This was Elton John's first album recorded after he beat his addictions to alcohol and drugs, as well as his eating disorders. For the first time in a long time, Elton came to the record-making process with a clear head and a clean outlook on life. Most of The One plays out like the work of a man finally satisfied with his personal life. But while this was great for Elton John, his newfound sobriety did not necessarily translate into great music.
Elton rarely records an album that lacks a few pop gems. The One is no different; there are moments that harken back to John's glory days. "Whitewash Country" falls in line with the countrified material he recorded in the 80s, like "Slow Down Georgie" and "The Fox." I would not be surprised if a modern-day country artist had success with the song. "The One" was the big hit off the record, a straight-up power ballad with a hard-hitting chorus and Bernie Taupin's best lyrics in years. Elton compared this song to John Lennon's material, and I can definitely the similarity.
"The Last Song" ranks up there with Elton's most touching material. His first song revolving around AIDS, the song deals with a father and son resolving their differences after the son is stricken with the disease. I'll take a track like this over "Candle In The Wind 1997" any day; despite its subject material, it never becomes cloying. It is sentimental and emotional in the best way.
Unfortunately, this is the best The One has to offer. "Runaway Train," a "duet" between John and Eric Clapton, is uninspired despite the nods to Clapton's styles, such as the gospel-tinged vocals and keyboards thrown in. "Sweat It Out" is probably the closest thing to rap as John has gotten, proving it is not a good mix. The problem that plagues this material is its length; the first six tracks hit at least five minutes. This is not a problem when the songs are good; here, it kills The One's momentum.
I was also disappointed with the sound of the record. Sleeping With The Past was relatively stripped down and bare-bones, but The One is not, sounding like a mid 80s record or his 1997 work The Big Picture. With Elton, he doesn't necessarily need to have all the fancy arrangements and flourishes -- he has enough skill on his own. His next album, Made In England, would get closer to that general idea.
Again, all the power to Elton getting clean and sober. But that does not mean The One is a great work of art, closer to The Fox or Reg Strikes Back. However, things would get better within the next few years, partly in thanks to a certain animated film about lions, meerkats and warthogs.