Less than four months after issuing the landmark and autobiographical Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Elton John re-emerged with a new band and a slightly modified sound. However, the departure of bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson began a deceleration in terms of John's success, which rivalled only the Beatles' and Elvis Presley's in terms of global acclaim. The revamped band grew to include new associates James Newton Howard on keyboards and Kenny Passarelli on bass as well as drummer Roger Pope and guitarist Caleb Quaye, who had both performed with John as far back as his first long-player. (He also retained the services of guitarist Davey Johnstone and percussionist Ray Cooper from the most recent lineup.) Musically, Rock of the Westies maintains the balance of harder-edged material and effective ballads. In fact, one of the album's strongest suits is the wide spectrum of strong material. The ballsy no-nonsense "Street Kids" and the aggressive gringo rock of the ZZ Top sound-alike "Grown Some Funk of Your Own" contrast with the poignant power balladry of "I Feel Like a Bullet (In the Gun of Robert Ford)" or the dark and brooding tale of addiction on "Feed Me." Perhaps inspired by the crossover R&B appeal of "Philadelphia Freedom," the up-tempo "Island Girl" bears a distinct and danceable groove that lies somewhere between a slightly Jamaican vibe and disco. Perhaps more soulful in the traditional sense are the boogie-based "Hard Luck Story" or propulsive Bo Diddley beat that drives "Billy Bones and the White Bird." While the increasingly fickle public as well as lack of a strong follow-up to the chart-topping single "Island Girl" may have prevented Rock of the Westies from becoming the heir apparent to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, in the wake of John's flawless predecessors it remains a strong and worthwhile entry that also set the stage for its follow-up, Blue Moves.
Rock of the Westies Review
by Lindsay Planer
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