Elton John did not formally go into the studio to record The Fox, which was released in May of 1981. Rather, he gathered together tracks that had been recorded one to two years before and fine-tuned them for this release. The album ended up turning out better than its two predecessors from whose sessions the material was taken.
The Fox is a versatile album as he uses three lyricists, namely Gary Osborne, Bernie Taupin, and Tom Robinson, who all make significant contributions. There is also a good mixture of up-tempo and slow songs with one of the better instrumentals of his career thrown in for good measure. While these facts take away from the cohesiveness of the affair, it does make it continually interesting.
The best way to listen to this album is to put his classic seventies material out of your mind and let this release stand on its own. Disco was beginning to lose its commercial appeal while punk and new wave were on the rise. John wisely avoided trying to fit in as he did with the nightmarish album, Victim Of Love. Instead he just put together a work that was uniquely his own.
The album contains one of the most controversial tracks of his career. Tom Robinson, a lifelong advocate of gay rights, wrote the lyrics for “Elton’s Song,” which tells a story of the shame and rejection associated with a teenage homosexual crush. Radio stations refused to play the song and the accompanying video was also rejected.
“Nobody Wins” is catchy electronic pop. While the topics are about divorce and lost love, it became a successful hit single. “Fascist Faces” is another of those obscure, hard-rocking tracks that seem to inhabit John's albums every so often. In turn, “Chloe” takes the sound in a different direction as it is a haunting ballad with rich orchestration.
Side two of the original vinyl release begins with one of the most ambitious instrumentals of his career. “Carla/Etude” finds Elton John on piano, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The complex arrangements fit this classical type piece well and this song alone is worth the price of the album.
Commercially, The Fox deserved better as it only reached number 21 on the American charts. It is a musically complex and in many places a thoughtful release that has only improved with age.