The Captain And The Kid

Elton John

Interscope, 2006

http://www.eltonjohn.com

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/2006

My appreciation for Elton John is clearly expressed on the pages of this Web site, though I'm not so blind as to see some of his work is less than stellar. But as a fan who has followed Elton throughout his career, I can say without hyperbole that The Captain And The Kid is John’s best album since Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. That's a difference of 31 years, mind you.

In attempting to craft a suitable record to follow in the footsteps of Captain Fantastic, John has trumped every album he has recorded since that masterpiece, and he and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin have finally come back to where they started. The general concept of TCATK plays out as the events of John and Taupin’s life where Captain Fantastic left off, and thus the listener relives their feelings of coming to the U.S.A for the first time via “Postcards for Richard Nixon,” or their love affair with New York City.

Bernie Taupin has been criticized for his lyrics ever since he and John hooked up, and those criticisms are valid. Even on Elton's last album, Peachtree Road, one could argue many of the words were taken straight from the Book of Clichés (if it's not in your Bible, complain to a local church). But that is not the case here on this disc; Taupin is razor-sharp, focused and, well, who else would be suitable to tell Elton's story than one of his best friends?

The Captin is chock full of classic lines that not only speak about Elton and Bernie, but reach a more universal audience as well. Who can’t relate to the subject of “Blues Never Fade Away,” which details the pain and anger at the loss of someone cared about? “The Bridge” is more than just John at the crossroads of his career; it’s a challenge that everyone must face at some point.

The proceedings are not entirely without humor, such as when John sings in wonder of Steve McQueen driving down Sunset Blvd. and hearkening back to a time long gone. “Just Like Noah’s Ark" manages to send up the record industry in a blistering fashion, while a close listen to “Old 67’” might reveal something funny if you know a bit about Elton's past.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

How is it musically, you ask? Elton stepped up to bat in the biggest way possible here, reaching deep into his soul and wrenching a performance he probably won't match again, at least in another 31 years. There are so many of thse moments to choose from that it’s hard to pick a few, but generally speaking this album doesn’t have a weak moment, with a solid 10 tracks and no filler. More importantly, The Captain doesn't come off like an Elton John album.

Let me explain that bit. In the last 20 years or so, I’ve gotten a sense that Elton was so good at writing melody he could literally churn them out with little thought, and too often he fell into that trap of writing nice but forgettable melodies. Here, one gets the sense that Elton avoided this trap and focused on writing strong songs instead of just strong melodies.

The weakest moments on TCATK are still good; the best stand alongside the pantheon of John’s classic period. The title tune actually would have made a perfect ending to Captain Fantastic (the opening riff is the same that opens the Captain Fantastic album), functioning as a great bridge between the records. The love letter to NYC, “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way,” comes as close to a sequel of “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters,” as you can get. “Just Like Noah’s Ark” shows Elton’s rocker side in fine form, tapping in a bluesy/Stones vibe.

Yet John truly scales the heights once more with a few outstanding tracks. “Blues Never Fade Away” is John’s most touching work since “The Last Song;” you can hear the hurt and pain in his voice as he recalls those who are gone. In particular, the climatic line, “I miss John Lennon’s laugh” brought tears to my eyes as well as sent shivers down my back. “I Must Have Lost It On The Wind” is Dylan-esque as it represents the best of Elton’s attempts to blend country into his music. This track reveals its treasures slowly; with each listen you hear something else to capture your interest.

But the best moment here is the power ballad “Tinderbox.” Detailing John and Taupin’s downslide, it is quite frankly one of John’s best songs in about 30 years. The opening group vocals channel Brian Wilson, while John in turn does his best Lennon imitation on the piano. The song is a slow worker; it takes its time in establishing a mood and pace. Davey Jonhstone starts to churn out some blistering riffs, and then BAM! you have the crescendo capped off by a Nigel Olson drum fill, and it’s a stunning, harmony-laden fade back into the most powerful rendition of the chorus. It is at that moment that you realize that this album can hold its own against the big boys.

It is quite easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new album, especially when it’s one of your favorite artists. Keeping things objective and rational can be difficult. But I don't need to exaggerate here, since The Captain And The Kid is completely deserving of its hype, it stands as one of the best sequel albums I have ever heard and is Elton’s finest work in 30 years.

Rating: A

User Rating: B


Comments

I was tempted to write, "You get this far down the road in your career and see if you can do something this good." Then I realized that, objectively, The Captain and the Kid is "this good." Just about every song stands up on its own in comparison to EJ's body of work. I find a couple of the songs: "Tinderbox," "Postcards from Richard Nixon," and, in particular, "The Bridge," to be about as compelling as anything he's ever done. And I was around (and was a huge fan) during the #1 years of the early 70s.

Bottom line- this album is well worth repeated listens. It only gets better the more you play it.


D. Edgren








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