Elton JohnElton John
The Captain & The Kid
(Interscope)


Back in 1975, Elton John and writing partner Bernie Taupin were at the top of their game after a string of huge hits when they wrote Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The semi-autobiographical collection of songs included the hits “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” among other key tracks in the John catalogue.

Now 30 years later, John and Taupin have gone back to those roots to tell the story of what happened to their alter egos The Captain and The Kid in the intervening years. Staying true to the characters, they returned to their roots for the instrumentation, rather than doing a big production with lots of orchestral strings or the like. If you've only been a fan of Elton John since the ‘90s, when his music turned to elevator-ready lite fare, this disc will seem to come out of left field.

The Captain & The Kid sounds as if it were recorded decades ago. While John's vocals sound a little more weathered these days, musically this disc focuses on the jaunty piano and simple roadhouse rhythms that dominated hits like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Bennie and the Jets” back in the mid-‘70s.

Opening with the ragtime piano rolls of the contemplative “Postcards from Richard Nixon,” John struts through the rollicking piano of “Just Like Noah's Ark” and then offers a lovesong to New York in the stirring “Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way (NYC)” which stands as a companion piece to “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

“Tinderbox,” is a singsong headnodder about a ramshackle apartment building they once lived in that's now gone, while “And The House Fell Down” is a bluesy jam with the same punchy momentum of “I'm Still Standing.” The album's most emotional song comes in “Blues Never Fade Away,” which is followed by the quiet piano of “The Bridge” which echoes the style of “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.”

The country porch guitar, harmonica and thumping bass of “I Must Have Lost it on the Wind” bely the melancholic message of the song, which finds an older and wiser John/Taupin looking back on the impact that various relationships have had on their lives. The grander piano of “Old 67” conquers a similar theme, before the album caps off with its title track, an easy strolling Western theme that references the trails of their lives and proclaims:

“and you can't go back
and if you try it fails
looking up ahead I see a rusty nail
a sign hanging from it saying “truth for sale”
and that's what we did/no lies at all just one more tale
about the Captain and the Kid.”

For anyone who was a fan of Elton John in his heyday, this album will listen like a lost treasure. John returns to the rich harmonies and jaunty piano of his youth with an older and wiser spirit. The result is magical – an ode to the sound that made him a star imbued with all the knowledge gained since.


 

Mute MathMute Math have been making waves since appearing at Lollapalooza and scoring a deal with Warner Bros. to distribute their new CD. The band will bring its progressive rock sound to Chicago's Park West tonight, October 5, for what should prove to be a memorable show. With beats, rhythms and fuzztone keyboard lines that owe both to the ambient alternative mixes of Bjork and the more impulsive thrust of Mute, the band is fronted by Paul Meany, whose smooth but urgent vocals owe something to early Police-era Sting. Their inventive new CD is a fresh dose of innovative rock that leaves you thirsting for more, and led Spin to name them “Artist of the Day” last month. For more information, check their site at http://www.myspace.com/mutemath.

In other area concert news this week, Five For Fighting is back with a new disc, and will showcase their hits and new songs this Tuesday, Oct. 10 at Chicago's House of Blues.

Adrian BelewAdrian Belew rose to prominence as the guitarist for King Crimson in the ‘80s, and just to prove he could perform more than experimental rock, he stepped up to have a fluke Top 40 hit in 1990s from a solo album with “Oh Daddy,” featuring his daughter. Over the past year, he's been issuing a three-album cycle of experimental guitar rock recordings, simply titled Side One, Side Two and Side Three. Completing the triptych, Side Three is now out on Sanctuary Records, and features a completely re-orchestrated version of one of his earlier recording “Men in Helicopters” as well as some whimsical spoken word/guitar rock mixes. Guests include Les Claypool (Primus), Robert Fripp and Mel Collins, and the music runs the gamut from highbrow orchestration (“Men in Helicopters v4.0”) to Prophet Omega sample-ridden playfulness to cinematic moody “soundtrack” explorations. My personal favorite track is “Incompetence Indifference,” wherein, over a funky guitar riff, Belew describes various instances of being faced with extremely clueless, rude people, from a poolside woman smoker who “had stolen my sunshine and cut off my air” to an electrician who charges by the hour, stays a week and leaves Belew's microwave turning on his big screen TV which shorts out his bathroom light “intermittently.”