Elton John had split with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, creating a two-year gap between studio albums. He and his record company filled that gap by releasing his second greatest hits album in 1977 which was a huge worldwide hit.
A Single Man marked the beginning of a new career phase for Elton John. While he would continue to be a top live attraction, his new albums wouldn't sell as well as those released during his classic period. Nor would they be as artistically strong. Such albums as Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road were brilliant from beginning to end and formed a catalog that has rarely been equaled in pop/rock history.
A Single Man is but one in a series of '70s and '80s Elton John albums that contained a few good songs and a lot of average ones. New lyricist Gary Osborne, while competent, was not of the caliber of Bernie Taupin. John is also not consistent here as the music is moody in places while a number of the tracks have a quirky feel to them.
The second side of the original vinyl release was the stronger of the two. “Part-Time Love” was a middling hit in the United States and is the album’s strongest track overall. It is smooth pop/rock with a hint of disco — perfect for dance clubs of the era. “Madness” is powerful with biting commentary and remains an unappreciated gem. “Song For Guy” — a tribute to a young Rocket Record label employee, Gary Burchett, who was killed in an accident — features some of the best piano work of John's career. While it was a huge hit in England, it was a rare, failed single in the States. Even the countrified “Georgia” and the jazz-oriented “Shooting Star” are acceptable if uninspired.
Side one is a different matter, however. The album begins with the average ballad “Shine On Through” and the “Big Dipper” has an interesting New Orleans feel to it. Yet songs such as “Return To Paradise,” “I Don’t Care,” and “It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy,” can be classified as filler.
A Single Man is not one of Elton John’s shining moments. It lacks energy and an overall appeal. In the final analysis it's not offensive but not essential either. It's just an album that is easily ignored.