Friday, October 26, 2012

158 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Thanks Sir Elton

Album: Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Artist: Elton John
Genre: Pop
Year: 1975


  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
  8. Writing
  9. We All Fall in Love Sometimes
  10. Curtains

Before I started this project I had never heard an Elton John Album from start to finish. I knew him for a few songs, a lot of flamboyance and for receiving knighthoods and wearing silly clothes. I didn't associate him with album-length artistic expression.

My earlier encounters with his albums weren't entire successful. His debut left me feeling decidedly queasy thanks to it's over reliance on sentimentality. In my earlier review I had some incredibly unpleasant things to say about The Greatest Discovery, a sugary saccharine song on his debut album that at the time made me gag. I wrote that review back in 2009 when I was a very different person. Since then I've become a parent twice which means I recently had the exact experience outlined in The Greatest Discovery. I introduced my first-born child to his new baby brother. It was an emotional moment as my two beautiful boys met for the first time. Watching them play, learn and grow together in the years to come will give me years of pleasure and joy and their first meeting was a special experience. So I recently re-listened to The Greatest Discovery in order to see whether parenthood would change my views on something I'd previously discarded as over sentimental.

Having heard it again I can honestly say it's actually slightly worse than I thought it was. Living the song doesn't make the ghastliness any less horrible. 

Captain Fantastic however is a different issue. Taupin and John wrote the album from their own experiences. Elton John is Captain Fantastic and Bernie Taupin is the Brown Dirt Cowboy. They're not trying to pluck at the heart strings with artificial sentimentality or create a false sense of atmosphere. They're sharing their lives with the listener.

I won't say I love Captain Fantastic but it's definitely a much more enjoyable listen than any other Elton John album I've heard up to this point. It's mature and world-weary and sounds like people genuinely connecting with themselves and each other instead of just trying to write songs which please people. It's still a bit over produced for my liking with too much orchestration but it still works as a showcase for John's voice and talent. 

If you think Elton is all about image and playing pleasing ballads to middle aged housewives then this is the album that might persuade you he was once a serious artist with something to say.

Highlight: The title track
Lowlight: Writing

Influenced by: Life and a lyricist
Influenced: Ben Folds

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "He is, without a doubt, a genius ... I would go so far as to call him the Mozart of our times."

-oooh don't compare anyone to Mozart, there are some people who are just beyond comparison.


  1. This album is actually growing on me. At first I found it rather unimpressive and I didn't see what the fuss was all about. Now I am starting to see why people call it his masterpiece. And to be honest, while he may not be comparable to goshdarn Mozart, he is without a doubt one of the best songwriters of the late 20th Century. His sense of melody is phenomenal, and Bernie Tuapin is a really - gosh what can I say about him - well, he's really hard to pin down as a lyricist. His lyrics range from unbelievably great to downright cringe-worthy; from funny and satirical to mindless and vapid; from impenetrably esoteric to accessible and easy-to-understand. Whatever, I still think he's good as a lyricist.

    Actually, I want to know your input: what do you think of Bernie Taupin as a lyricist?

    1. I've never thought of Taupin as a guy with something to say who uses John as his mouthpiece, I tend to think of him as a guy who just writes things in the hope that they'll produce a hit record. I struggle to see him a as a man with a vision for exactly the reasons you outline: his lyrics are just all over the place and while he has great moments he has a lot of dire ones as well. I haven't spent as much time listening to his output as I have listening to Robert Hunter (one of the few other people I can think of who is a lyricist in the same vein) but I can't see any consistent thematic connection the way I can with Hunter. I can easily identify a Hunter lyric but I doubt anyone could read a set of Taupin's lyrics and identify the writer based simply on the words on the page.