While they dedicate this album to soul music pioneers, Elton John and Bernie Taupin are still sleeping comfortably in the cushiony, well-constructed bed of their accustomed uptown-pop digs instead of flopping on some funky ol' R&B mattress.
"Sleeping With the Past" is no juicy soul update, but it is a savvy piece of smooth pop craft resplendent with as consistently strong a sequence of tunes as John has put together since his mid-'70s days as the dominant force on the pop charts.
Last year, John shed his peacock feathers in favor of a more low-key persona. He follows through here with a vocal approach that emphasizes tasteful restraint rather than flamboyance. Taupin's lyrics get John into some silly situations on numbers like the unconvincingly nostalgic "Club at the End of the Street," the trite wedding-bell blues of "I Never Knew Her Name" and the doubly trite Dixie-isms of "Amazes Me." But John is always ready with a melody that keeps things listenable.
The strongest song here is "Durban Deep," a catchy, reggae-beat number that eschews the soapbox sloganeering of most songs about the plight of South African blacks, focusing instead on the apolitical but deeply felt blues of a hard-pressed miner.