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'Victim of Love'

Elton John's Disco Disaster

Victim of Love is an anomaly in the Elton John catalog, mostly because Elton did not write any of the songs or even play keyboard. It featured none of his band members, nor Bernie Taupin lyrics. Perhaps, it's not surprising then that Victim is the only Elton John album that Elton has never played any of its songs live. It is the shortest album of Elton John's career at just 36 minutes, and is consistently ranked as one of the worst Elton John album, as well as the third worst selling. It was produced by Pete Bellotte whose other credits include Janet Jackson and Tina Turner, among others. It was recorded in Musicland Studio in Munich and Musk Sound Studios in Hollywood—surprisingly by a decent set of studio musicians, all of whom have seen better professional moments.

At this point, it's difficult to know why Elton pursued the album, whether to help a friend, pay a debt, or just try to change his fortunes, which had begun to flag a bit. At this point, hard touring and living had slowed the invincible Elton train.

Being 1979, the album opens with a disco misfire—a painful version of the Chuck Berry classic "Johnny B. Goode." To say there are much better versions of this song is obvious, but to say there are few worse covers would be an understatement. A decent saxophone solo by the estimable Lenny Pickett cannot save this misguided discofication of a rock and roll standard. The beat has absolutely no character and it might as well have been programmed. Even Elton's vocals seem phoned in.

The production style changes so little that one would be forgiven for missing the segue into track two, "Warm Love in a Cold World." Again heavy disco bass, guitar by Steve Lukather, keys, and a basic 2/4 drum beat with very little character—with some cowbell on top to accent the beat. More cowbell wouldn't have hurt, but wouldn't have saved the song either.

Another not-so abrupt segue brings us into track three, "Born Bad," which leaves much to be desired. It also heavily features the background vocals of Stephenie Spruill, Julia Tillman Waters, and Maxine Willard Waters.

"Thunder in the Night" is another undistinguished bass and synth-heavy song.

This is followed by the song "Spotlight," by which time I cannot emphasize enough how uniform the production is on this album—not in a good way.

Next is "Street Boogie;" pretty much more of the same production-wise.

The title track features backing vocals by Michael McDonald and Patrick Simmons of "The Doobie Brothers" fame and more generous helpings of synthesized keyboards. The song is probably the best of a weak bunch; McDonald was on about every other record at this point, but his instrument is unquestionably impressive.

The remaining musicians might not appreciate the shoutout, but here goes: Thor Baldersson plays keyboards and did the arrangements, and Brazilian percussionist Paulhino Da Costa plays the percussion parts—notably, the numerous cowbell parts on the album. Roy Davies adds more keyboards. Keith Forsey plays the drums, and jazz stalwart Marcus Miller played bass. Again, most of these musicians have been much better used elsewhere.

Overall, the album is very worthy of the critical disdain it has received. The best Elton John albums have a varied collection of songs in many styles, all bearing Elton's signature musical trademark. It is obvious why Elton decided not to heavily promote this album; it is not so obvious why it was released at all.