Monday, 15 May 2017
"Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy: SACD Version" by ELTON JOHN (June 2005 Island Chronicles/Rocket SACD Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...
"...Very Clearly A Case Of Cornflakes And Classics..."
Arguing the merits of a 1975 album that smashed the top spot in the USA is a mute point (it was the first LP to enter at No. 1 in American chart history). But which version does a punter buy on CD? In 2017 there are four or five variants and it's this I want to address...
Although Elton John's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" cropped up on British CD as early as 1984 (the very first vanguard of issues on the format) - the first decent Remaster is acknowledged as the 'Elton John The Classic Years' version by TONY COUSINS in July 1995. Mercury 528 160-2 (Barcode 731452816023) came armed with a massively expanded booklet, John Tobler liner notes and Three Bonus Tracks.
The UK and Europe 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' then followed as a '30th Anniversary Edition' in September 2005 on Mercury 0602498317242 (Barcode 602498317242). This upgrade offered the thirteen tracks of the 1995 issue in newly Remastered sound and a Previously Unreleased 12-song "Midsummer Music" concert on Disc 2 recorded at Wembley Stadium 21 June 1975. That Deluxe Edition 2-disc variant was itself reissued in Mini LP Repro Artwork on the (superior) SHM-CD format in Japan September 2008 on Universal UICY-93674/5 (Barcode 4988005525833).
But the one I want to concentrate on is the reissue in-between - the 2004 American SACD. Here are the Towers of Babel...
USA released June 2005 - "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy: SACD Version" by ELTON JOHN on Island Chronicles/Rocket B0003606-36 (Barcode 602498241202) is a 13-track SACD (Super Audio CD) that plays out as follows (62:40 minutes):
1. Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy [Side 1]
2. Tower Of Babel
3. Bitter Fingers
4. Tell Me When The Whistle Blows
5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
6. (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket [Side 2]
7. Better Off Dead
9. We All Fall In Love Sometimes
Tracks 1 to 10 are his ninth studio album "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" - released May 1975 in the UK on DJM Records DJLPX 1 and May 1975 in the USA on MCA Records MCA-2142. Produced by GUS DUDGEON - it peaked at No. 2 in the UK and No. 1 in the USA.
11. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
12. One Day At A Time
Tracks 11 and 12 are the non-album A&B-sides of a 7" single recorded with JOHN LENNON. Released 15 November 1974 on DJM Records DJS 340 in the UK and on MCA Records MAC-40344 in the USA - Lennon is credited on some label A-sides as 'Dr. Winston O'Boogie & His Reggae Guitars'. The A-side is a cover of the famous "Sgt. Peppers" track from 1967 - while the B-side is a Lennon song from his 1973 Apple Records LP "Mind Games". It peaked at No. 1 in the USA and No. 10 in the UK on the singles charts.
13. Philadelphia Freedom
Track 13 is a non-album A-side of a 7" single released February 1975 on DJM Records DJS 354 and in the USA on MCA Records MCA-40364 (as The Elton John Band). It peaked at No. 12 in the UK and No. 1 in the USA.
The jam-packed 24-page booklet is the 1995 version that featured (then) new liner notes from noted British writer and musicologist JOHN TOBLER. The original vinyl album was a fantastically elaborate and fancy affair with no less than two substantial booklets, a huge foldout poster of the cover art and all of it housed in a stunning gatefold sleeve. The booklet makes a good fist of trying to repro much of this - you get the lyrics to every song spread across many pages, some of the memorabilia photos like the framed lyrics for "Your Song" and pictures of a young Reg Dwight at an electric piano giving it some "Empty Sky".
On the second-last page of the booklet are the Mastering credits (a team of four eventually) – TONY COUSINS did the original Stereo Mixes Remastering in 1995 – further to those are Digital Transfers by RICKY GRAHAM – DSD (Direct Stream Digital) Editing done by GUS SKINAS and finally Surround Sound Mixed, Produced and Mastered by GREG PENNY at Flower Sound in California. You get a SACD Stereo layer – an SACD Surround Sound layer and finally a simple Audio CD layer for play on all machines (the SACD and Surround variants require specific equipment). Whatever your machine is capable of – the disc will default to that once loaded. In short I find the Audio on this particular beast to be the best of them all.
I can recall my first listen to the title track "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" and thinking 'sophistication' and given the extraordinary packaging - that this was an LP old Elton was clearly proud of. That fantastic guitar break with Davey Johnstone on rocking form - the autobiographical lyrics about a rocket ride from sessions on Top Of The Pops cover version LPs to international stardom. Following quickly are two winners - the Sodom meets Gomorrah of "Tower Of Babel" versus the grumpy musical agents in Denmark Street of "Bitter Fingers". I've always loved a bit of Rock-Funk and it comes in the slinky shape of "Tell Me When The Whistle Blows" (fabulous string arrangements by Gene Page). Side 1 then ends of the overwrought ballad "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" - a song I've always thought was too puffed-up on its own importance somehow.
Side 2 opens with a fantastic bit of guitar riffage "(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket" - a song about losers hoping to strike lucky on Skid Row - where in order to survive you've gotta find a way towards that meal ticket - rise about the King’s Road pimps. The barrelhouse piano on "Better Off Dead" sounds huge and again Tauzin’s lyrics are amongst his best - cigarette hazes and greased-streaked windows of all-night cafes - characters come and go - live and die - then go out and do it all over again. The whimsical "Writing" offers a respite with its salsa beat - affectionately remembering stifling yawns on Sunday morning - will the things we wrote today still sound good tomorrow (yes they will boys). The album ends on a duo of big-ballads - "We All Fall In Love Sometimes" and "Curtains". I prefer the near seven-minute "Curtains" of the two - the kind of epic tune Elton seemed able to tap into once given the Taupin words - cultivating flowers and thinking of treasure-children and the future...
Like Paul McCartney & Wing's "Venus And Mars", 10cc's "The Original Soundtrack", Bob Dylan's "Blood On The Tracks" and Joni Mitchell's "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" - Elton John's "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" seemed to confirm 1975 as Rock's most sophisticated and musically productive year. And this glorious-sounding SACD of it only hammers than point home.
"...Very clearly a case of Cornflakes and classics..." – The Captain and The Kid from Putney sang on the title track. Nicely put boys...