Sunday, August 27, 2006

First Review for "The Captain and The Kid"

From Mojo:


by David Buckley

"ELTON JOHN can, so it seems, do anything he likes. A national treasure, at almost 60 he's the nearest the rock world has to a Grade One Listed Building. After 35 years at the top, he simply cannot be touched. He can be amusingly candid about fellow pop stars without fear of censure, he can swear on daytime television with equal impunity, he can tell of his disappointment over Live 8, and he can voice the nation's dissatisfaction with their football team with the authority of an absolute monarch.

Songs From The West Coast, Elton's dramatic return to form in 2001, saw him strip back the clunk and clatter of his '80s and '90s productions to reveal the basic sonic core of the Elton sound - piano, vocal. The strategy was continued through the less impressive Peachtree Road, and finds its natural conclusion on The Captain And The Kid, his 29th studio album of original material (the press release boasts 44, but who's counting?).

Here, Elton is in supremely confident mood, while at the sametime very unprotected indeed. In fact, there seems to be very little production on the record at all. Yet it is this, the album's major flaw, that is likely to be praised in some quarters as its greatest strength. But this isn't, as some might claim, a return to the classic sound of the '70s. Elton's songs have often been written in frantic spells before but, in the '70s, the sweeteners and detail of the production always gave depth to the music. Today, there's a curious demo-like quality to the sound.

This caveat aside, what more than saves the day here is a better-than-good melodic performance from Elton, and an outstanding set of lyrics by Bernie Taupin. The Captain And The Kid has the sort of narrative weight seldom found elsewhere today. The concept - namely that of a sequel to 1975's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" - was suggested by Elton's current manager, Merck Mercuriadis. "Captain Fantastic" contained a formidable set of Elton melodies married seamlessly to lyrics which saw Taupin critique the emergent music scene of the late '60s, a time when the would-be star and the teenage lyricist broke free of the constraints of hip London with their 'tra-la-las and la-de-das'. The sequel attempts, perhaps over-ambitiously in just 10 songs, to bring the story up to date, from the original's point of closure (roughly around the time of Elton's first album in 1969, "Empty Sky") to the present day, a present in which Taupin has become the Brown Dirt Cowboy, raising and training cutting horses on his estate in California, while Elton is nothing if not Captain Fantastic. If the original album was in part about prophecy, the sequel is a mature, and at times deeply moving, analysis of what went right and what went wrong.

The Captain And The Kid opens jauntily with Elton and Bernie's arrival in America. Postcards From Richard Nixon's honky-tonk piano run is a signature moment, Taupin's lyrics depicting the wide-eyed wonderment of their first
engagement with the American Dream during the crisis of Vietnam and Watergate. The love affair with all things American continues in the soaring ballad Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way (NYC). But it's the fourth track, Tinderbox, which is the real gem: a lyric which details the huge pressures the partnership encountered at the very height of their international fame set to one of Elton's best ever melodies. Tinderbox is proof that, perhaps alone among his contemporaries, Elton still has the ability to write a brilliant four-minute pop song.

Taupin is on top form throughout, smoothly weaving two or three major themes into one song, as the story of success and hedonistic excess gives way to middle age and poignant reflection on the rock business. Blues Never Fade Away is a moving song about AIDS victims while The Bridge, lyrically the pivotal song on the album, seems to comment on the tasks faced by all music stars as they move from youthful iconicity to maturity. There's humour too:
Elton's dog, Arthur, makes a guest appearance on the bluesy rock of Just Like Noah's Ark, while I Must Have Lost It On The Wind looks back wryly on relationships (and plenty of them) which obviously came part and parcel with international fame."

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