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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Elton John

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Review by Gary Hill

When you think about your first real music purchase, how does it make you feel? How does that purchase reflect on you? Well, this one might date me, but it was mine. I remember hearing the single “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” on the radio and falling in love with it. That prompted me to save up my allowance and buy this LP (yep, told you I was dating myself). Now listening to it on CD, it still holds up – even in the modern day. There are no real clunkers here and quite a few gems. I’m not sure that I’d recommend this as the first stop in building an Elton John collection (although it worked for me), but I would say that it should come early in the construction process.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Classy country music styled stuff opens this. As it moves forward it gets into more rock territory. This is just such a cool song. It has more of those country, bluegrass elements at play throughout, but is all catchy rocker at its heart.
Tower Of Babel

The first thirty seconds or so of this one are based on a great piano and vocal approach. They bring in some more instruments as it carries, but the main song structure remains intact. Around the minute and a half mark they take us out into an instrumental movement that makes me think of The Beatles meets early Alice Cooper. Then it is taken out into another classic Elton John piano dominated movement. This is a powerful piece of music, due mostly to John’s vocal performance. It’s not that the instrumentation is weak or lacking, but just that John puts in such a stirring appearance.

Bitter Fingers

They start things off with a bouncy little dittie. As this takes on a more rocking approach later it again has a bouncy kind of almost tongue in cheek texture musically. Other voices are added to the vocals as it comes through to the chorus, though – and this is better. The musical sound that takes it after that has hints of Queen – raising the stakes a bit. Still, the main hook on this (the musical one only) is a bit too trite for my tastes. If that were made a bit stronger this cut would really work well. As it is, it only barely misses.

Tell Me When The Whistle Blows

There’s both some funk and some serious blues on this cut. It’s a good tune. We get some tasty guitar work and some rather symphonic sounding keyboard layers. At points this even sounds a little like Pink Floyd. It’s got some definite soulful sounds and you might be reminded of Stevie Wonder here and there. It may not rise to the level of “highlight,” but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Here’s the song that hooked me into becoming an Elton John fan. Based on a piano styled ballad motif, this grows in some great ways. It’s a powerful piece of music that still holds up well. It’s evocative and poignant. They turn this into more of a standard rocker, still with that balladic approach and it’s actually one of the most dynamic tracks on show. At nearly seven minutes in length, it’s also the most massive cut on show here. It’s worth the price of admission by itself.

(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket

Here’s a rather R & B inspired rocker. This is high energy and fun, if a bit generic.

Better Off Dead

Bouncy and keyboard based, this really reminds me of something we might have heard from Queen. It’s a great tune that’s quite different from anything else on the set. I like it a lot.

Writing

From the sublime to the average, this track is rather weak. It’s got a bouncy sort of Island texture is just rather pedestrian.

We All Fall In Love Sometimes

Here is something that we often get from Elton John. The fact that it comes around frequently doesn’t make it any less potent, though. It’s a powerfully evocative balladic cut that’s based around a keyboard and voice motif. This is pretty and sad. It’s also a great tune and has some tasty guitar work, too – a bit Pink Floyd like.

Curtains
In some ways this feels a bit like an extension of the previous piece. It continues the mood, if not the musical themes. It’s another potent cut, but this one grows a lot further than “We All Fall In Love…” There are some definite Beatles-like qualities to this one.
 
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