's Got a Lot to Answer For," which has a sweetly melancholy edge reminiscent of "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word."

Ultimately, however, the album lacks the character, the freshness and the moody theatricality that you find in the songwriting team's classic early work. Instead of stretching its creative vision, this once dynamic duo seems to have consigned itself to the middle of the road.

* Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

* Hear the Music

* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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