For six years starting in 1969, Elton John released no fewer than nine albums of original material. His latest, “The Captain and the Kid,” is an autobiographical echo of those heady times, a follow-up to the most successful record of he and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s run, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” which entered the charts at number one in 1975.
“I see no brakes just open road and lots of gasoline,” Elton sings as the journey and album begins on “Postcards From Richard Nixon.” The rest of the record proves there’s plenty left in the tank. There’s much nostalgia contained here, from the bemused “Old ‘67” (“Honest, it’s amazing/that we can get together at all”) to the title track’s take on their explosive success (“I’ve seen it growing from next to nothing/into a giant eating up your town”).
The revved-up welcome-to-LA boogie of “Just Like Noah’s Ark” rocks with his best work, and also takes ownership of their history: “we wrote it as we saw it from the centre of the stage… the truth is never quite the same as what the papers say.” “Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way (NYC)” recalls another ode to New York, Honky Chateau’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.”
In a first, Taupin is photographed with Elton on the album’s cover, and most of the record is viewed through two sets of eyes. At times, it’s eerie how well Elton’s thoughts are articulated through Taupin’s words. “And The House Fell Down” describes his battle with drug addition (“I’m more paranoid with every little sound…Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine”); “Tinderbox” looks at the highs and lows of a 40-year working relationship.
“Blues Never Fade Away” is the centerpiece of “Captain and the Kid.” When he asks, “how did we get so lucky?” it’s both a question and a lament for the many friends lost to drugs, disease and assassin’s bullets: “and there’s marble markers and little white crosses/along the beaten path/and I’ve spread their ashes on the wind/and I miss John Lennon’s laugh.”
Musically, this is Elton John’s strongest record since 1988’s “Reg Strikes Back,” but it stands shoulder to shoulder with his best mid-70’s work. It’s extraordinary – at a time when nostalgia tours and greatest hits retrospectives are the norm, that the duo has something so strong to offer at what should be the end of the line. Elton John recently told a journalist that he doesn’t expect to release any more hits. The mantle, he says, has been passed to a younger generation of talent.
If he keeps making records like “The Captain and the Kid,” he could be forced to eat those words.