“‘Captain’ Elton chases glory days again, but can’t seem to land the catch
Five years ago, when he reunited with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, Elton John began chasing the 1970s legacy with surprising vigor. In 2001, he did so unconvincingly with the sugary reminiscence of “Songs From the West Coast,” a work that found the singer’s signature sound but never captured the spirit of his early work.
On his 2004 release, “Peachtree Road,” Elton returned to the nostalgic pool for another dip this time with greater success. While not a complete retro makeover, the album found John and Taupin boyishly navigating 30 years of memories. Two years later, Elton keeps revisiting the glory days with “The Captain & the Kid.”
The self-described “sequel” to the legendary 1975 record “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” the album stakes a huge claim. Ultimately it falls short of both the classic which contained “Philadelphia Freedom” it hoped to emulate, and even John’s work from earlier in this decade.
Those who grew up on a steady diet of Elton can easily discern the hallmarks of his sound: broad jazzy piano, stride rhythms with a defiant kick, and a willingness to go to any length for the sake of a good pop hook.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone else even attempting the style without consciously copying him. And when queer disco-glam revivalists Scissor Sisters went to work on their second album, they went directly to John for collaborative assistance. If such musical fingerprints are obvious to even the casual Elton fan, they’re completely lost on the singer himself.
While “Captain & the Kid” goes to lengths to make in ’70s references and recycle lyrical tidbits, the exuberance of days gone by are practically absent. Rather than fiery rock piano, listeners are treated to ballad after ballad of gauzy remembrances.
Taupin seems to have been particularly crippled by his Broadway success: This batch of lyrics amount to little more than one-note turns on obvious, eye-rolling metaphors.
“Captain & the Kid” is hardly a bad album. John and Taupin are seasoned pros, and this album is certainly well executed. Even among this light collection, there is the occasional standout, like the punchy honky-tonk “Just Like Noah’s Ark” or the thoroughly charming “Old 67.” But at this point in his career, there’s no reason for John to play it this safe particularly when making conscious comparisons to one of the best albums of his career.
There was a time when Elton’s music was considered edgy, innovative and even brazen. It’s up to him whether he wishes to return to those days or not. If he does, he should remember that the essence of his style was about being groundbreaking.
ELTON DOES DALLAS
For diehard Captain Fantastic fans, your dreams have been answered. But you had better win the Lotto.
On Wednesday, Elton John bangs the ivories at the Meyerson for the Act 2 Gala. The high-dollar affair celebrates the start of construction on the anticipated Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House and Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Oh yeah, Julie Andrews emcees the black-tie gig.
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora Street. Oct 25 at 7 p.m. Platinum and silver packages are sold out. Premium packages start at $5,000. 214-954-9925 ext. 255. www.dallasperformingarts.org.
BOYS IN THE ‘HOOD
With two decades under their belts, Pet Shop Boys Neal Tennant and Chris Lowe have eclipsed their boyish stage. Upon hearing their newest disc, however, you’d never know it.
Long the fey literate lads of Brit-pop, Tennant and Lowe have gently resisted evolution instead, remaining tied to gorgeously droll synthesized epics.
With the this summer’s release of “Fundamental,” providing the backdrop for the duo’s current North American tour, their Dallas stop on Sunday promises infectious electronic grooves and poetic turns of phrase. Don’t count the boys out when it comes to a solidly executed mix of new and old. The perennial lads have pulled this off before and, no doubt, they will again.
Nokia Theatre, 1001 Performance Place. Grand Prairie. Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. $39.50-$75. 214-373-8000.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 20, 2006.