Album: Elton John <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

The Captain &amp; the Kid, MERCURY
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The Independent Culture

The Captain is, of course, Elton, and the Kid his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, the respective nicknames reflecting their wildly divergent approaches to life - neatly summarised in the title track as "An urban soul in a fine silk suit/And a heart out west in a Wrangler shirt".

Perhaps triggered by their own bemusement at how two such disparate spirits, caught "in between the saddle and the grand piano", can have sustained such a fruitful working relationship for so long, The Captain & the Kid is an extended meditation on that relationship, and by extension, their shared relationship with America throughout the last four decades. The big surprise is how such a shameless navel-gazing exercise can actually end up being quite moving.

The album opens with the rock-operatic "Postcards from Richard Nixon", in which the pair's youthful fascination with America is used to reflect the country's broader attraction for British kids, and how our earlier affinities with its pop culture override more recent divisions. On a similar theme, "Just Like Noah's Ark" captures the lads in the first flush of their stateside success, entranced by the country's louche charm and sleazy promise, while "Wouldn't Have You Any Other Way (NYC)" narrows their adoring focus to the Seventies Manhattan of Joey Gallo and Studio 54.

Elsewhere, while pondering upon the course of his career in "The Bridge", Elton employs deliberate echoes of the piano style he used years ago on "Your Song", one of several instances of subtle historical resonance that separates his work here from that of his chums The Scissor Sisters, whose distillation of the shiny pop essence of Seventies Elton remains resolutely synthetic and one-dimensional.

The album continues through the Seventies excesses, candidly recounted in "Tinderbox" and "And The House Fell Down", the loss of innocence considered in "Old 67", and the unabashed reminiscence of old lovers in "I Must Have Lost It On The Wind"; but it's in the remembrance of dearly departed friends - Aids victims and John Lennon alike - in "Blues Never Fade Away" that Taupin touches the rawest nerve with the surest hand, as Elton wonders why he's been so lucky to come unscathed through a life of such profligate indulgence. "Fate's right hand isn't always just/Puts a lot of pressure on your faith and trust," sings the great survivor. "It's like a rolling dice in the belly of the blues/And blues never fade away."

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Blues Never Fade Away', 'Just Like Noah's Ark', 'Postcards From Richard Nixon', 'The Captain & the Kid'

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