Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy [Deluxe Edition]
Sitting atop the charts in 1975, Elton John and Bernie Taupin recalled their rise to power in Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, their first explicitly conceptual effort since Tumbleweed Connection. It's no coincidence that it's their best album since then, showcasing each at the peak of his power, as John crafts supple, elastic, versatile pop and Taupin's inscrutable wordplay is evocative, even moving. What's best about the record is that it works best of a piece -- although it entered the charts at number one, this only had one huge hit in "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," which sounds even better here, since it tidily fits into the musical and lyrical themes. And although the musical skill on display here is dazzling, as it bounces between country and hard rock within the same song, this is certainly a grower. The album needs time to reveal its treasures, but once it does, it rivals Tumbleweed in terms of sheer consistency and eclipses it in scope, capturing John and Taupin at a pinnacle. They collapsed in hubris and excess not long afterward -- Rock of the Westies, which followed just months later is as scattered as this is focused -- but this remains a testament to the strengths of their creative partnership.
[In 2005, Universal Chronicles reissued Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy as an expanded double-disc deluxe edition. All of the bonus tracks from the 1995 reissue ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "One Day at a Time," "Philadelphia Freedom") are retained, and the "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" B-side, "House of Cards," is added to the lineup (it's only other CD appearance was on the 1992 comp Rare Masters). The original inserts -- including a poster, a booklet containing the lyrics, and a booklet with memorabilia and a comic strip -- have been replicated in duplicate, plus there are new reflections by John and Taupin and new liners by Paul Gambaccini, but the real attraction is a second disc that contains a previously unreleased concert at Wembley Stadium on June 21, 1975, where John performed the album in its entirety. While this performance isn't all that different from the studio album, it's quite entertaining, particularly because the versions are ever so slightly looser than the finished versions, and some songs, like the title track, take on a stronger country-rock flavor in this stripped-down setting. Again, it's not an essential addition, but anybody who's loved the album will find this live rendition of the entire LP worth his time.]