Bernie Taupin

Tribe

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Bernie Taupin named his band and 1987 RCA album Tribe, displaying even more of his affinity for the Native American culture he gave listeners on Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection over a decade before. If you think "Friend of the Flag" sounds like "Country Comforts" from those Tumbleweed days crossed with Starship, it does. Collaborator Martin Page co-wrote "We Built This City" with Taupin and though this episode is pleasant enough, it would have been more fun to hear the songwriters take on their hits for Starship and Heart. "These Dreams" would have done much to introduce these behind-the-scenes fellows to the masses. The album has some fascinating moments, but nothing big enough to lift it over the top. "Corrugated Iron" is strong; dedicated to Nelson Mandela, it owes much to John Stewart's 1979 Top Five hit "Gold" and John Kongos' sublime minor hit "Tokoloshe Man." Taupin cohorts, including Gus Dudgeon, were involved with the Kongos effort, and it is nice to hear them resurrect "Tokoloshe Man" somewhat. It is also nice to hear what sounds like Elton John's voice on "Citizen Jane" and "Billy Fury." Tribe is one of the more derivative albums you'll ever hear, melodies and production ideas lifted from all sorts of material that shot out over the Top 40 airwaves. What's missing is identity. Bernie Taupin's debut effort, Taupin, suffered the same dilemma and it is distressing that 16 or so years later the brilliant lyricist who was involved with so many hit recordings couldn't sprinkle the magic on this effort to help himself. Of course, if "Citizen Jane" had been pushed into the consciousness through incessant radio play, it might have stuck. The other problem could have been RCA Records. Sure, they propelled Taupin's Starship work to the top -- but the label had no clue that the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, released around the same time as this, would fly. A decent and interesting enough project, it just needed a little bit more from the lyricist turned singer as well as the record label. Now, had Elton John performed a duet as Martha Davis does on "She Sends Shivers".... The music here begs the almost rhetorical question -- has Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid put his voice on record yet? Tribe might be part of the answer to that query.

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