21 At 33

Elton John

MCA, 1980


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Let the record state that by my count, I can't find an arrangement of albums that gives credence to the title of 21 At 33. In theory, this record was the 21st of John's career, when he was 33. However, the most I can find is 18 (maybe I'm missing out on a few Greatest Hits). In the end, none of this really matters, as 21 At 33 is only a somewhat enjoyable record.

Despite the surge of punk and disco, Elton managed to weather the storm of popular music trends in the late 70s. While his commercial clout had been greatly diminished for a variety of reasons (his statement of bisexuality didn't help), he had fended off those musical beasts. By 1980 he was still standing and ready to start another decade. Of course, it would take him two years to actually deliver an outstanding album, but there were some good moments along the way.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

21 At 33 marked a return to collaboration between Elton John and Bernie Taupin, for the first real time since 1976 and Blue Moves. For the most part, their reunion yielded strong material. The opening track "Chasing The Crown" is a rocker resembling earlier efforts such as "I Don't Care," but with more energy. "White Lady White Powder" is a lightweight track, bolstered by the appearance of Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles on background vocals. The subject material is where I find a problem; obviously they're talking about cocaine, and in my view it trivializes drug use far too much, especially considering Elton's proficient drug use.

Luckily, the third collaboration between the two results in easily the best track off 21 At 33. "Two Rooms At The End Of The World" easily culminates in one of John's best fusions of pop and disco, with the driving beat and tremendous use of horns. Elton rarely used horns to this effect, and it makes the track.

The non-Taupin tracks are rather hit and miss, though there are a few nuggets. "Sartorial Eloquence" may cause fans to scramble for a dictionary but is one of my favorite John ballads from this time period. His piano playing is highlighted more prominently than usual, supported by some lush synth arrangements. The backing vocalists read like a list of who's who in the music industry, with Toni Tenille, Bruce Johnston, and the two previously mentioned Eagles appearing. The album's big hit, "Little Jeannie," is a rather delicate affair, sounding like "Daniel" part two. While the former is nowhere near as good as the latter, it was catchy enough to reach #3 on the Billboard Charts.

Problem with 21 At 33 is the lack of good material after "White Lady White Powder." "Dear God" is incredibly saccharine, and coming right after a song about cocaine doesn't seem too genuine. "Never Fall In Love Again" plays like a revamped "Return To Paradise," and "Take Me Back" is a country effort that does not play among Elton's best. "Give Me The Love" almost captures the quality of earlier tracks, with a decidedly more disco approach, but drags on for too long.

Again, this effort is neither terrible nor mind-blowing. It does show how good Elton was when he could crank out a professional-sounding record with little inspiration, but thankfully he would crank out one more album like this until returning to that old 70s magic in 1983.

Rating: C+

User Rating: C


I think the title means he feels like he's 21 at the age of 33.

© 2006 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.