Review Summary: You're a sinking ship with no place to go...
It is widely believed among fans of his that Elton John's career low point, both commercially and critically, was 1979's Victim of Love
. An ill-fated attempt at disco that was not only executed poorly in general, but also came around at a time when disco's popularity was quickly dying off, it would take the former superstar almost half a decade to make a respectable recovery from this period. And indeed, the success of 1983's Too Low for Zero
and singles such as "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" seemed to bode well for Elton's long-term future. But of course, Elton was never one to miss an opportunity to outdo himself. After the mediocre Breaking Hearts
and the dated-as-hell Ice on Fire
quickly reversed the trend Too Low for Zero
had set (despite each having respectably charting singles such as "Sad Songs" and "Nikita", respectively), Elton was dealing not only with a creative dry spell, but with a couple of other health issues. Never a particularly well-trained singer, years of live touring had taken its toll on his vocal cords, resulting in him developing vocal nodules that were, at the time, undiagnosed. It would take a particularly raspy set of shows in Australia promoting this very album in the summer of 1986 to get the nodules diagnosed and subsequently treated surgically, putting the singer out of commission for a couple of years. In addition, a long-standing coke addiction of Elton's was coming to a particular head at this point; producer Gus Dudgeon would report multiple occasions where the singer would come to the studio and snort so much cocaine that it would be all over his face and running out of his nose. Elton's 2006 quote about the making of the record summed everything up perfectly: "Gus Dudgeon did his best, but you can't work with a loony."
In many ways, Leather Jackets
wasn't even an album of new material; approximately half the songs on the record were rejects from the Ice on Fire
album, which was one of Elton's least successful records and contained some of the poorest of-its-era production one can find on an 80's album. In short, it's dated crap, so it should surprise nobody that the rejects from that album sound just as dated and even crappier. Look to the song "Heartache All Over the World" for the best example of this; it's not an offensive song in terms of lyrical content (though this record is not devoid of those types of songs), but it's just horrendously stupid in so many ways, from the bright synths to the syncopated guitar to the "girls, girls, girls" backing chant. Elton himself has panned it as his worst song, and it's hard to disagree with this assertion. Similarly brainless is the heavier "Angeline", which somehow roped in Queen bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor as guest musicians. I find that this track actually epitomizes the idiocy of the album's artwork; some sort of posturing and attempting to act macho that ends up looking like an absolute mess.
Besides the tracks that erode your brain cells with every second spent listening to them, there are two other categories of songs on here: banal 80's synth ballads that leave no sort of impression whatsoever, and songs that trend towards the outright offensive, when it comes to both lyrical content and production. The latter is most blatantly shown on the track "Don't Trust That Woman", with lyrics contributed by Cher of all people. With totally woman-empowering lyrics such as "you can beat her, but don't mistreat her" spread around the entire song (and some excruciating steel drums added to boot), it remains arguably the nadir of Elton's catalog. Then you have tracks like "Go It Alone", which features an obnoxious synth bass riff that repeats throughout the entire song and pounds in your head to the point where the average person will want to smash their computer or whatever device they're listening to the song on. And as for the banal synth ballads, they're hardly worth noting, with only one exception: "Slow Rivers", a duet with the king of British MOR, Cliff Richard. That's not to say the song is necessarily good, as the chorus in particular is extremely underwhelming, but it certainly has the most tasteful production of the album, and Richard's presence offers a bit of actual heart and soul, qualities sorely lacking in every other song on here.
Now, it must be said, Leather Jackets
is a record that not only denotes a commercial/critical low-point for the pop star, but a low point for him as a person, a point where his life was spiraling out of control due to multiple reasons (the aforementioned addictions and vocal troubles, as well as a rapidly deteriorating marriage). In some cases, artists are able to use these types of situations to make the best music of their careers; Elton was clearly not in that sort of a place mentally, and the result of all these issues is an album that, while perhaps not his worst or even his least inspired record, is certainly the most taxing listen of his entire catalog. There's no redeeming qualities to be found here; it's an album that is as messy, disoriented and sad as Elton's life was at the time. Better times were soon to come for Elton and his music, but both would have to forge their way out of the desolation Leather Jackets
created before getting there.