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Music Review: Elton John – Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy

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Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy is an album I respect and one I consider to be possibly the most creative of Elton John’s career. It is also an album that I rarely, if ever, listen to as John has a number of releases that are just more entertaining and enjoyable.

This is a concept album. He and his musical partner, Bernie Taupin, created this autobiographical opus about their early problems pursuing a career in music. As such it is an intimate and mature affair, with music and lyrics that are both complicated and sophisticated. It is in stark contrast to the albums which preceded it, especially his huge selling Greatest Hits, which was a seemingly random collection of many of his hit singles.

It may not have sold as well as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road but many of his fans embraced the release as it continued his string of number one albums in the United States. The critical reaction was positive and Rolling Stone Magazine ultimately ranked it at number 158 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

There was only one single issued, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” which was a huge hit and dealt with a suicide attempt and recovery by Elton John. Its music is almost symphonic yet it is, above all, a haunting look at the breakdown of a relationship.

I find the title track catchy country/rock but the two songs that follow, “Tower Of Babel” and “Bitter Fingers,” are biting criticisms of record companies. The irony of course is that he would later become a label owner himself.

“Writing” is a mid-seventies look at him wondering how long he could sustain his success. The answer would be the rest of his life.

The final two tracks contain some of the best piano work of his career. “We All Fall In Love Sometimes” and “Curtains” are possibly the two best tracks on the album.

Early CD reissues were enhanced by the inclusion of two of his biggest hit singles. “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” made the release much stronger musically but on the other hand they did not match its theme.

Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy may not be the most accessible Elton John album but it is by far the most personal and allows the listener a look into the psyche of one of the most talented musicians of his generation.

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About David Bowling

  • JC Mosquito

    As good as some of the individual tracks are, I’ve never cared for any of EJ’s albums. Maybe the album cuts just feel weak next to the better known hits. I dunno – I tried – maybe i’ll have to try them again.

  • Grrraffe

    I certainly agree that this album rewards patience, beyond the immediate hit singles. John’s writing was expanding beyond his earlier country influences, embracing bombast, longer arrangements, and more dense musical textures. Yet, it’s never over-long, and the initial inconsistency fades with every listen. Plus, it’s got the best album art, of any in John’s career.