Elton John and Bernte Taupin have written some great hit singles, but since the early Elton John LP, they have never produced an album of consistently first-rate material. And although Too Low for Zero is a big step up from losers like Blue Moves and A Single Man, it doesn’t hang together, either.
The best tracks on the new album demonstrate John and Taupin’s canny ability to synthesize hit pop tunes. The bracing, uptempo kickers “I’m Still Standing” and “Kiss the Bride” prove that John has faithfully kept up with hits by the Pointer Sisters; he blends their brisk energy with Beatles-esque “yeah yeah yeahs” on the former song and with some sloppy guitar work reminiscent of the Faces on the latter. And “Crystal” and “Too Low for Zero” are catchy numbers that mix acoustic instruments with synthesizers or drum machines in a way that recalls Joe Jackson’s recent work.
The rest of the album exposes Bernie Taupin’s fondness for building entire lyrics around such well-worn catch phrases as “time on my hands” or “heaven can wait.” Even worse are the sentimental story songs: “Cold as Christmas” depicts the unhappy senescence of a retired couple in Florida (or, in Taupin’s words, “a love burned out by silence in a marriage minus heart”), and “One More Arrow” is an icky recollection of a dead father who never showed his pain and now rests in “the soft, brown earth that holds him forever always young.” Sorta makes ya wanna munch budgies with Ozzy Osbourne, know what I mean?