|1. Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy|
|2. Tower Of Babel|
|3. Bitter Fingers|
|4. Tell Me When The Whistle Blows|
|5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight|
|6. (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket|
|7. Better Off Dead|
|9. We All Fall In Love Sometimes|
|11. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds|
|12. One Day At A Time|
|13. Philadelphia Freedom|
As I said, this music is very complicated, sophisticated, and beautiful. There are some faster songs, but some of Elton's most carefully crafted music is here as well. The album begins with the title tune, a rock song with a bit of country flavor that represents the flamboyant heart of Elton, and the quieter, western-loving style of Bernie Taupin. The song alternates between a style reminiscent of "Madman Across the Water" to a style that was more fully realized in "Rock of the Westies."
In "The Tower of Babel" and "Bitter Fingers" the dynamic duo lament the difficulties of getting into the entertainment industry. The first song is about the difficulty of entry, the second is about being a stable hack for a record company, churning out songs by the basketful to make ends meet, never seeming to work fast enough or to earn enough. "Bitter Fingers" has a beautiful piano entry, which extends into the song. Elton at his performing best.
"Tell Me When the Whistle Blows" can play on several levels, depending on which part of the song. The style of the song is quite similar to songs such as "Danny Bailey" or "I've Seen That Movie Too" from "Yellow Brick Road." There is a fast rock beat, but the violins give a rich, lush feel. Part of the song longs for being home, and part of the song wonders whether the maturing individual in the song still has the talent and enthusiasm he had when he was a wild kid.
Then comes "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," one of the most phenomenal songs that Bernie and Elton have ever written. This song is about a time when Elton was nearly ready to get married, and Bernie talked him out of it. The complexity of this music is symphonic. The piano chords and the harmonies are full and show Elton John having fully mastered the art of creating music.
The next two songs, "Gotta Get a Meal Ticket" and "Better off Dead," are faster, and are about aspects of being starving artists. Both are decent songs, but they are preludes to the last three songs of the original album.
"Writing" is a song about success. Once we are successful, how long can we sustain that success? Also, what will people in the future think about what we did. Will it have meaning for them, and will they think it is good? Bernie's lyrics tell a story, and Elton does an outstanding job complementing the lyrics.
The last two songs remain among my all-time favorite Elton John songs. "We All Fall in Love Sometimes" and "Curtains" transition from one to the next. Though the topics are different, the tenor and beauty of the music is common. When Elton allows his piano to come to the forefront of his music the result is nearly always wondrous. "We All Fall" also has one of the best bridges ever performed in an Elton John song. Elton also plays a harpsichord and a mellotron, used so effectively by the Moody Blues in the previous decade. The results can only be appreciated by listening.
"Curtains" begins so beautifully that when I am mellow it brings tears to my eyes. The lyrics are brought to life by Elton's vocal and musical interpretation, striking into your heart and soul. Only the emotionless could fail to appreciate this fragile, emotional music.
This album was the culmination of years of effort. The music is mature and well-crafted. Beautiful seems a paltry word to describe much of it. The production was the best ever of any Elton John album to date. The skill of the art was theirs, and they capitalized on it to create one of the best rock albums of all time.
Included on this remaster are three bonus songs. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was a big hit in 1975 for Elton John, and featured the talents of Elton's friend John Lennon. "Philadelphia Freedom" was another big Elton John hit, and was written as a tribute. "One Day at a Time" is another quite good song that helps fill out the potential time of a CD.
Unfortunately I am inadequate for the task of adequately reviewing this CD. While Elton had many creative moments and beautiful songs prior to this album, and had many other excellent compositions, for one magical album the music, the lyrics, and the production all came together to create an album for all times and all ages. While I generally feel that people are silly for saying they want to give a CD dozens of stars, this album would rate more than five stars if I could give them.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is their finest album in all ways: production, melody, vocally and the best performance by his then band. In addition, these are likey to be the best lyrics Bernie Taupin ever penned. He is writing in the first person narrative for a change on all the songs. And, finally, Elton is singing lyrics that he can relate to because all of the songs are about the era when he and Bernie first met and stardom hadn't arrived (1967-1969).
The title track simply tells the story of their partnership: "Captain Fantastic, raised and regimented, hardly a hero, just someone his mother might know". How fitting a description for young Elton - shy, unassuming, average. While later on Elton sings: "Brown Dirt Cowboy, still green and growing...hand in hand went music and rhyme, the captain and the kid, stepping in the ring, from here on Sonny, it's a long and lonely climb." The melody starts with a country flare that rocks out during the chorus...a incredible arrangement that balances rock (Elton) with country (Taupin).
Tower of Babel hints at their first glimpse of the music business: "where were all your shoulders when we cried?" Taupin laments. "Bitter Fingers" tells the tale of the doing the club circuit as a struggling band. "Tell Me When The Whistle Blows" is Taupins story of his journey from the countryside in England to London where he would write with Elton. This song in particular has a very urban and soulful sound and captures the lyric perfectly. The big hit from the album, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" is yet another superb power ballad, much in the same vein as "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". Elton sings with much conviction on this one and the backing vocal of his song capture every nuance and pain in the lyric. Further, Nigel Olsson's drum playing on this song may be his finest performance as he dramatically pushes the song to its emotional climax.
The second half of the album kicks off with "Gotta Get A Meal Ticket" which is about the first publishing deal Elton and Taupin signed and the anxieties that come with it: "while the other climb reaching dizzy heights, the world's in front of me in black and white, I'm on the bottom line." Further, Elton sings: "shake a hand if you have to, trust in us and we'll love you anyway." The very wary writers of course need a record deal to make it and this song typifies that experience. Guitarist Davey Johnstone's opening hook may be his best since Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting - his guitar soars on this song. The next song, Writing is a relatively simple song that seeks to wonder if the duo have a lengthy future in front of them. We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains finishes in what must be the best closing to an Elton John album ever. The first part deals with a brotherly affection Elton and Taupin discovered when they met and Curtains is simply a song about their childhood wish that came true. Elton has never sounded so sincere as he does here. While it's true he has been delivering Taupin's words for years as if he wrote them himself, there is something distinctively different about his deliverly this time. Frankly, this could be his best vocal performance ever.
A couple of extra tracks are included on this remastered version: the wonderful philly soul hit "Philadelphia Freedom", Elton's dynamite cover of the Beatles "Lucy In The Sky" and a less than necessary cover of John Lennon's "One Day At A Time" from his Mind Games release. Since these songs have no relation to the Captain Fantastic concept album, I would have left them off and put them on another more appropriate re-release.
Producer Gus Dudgeon give each song here a pristine shine and each band member showcases their incredible talents. This also represents the last album by the original lineup. While they didn't realize it at the time, this was to be their swan song until 1983. Elton moved on into different areas after this and things were never really the same again.
It's hard to believe that just two years prior, Elton released Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - another masterpiece. Within 3 years, Elton delivered two albums of career peaking quality. And while Yellow Brick Road usually gets the nod as his finest album because it has more pop accessibility then this release, Captain Fantastic shouldn't be over looked.
If Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was his answer to, say, The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper", then Captain Fantastic would be Elton's equilvalent to "Abbey Road."
The only reason this gets a four star rating is there are 3-4 poorly produced songs on this collection that could have been made a lot better.