Throughout his songs for The Road to El Dorado, Elton John hinted at his classic sound of the early '70s, but it's still a refreshing surprise to find him largely returning to that sound on his 2001 album, Songs From the West Coast. It was easy to think that John wasn't interested in writing like this anymore, given not just his continued success, but the ease with which he was crafting pleasant adult contemporary records. There are still elements of that on Songs From the West Coast -- a few of the ballads are a little too even-handed, and since this is a modern recording, it lacks the resonant warmth of such classics as Honky Chateau and Tumbleweed Connection. Still, this is the richest, best record he's released in a long time, an album where it feels like a hit single is secondary to the sheer pleasure of craft, whether it's crafting a song or an album. And this is an album that flows easily and naturally, setting the mood with the story sketch "The Emperor's New Clothes" and then heading in a number of scenic directions. Of these, "American Triangle," his elegy for Matthew Shepard, will likely receive the most attention, but the most interesting are songs like the bluesy "The Wasteland," "Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes," which recalls the Tumbleweed epics, the neo-Captain Fantastic tune "Dark Diamond," the soulful closer "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore," and "Birds," a terrific, spare, rolling country-rocker. His songwriting hasn't been this diverse or consistent since the early '80s, and he hasn't made a record better than this in years. No, Songs From the West Coast won't make you forget Tumbleweed Connection, but it often recalls those peaks, which, frankly, is enough.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine