Reg Strikes Back was undoubtedly one of the most important albums of Elton John's career. The man had been faced with the possibility of never being able to sing again due to surgery that removed throat nodules. John's commercial fortunes had also started to turn again, thanks to the massive sales of Live In Australia. Ironically, while Reg Strikes Back may have served as a marking point in John's career, the music does not live up to the album's significance.
Elton John fans must have been relieved after a listen to Reg Strikes Back, mostly due to the fact John could still sing. In fact, Elton's vocals are his best since Breaking Hearts. While the falsetto may have taken a hit, his voice toughened up, allowing Captain Fantastic to really belt out lines with gusto. Bluesy numbers like "Rope Around A Fool" sound more genuine with this new Elton, more self-assured.
The problem is that most of the songs on Reg Strikes Back just are not that good. The ballads lack that Elton John touch, those hooks that stay with the listener for years. With the exception of "Since God Invented Girls," the other two slower paced songs like "A Word In Spanish" are uninspired. "Since God…" plays out as an ode to the Beach Boys, from the gorgeous backing harmonies, the Brian Wilson references, and the Pet Sounds influence on the music itself.
The upbeat numbers from Reg Strikes Back are where the "fun" really begins. "I Don't Wanna Go On (With You Like That)" rose to #2 on the pop charts, sporting a heavy, infectious dance beat. There's even room at the end for a keyboard solo. "Goodbye Marlon Brando" has lyrics that throw out random 80s images, but to me the crisp guitar work from Davey Johnstone carries the song. These two tracks stand out as the best of the rockers; the others fade into obscurity.
Inciting controversy among Elton fans was the track "Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters Pt. 2." "Part One" was one of the stand out tracks off Honky Chateau and has become one of John's most beloved tracks. "Part 2" takes a different approach and travels down an R&B road. Personally, I have no problem with the number. It reflects a change in opinion from youth to adulthood...why can't the man change his mind? Besides, the rarely-seen trumpet solo in an Elton John song alone makes it a fascinating addition to his catalog.
This was supposed to be Elton John's big "comeback" album, and in a few ways it was. John proved his career was far from over and could still carry a tune. Overall though, Reg Strikes Back is lacking in the things that made Elton John the star he was.