Having released four consecutive chart-topping albums, Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin stepped back to celebrate their personal bond. Written in the same order in which the songs appear on the album, their first new long-player of 1975 is directly autobiographical in a way most of the pair’s ’70s output is not. In contrast to the glitzy pop-rocking albums that preceded it, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy is resolutely singer-songwriter-like — appropriate, given its subject. It’s also Elton’s most detailed recording: What it lacks in catchiness it compensates with care.
The album documents the pair’s earliest unsuccessful years from 1967-69 before “Your Song” made Elton an apparent overnight success. Like much of Taupin’s writing, it combines concrete references to actual people and places with allusion, and so their story gets told without giving too much away: The nearly seven-minute single “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is surely the only Top 10 hit in which an out gay man (singer Long John Baldry, the “sugar bear” to whom John supplied piano backing in the mid ’60s) rescues a closeted gay friend (Elton) from committing suicide attempted to escape marriage. Delicate arrangements evoking the Beach Boys at their most ethereal fill the narrative’s blanks: This is a nostalgic and loving rendering of innocence lost.