Leather Jackets was two years in the past and Victim Of Love had been mercifully fading from memory. Reg Strikes Back, issued in 1988, was billed as Elton John’s big comeback album.
The comeback technically started in 1987 with the release of two non-studio releases. Greatest Hits Volume 3 served as Elton’s last release for the Geffen label while also keeping him in the public eye. Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra marked his return to the MCA Label, becoming a huge hit in the United States as it produced a top ten single with a live version of “Candle In The Wind.” And so it was against this background that he returned to the studio.
Reg Strikes Back became a hit, selling over ten million copies worldwide. It used his classic formula of containing two hits singles which, as they received massive airplay, drove its overall sales.
Elton John produced a very consistent album here. It had the tone and textures of his seventies work and, while it may not have contained the overall quality of that time period’s music, it was still very good.
Side one of the original vinyl release is just terrific. “Town Of Plenty,” which is the lead track, is a simple up-tempo song on which Elton sounds engaged and at ease. He had undergone vocal surgery before the recording of this album but his vocal on this track shows that everything is fine. “A Word In Spanish,” which is a nice and mellow love song, became a top twenty hit in the States. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Part Two)” is a continuation of the 1972 song of the same title. Here, however, the music and song structure is very different and has almost a funky feel. Davey Johnstone’s work on the mandolin is some of the best of his career.
The final two songs are as good as anything he and Bernie Taupin ever produced together. They are classic cases where good lyrics and music come together. “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” was his biggest hit in a decade, reaching number two. It returns to the topic of a relationship falling apart and Elton’s piano playing looks back to his best work. “Japanese Hands” is sultry, erotic, and almost as good.
Side two is a little spottier. “Goodbye Marlon Brando” is at least interesting as it is a frenetic rocker. The album closer, “Since God Invented Girls,” is a wonderful tribute to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and features lush harmonies. The three tracks in the middle are the weak points of the album. “The Camera Never Lies,” “Heavy Traffic,” and “Poor Cow” all suffer from either weak lyrics or music, barely falling into the average range.
Reg Strikes Back was indeed a credible comeback by Elton John. It proved that as the ’80’s were coming to a close he could still produce relevant and entertaining music. It also looked ahead to the ’90’s when he would create some very good music indeed.