The mid-1970's was a tsunami of creativity within the music industry. Leading the charge, along with many others, was Elton John with his larger-than-life persona and signature sound. Most impressively, John would release 12 albums during this decade alone. While the quality of the output varied, I feel the shift in recording styles, during this decade has had a longer-lasting impact on the music industry than even the preceding decade. No doubt someone will disagree with my elation of the 70's, but as much as I adore The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who with their 60's sound, Elton John, the Eagles, and Aerosmith would further evolve this raw rock sound, creating sonic signatures that were equally unique and progressive. No, dear reader, I haven't forgotten about the Disco era or the impact of Motown's soul. I merely mention all this insofar as I feel Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy defines the era. Yes, that is a bold statement, but John and Taupin really blended all genres of music to create nothing less than an incredible body of work.
While I’ve always liked Alan Aldridge’s artwork, I do find the cover art to be a little too busy. That said, I’ve never owned this album on vinyl and I have no doubt the artwork would become more immersive on the larger canvas.
For this review, I'm listening to the 24/96kHz MQA edition on TIDAL Hi-Fi. It is exquisite, with a sonic signature that just sounds right. Trust me, I know how vague that sounds, but the soundstage is well presented and no musical elements are concealed, as they are with the 16/44.1kHz CD-quality FLAC edition from the mid-90's mastering sessions. That isn’t to say the standard CD edition is inferior, but you do get a greater sense of transparency with the MQA edition. The drum track, in particular on Curtains, comes alive to such an extent that you can visualise Nigel Olsson’s intensity as well as the tension on each drum. It is simply spectacular!
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy may be an awesome name for an album, but sadly the song is lacklustre. It isn't necessarily bad, it just fails to live up to the Elton John hype and really shouldn’t have been used as the lead song.
Tower Of Babel is a song that grows on you the more you listen to it. I do recall initially disliking it, but as the years have passed, I find it to be an exceptional song that is worthy of more fanfare than I feel it has received over the years.
Bitter Fingers takes a minute or so to get going, but once it does there is no stopping the addictive rhythm. The chorus is off-the-charts and while it is not easy to sing-a-long to, I dare you to sit still while enjoying this song. My advice, turn the volume up when this song comes on.
Tell Me When The Whistle Blows has a Marvin Gaye feel to it. See, this is why I said this album encompasses the musical styles of the decade? While it isn't a bad song, I don't feel it is well-suited to John. That said, the album wouldn’t be the same without it!
Someone Saved My Life Tonight is spectacular! In my review of The Very Best Of Elton John, I said Someone Saved My Life Tonight is a lovely ballad with a perfect balance and overall composition. I certainly stand by that aforementioned statement.
(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket is Elton John meets The Rolling Stones. Needless to say, I love it!
Better Off Dead isn't a bad song and interestingly reminds me of The Who’s music. That's a good thing!
We All Fall In Love Sometimes is beautiful!
Curtains follows on perfectly from We All Fall In Love Sometimes. It is so perfect that you would be forgiven for assuming the songs are not separate, but one exceptional masterpiece. As I mentioned earlier, I simply adore the drum track on this MQA version. In fact, all musical elements are perfectly presented with an impressively wide and immersive soundstage. It doesn’t get much better than this!
One Day At A Time has an interesting panning effect between the left and right channels. I can't say I like it, but it pays homage to the psychedelic era. One Day At A Time is a B-side but remains a worthy addition to the album.
Philadelphia Freedom, along with the two previous songs, were not included in the album tracking until the 1995 remastering sessions. Such a shame considering how excellent the song is. Regardless, it is here now, unless you get the vinyl re-issue of the album that stays loyal to the original track listing. While Curtains is a fantastic track to close the album on, Philadelphia Freedom most certainly encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within John's catalogue.
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy is another exceptional Elton John album. While a couple of the songs may not live up to John's reputation, the album as a body of work is perfect and should be a must-own for every fan.
If you're so inclined, there is also a Deluxe Edition (featuring a live performance from 1975 at Wembley Stadium) available on double CD and iTunes. The Deluxe Edition is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.
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