In 1975, Elton Hercules John, riding high on a string of hit albums and singles, released his crowning glory: Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. This song cycle told the tale of young Reg Dwight and Bernie Taupin's struggles with the seedier side of the music industry in the sixties before the rocket man and his lyricist became rock royalty. It entered the US chart at #1 and has long remained a favourite amongst fans. The Captain And The Kid, Elton's 44th album release - also following a recent critical renaissance -attempts to bring the story up to date.
Comparisons being invariably odious, it's fruitless here to expect Elton to totally match his former glories, but that's not to say that The Captain...is without any charms. With that in mind, it was probably a mistake for the title track to reference the theme of the previous album's. Yet, while the voice may seem, at times, to have descended into the realms of self-parody, Taupin's lyrics cleverly balance self-reference and metaphor to paint an admirably honest picture of the dubious rewards of fame. And the piano player also didn't forget to pack some equally memorable tunes.
"Postcards From Richard Nixon" starts the ball rolling by setting the socio-political scene as the duo arrived in the States on the verge of world domination. Along the way we get glimpses of the tensions thrown up by the relationship between tunesmith and lyricist ("Tinderbox"), the hell of writer's block and more stories of the vacuous, self-congratulatory world of show business (the woefully Elton-by-numbers "Just Like Noah's Ark"); finally arriving at a mellow scene of warm reminiscences ("Old 67"). Overall it seems that the pair are really coming to terms with the highs and lows of such a lengthy career.
Problems arise when it becomes clear that, unfortunately, stories of misery, struggle and heartache in the face of adversity are undeniably more entertaining than those of misery in the face of shed-loads of cash and drugs. "And The House Fell Down" paints a brutal picture of drug dependency, but it's hard to make it a sympathetic story when you know that the tale is told by a man for whom life's been very good indeed. Once you lose the common touch it seems, you lose it forever.
But John's fans won't be disappointed in The Captain... For a man whose life is now so public as to be virtually indistinguishable from that of our royal family this album remains as heartfelt as we could possibly hope. It's the sound of the Captain and the Kid, stepping in the ring again...