Elton John's Songs From the West Coast, his first full collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin since 1997's The Big Picture, finds the pop partnership exploring society's darker complexities in sumptuous, piano-driven melodies. The 12-track album, produced by Patrick Leonard and due by early October on Universal, arrives after John's ambitious excursions in film (The Muse and The Road to El Dorado soundtracks) and on Broadway (The Lion King and Aida).
John's commitment to AIDS research and gay rights is prominent. Ballad of the Boy in the Red Shoes denounces an uncaring Reagan regime in the reflections of a ballet dancer dying of AIDS. American Triangle, the track most likely to command attention, depicts the 1998 murder of gay student Matthew Shepard. Joined on harmony vocal by Rufus Wainwright, John revisits the rage and grief of a vicious hate crime that left "two lives ruined, one life spent."
While Original Sin and Birds offer sunnier sentiments, John waxes cynical in I Want Love and confronts the ghost of blues pioneer Robert Johnson in The Wasteland. Guests include Billy Preston and Stevie Wonder, who plays clavinet and harmonica on Dark Diamon.