Review Summary: Jesus never saved the guys in the Tower of Babel
Ok, so picture this. You’re a timid kid from Middlesex struggling to cut your teeth in the music industry. You’re paired with another down on his luck kid who writes you a couple of tracks in hopes you can set them to music and possibly get a hit on your hands. 6 years later, you’re the biggest rock star in the world with dozens of top 10 huts, a handful of no 1s and multiple gold records. So what now? Write an album about it of course.
Elton John was at the height of his cocaine fuelled rock god lifestyle in 1975. His last two records, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Caribou’ had birthed numerous hits and had charted at no 1 in several countries, transforming the shy piano player into a glam rock megastar. But it was time for reflection. John and Taupin came up with the idea of an autobiographical record about their rise to the top. ‘Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy’ was the result of this. Recorded at a fairly slow pace compared to the relatively quickness of all of his previous records, it was the first album in Billboard history to debut at no 1 and be gifted a gold record before it was even released. But have the Captain and The Kid’s adventures held up today?
Compared to some of Elton’s previous work, ‘Captain Fantastic’ doesn’t really have a commercial feel. Like ‘Madman Across The Water’, tracks are fairly long and hooks are sparse and far apart. The opening titular track has no chorus of any kind, flowing from a steady country song to an electric glam rock declaration. Similarly, the final track ‘Curtains’ burns on for over six minutes with a sweeping anthemic ending. The record’s actual lead single, ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ is nearly seven minutes long and features brooding dark lyrics detailing Elton’s 1969 suicide attempt. It doesn’t jump out as a lead single given its length and subject matter but thus was the power of Elton, and it hit 4 on the charts.
This would be the last record recorded with the classic John line up before being slowly replaced before finally being sacked completely over the following years. Fittingly, they give it their all. Special mentions go out to the blistering funk guitar on ‘(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket, the thudding drums on ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ and Elton’s fiery piano on Bitter Fingers and the music hall tinged ‘Better Off Dead’. But the instrumentation never feels overwrought. There’s no over the top solos and bombastic playing like on ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, it’s subtle in all honesty. The glam rock style had tapered out of John’s work. What’s here is nuanced and tasteful. The perfect end to an era.
Captain Fantastic was seen as the end of an era for Elton. His following record ‘Rock of The Westies’ was seen as a poor follow up and the overly sappy ‘Blue Moves’ did him little favour with critics (Both good albums however). He wouldn’t make a full critical comeback until ‘Too Low for Zero’ in ’83 and Captain Fantastic is seen as the end of an era for him. A damn fine one if it was to believed, give or take the lack of hooks.