The One

Buying an Elton John album these days is like investing in a mutual fund: You won't get a huge payoff, but you probably won't get burned either. As with recent portfolios offered by bankable rockers Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton, audiences buy into John's work at this point for a familiar sense of craft, not for stinging creativity. Which means that at the very least The One stands as the musical equivalent of comfort food.

John's thirty-third release, The One finds him reasonably spry despite having received the music biz's approximation of a gold watch: last year's useless tribute album, Two Rooms, plus a terrific box set. The new album boasts some hooks sharp enough to pierce our memory banks, from the amiable "Simple Life" to the Philly-soul-inspired "On Dark Street."

And yet there's not a one that couldn't have been helped out by more pointed production. As with John's releases for more than a decade, there's so much echo on The One that emotion dissolves into oblivion. Even a promising country honk like "Whitewash County" loses its very real shot at recalling Tumbleweed Connection.

Not that anything else on The One has a chance to scale such heights. "Runaway Train," (a duet with – guess who? – Eric Clapton) from the Lethal Weapon 3 soundtrack, isn't the only number that could run during the closing credits of some hack Hollywood film. Which is why, for all its small joys, The One will ultimately be best remembered not for its music but for the first-ever cover shot of Elton's hair weave.