There was a lot of hope for Elton John fans with the release of "Reg Strikes Back" in 1986. Elton's singing was more energetic and his music was more creative than in his albums released in the years just before this one, particularly his musical low point, "Leather Jackets." The question was: would Elton's next release show even more improvement? The answer was an absolute yes. "Sleeping with the Past" had Elton and Bernie moving toward improved creativity and a renewal of their careers. Some of the songs on this CD are significantly more inspired than songs the duo had created in years and fans could rejoice that Elton really was striking back.
The album kicks off with "Durban Deep." Durban Deep is the name of a mine in South Africa. I believe the mine is actually a gold mine, though the lyrics talk about breathing coal dust. Regardless, this bouncy tune has some interesting musical effects to back it up.
The second song is upbeat. "Healing Hands" reflects the powerful pop style of Elton's 70s hits. This song sets the tone for this album, rather than the first song. This song reached #15 on U.S. charts, backed by "Dancing in the End Zone," which did not appear on this album in its original release, but which is included on the also available remastered version.
The third song is one of the best songs on this CD and surprises me in that the song was not released as a single by itself rather than being released backing "The Club at the End of the Street." "Whispers" is one of the most artistic songs on this CD and is a beautiful love ballad as well. Elton excellently matched his music to Bernie Taupin's lyrics to create one of those songs that could easily have been included on Elton's "Love Songs" CD. This song is an overlooked gem. Fortunately, it is one of the longest songs on this CD and I enjoy every second.
"The Club at the End of the Street" is a nice pop song that is bouncy and upbeat and fits all the requirements for commercial success. However, of the songs released from this CD, this one was the weakest, reaching only #25 in the U.S. This song was backed by "Whispers," which I think is the better song of the two.
The next song is the title track. Keeping with the tone of the album, this song is also peppy and upbeat with a very enthusiastic refrain. While this song has a commercial flavor similar to the previous song, somehow this song comes across as more creative and interesting. By the time you reach this song you realize that this CD is much more consistent and musically interesting than any Elton John CD in a number of years, and yet there are even more interesting songs to come on this CD.
I have little to say about "Stones Throw from Hurtin'." I know Elton was trying to affect a certain style, and perhaps he succeeds. I know I do not care for the style. The vocal sounds muddy and nearly monotone and the music is too repetitious. This song is stylistically very different from the other songs on this CD and I believe is the weakest on this CD.
"Sacrifice" makes up for the last song by being one of the best songs on this CD. This song reached #18 on the U.S. charts, backed by "Love Is a Cannibal," which is a song from "Ghostbusters II." This song was chosen for Elton's "Love Songs" collection and is one of Elton's greatest ballads. The music contains a lot of electronic effects, but they are so well done that they enhance the beautiful words and the excellence of Elton's vocals. This song strikes an emotional chord every time you hear it.
Breaking out of the mellow mood is "I Never Knew Her Name." This jazzy song is about an observer at a wedding seeing a beautiful woman that impresses him. This song is an above average song for this CD and contains a number of interesting musical moments, including an all too brief organ portion. Combined with Elton's powerful vocal performance, this song delivers.
Elton did powerful blues songs early in his career, but did so less frequently as his career progressed. "It Amazes Me" has a lot of soul and power, with even the words throwing in an element of blues and soul, making a number of obvious references. This song is poetically and musically interesting, and is yet another of the strong performances on this CD. The guitar on this song is very well done and takes a rare lead on the bridge of this song.
The last song on this CD is very mellow. I could easily see Dan Fogelberg singing "Blue Avenue." The music is very well done and matches Taupin's lyrics very nicely. There is a touch of jazz on this song, in keeping with some of the earlier songs. This song is yet another of the standout songs on this CD.
There is a re-mastered version of this album available, and possibly other versions. You may wish to survey the available versions to choose that which best meets your needs.
If Elton had yet to really strike back with his previous album, he certainly did with this album. Following Elton John and Bernie Taupin's induction into the National Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1988, this album generated Elton's first ever #1 single in the United Kingdom, "Sacrifice," and proved that Elton John was still an incredible singer and song writer. Elton and Bernie were poised to go into the 1990s refreshed, ready to climb back into the charts anew, and ready to break into territory that was new to both of them.