I knew that I was potentially in for trouble when, after offering to review Victim Of Love, the 1979 disco effort from Elton John, Grand Poobah the 2nd Jason called in a priest to administer last rites to me.
It would be too easy to sit back and take more potshots at this album than anything Kevin Federline threatens to release. It would be too easy to just slap an "F" on this disc, product unheard, and declare it to be not only totally unlistenable, but also possibly a violation of the Geneva Convention's rules of torture for it to have ever seen release as a compact disc.
In fact, I'm not gonna do that. Anyone who's followed this site knows I've never been afraid to tackle the time-bombs encased in vinyl. I've survived Tales From Topographic Oceans. I've survived Ringo Starr's I Wanna Be Santa Claus. Getting through just over 35 minutes of disco music (with almost zero segues between the tracks) should be a piece of cake.
Oh, make no mistake, this album is pretty bad, indeed. But if one tries to place themselves in John's shoes around 1979, they'd see that John was an artist in decline sales-wise. His last hit, "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," had come back in 1976 off his Blue Moves album. His follow-up release, A Single Man, contained no hit singles. Add to that the fact that disco was at its commercial peak, and one could almost forgive John for jumping on the disco bandwagon and trying to regain some of his audience. (Hell, Ethel Merman released a disco album, for God's sake.)
In a sense, the attempt was partially successful, with the title track landing at 31 on the Billboard pop singles chart, and the album in the top 50. But that doesn't necessarily mean the material is worth your time and effort.
John himself barely seems to be able to keep any interest in the material put in front of him. (Does he even play keyboards on this one? I show no listing in the liner notes of him playing piano, nor do I remember hearing any piano on this one.) Whoever thought that John was a natural for covering Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" deserves to be horse-whipped; while not a total embarrassment, this one is just plain wrong. (In John's defense, Judas Priest didn't fare any better.)
Likewise, tracks such as "Born Bad," "Warm Love In A Cold World" and "Spotlight" aren't patently bad per se, but there just seems to be a lack of real interest from the parties involved -- and if they ain't into what they're playin', there's no reason you should be. Interesting that Keith Forsey is credited with drums on this disc -- I'd have sworn it was a machine providing the syncopated beats.
There is only one real failure on Victim Of Love -- "Street Boogie," a track that I will admit made me want to claw my eardrums out. Yet John was able to follow up that turkey with the sole success on this one -- namely, the title track. Granted, I still can't say the disco beat works on this one, but something tells me that if it had been removed, this could have been a bonafide hit for John. (I haven't forgotten that it did indeed chart.)
In fact, one could almost argue that many of these songs, had they been given the pop touch without the disco blahs and with audible piano work from John, could have made for a stronger album. I almost would like to see what John could do with one or two of these songs in this day and age.
Victim Of Love could well be John's most vilified release of his career, and it is indeed a low point for the original piano man (all apologies to Billy Joel). It's more of a period piece, albeit a musical period that some would say is best left forgotten. If taken in the musical scene context that it was recorded in, one could almost forgive John for making such a radical musical U-turn. Indeed, had this disc been reworked into a pop release; while it may not have been a chart-topping super-seller, I dare say it would have fared more respectably in people's minds.
That's not to say I want to listen to it again, though…