He may be approaching 60 but Elton John was never going to grow old gracefully, as his collaborations with Scissor Sisters and pop twerps Blue have confirmed. Thankfully, since 2001′s Songs From The West Coast, he’s also realised that when it comes to simple, impassioned piano-based balladry, there are few to better him.
That album’s majestic, rootsy highlights I Want Love and This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore provided the template for the 2004 opus Peachtree Road, and now this, his 44th record. In a nutshell: it’s the sound of a man weathered and bruised, but dignified and full of vitality.
The positive response to the previous two records has given him the confidence to dip into his past and, with old sparring partner Bernie Taupin, create this ‘sequel’ to 1975′s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. The original was his final creative peak before the rot set in, a momentous collection of deeply personal songs addressing the pair’s lives up to that point. Although The Captain And The Kid doesn’t quite reach those heights, it more than vindicates his national treasure status, and shows today’s glut of young singer-songwriters just how it’s done.
Aurally, it’s classic early ’70s Elton, all sweeping strings and soaring backing vocals, but the autobiographical lyrics are what really grab the attention. He’s singing about himself and Taupin – not bleedin’ Billy Elliot – and consequently sounds more passionate than ever.
On Old 67 there’s a yearning for a lost “time of innocence”, and the title track sees him dropping in references to yellow brick roads and rocket men. Despite this, the record avoids wallowing in the past via a sense of renewed optimism for the future, and by the end he’s swapped his “six inch heels” for “a brand new pair of shoes”, while the figure of the ‘brown dirt cowboy’ rides off into the sunset. Cheesy, perhaps – but told through Elton’s timeworn croon, it melts the heart.
On form like this, you can forgive the man nearly anything. Maybe not that Blue collaboration, but we all make mistakes. What could have been a tired old rehash has turned out to be a full-blown rediscovery of his muse. The world doesn’t need another Elton John album, but it’s heartwarming to hear an old-timer knock out such an emotional, pathos-filled document of lost loves and ageing friendships. With the distinct possibility of a hip hop album looming, someone should tell him to give up on the desperate attempts to stay relevant. Here, he sounds old, and all the better for it.