Memory Almost Full, recorded over a period of nearly five years and finally released in 2007, doesn’t suffer at all from any inconsistencies in tone, as you might expect from such an elongated project. It’s actually quite a cohesive batch, one that plays to Paul McCartney’s strengths: Melodic dexterity, energetic performances, thoughtful but not full-of-themselves lyrics, a willingness to be silly and lighthearted, and the ability to pull together disparate strands of music into an affecting whole. There’s nothing here that’s mind-blowing, but there’s also not much that’s less than solid either. Here is a song-by-song review.
13. “Feet In The Clouds”- The only part of the medley that dominates the second half of the album that feels a bit routine. That’s the good thing about a medley though: There’s always something waiting just around the bend if you don’t like what you’re hearing.
12. “See Your Sunshine”- Not his best love song nor his worst. The lyrics are underwritten, but I like the chirping backing vocals, which remind me of “The Battle Of Who Could Care Less” by Ben Folds Five.
11. “House Of Wax”- Probably about as near as to prog rock as Paul has ever approached, and he acquits himself well in his effort. The lyrics, full of poets, lightning and “wild demented horses,” are weird, wild stuff.
10. “Mr. Bellamy”- One of the things I like about this dark tale is how Paul never lets us in on whether the titular character actually jumps to his death or not. McCartney also clearly relishes playing all the parts in this little operetta, including the authorities bumbling their way to the rescue. A fun oddity.
9. “Gratitude”- McCartney does about the best Little Richard impression around. The fact that he can do it and not have a song sound like lazy nostalgia is the trick. This one gets elevated by the stirring bridge.
8. “The End Of The End”- It’s a little too on-the-money as a closing statement (even if it’s not the closing song.) Still, the melody gets to you and the lyrics actually promote something of a joyful wake amidst the somewhat somber tone of Paul’s vocal.
7. “Nod Your Head”- You haven’t been paying very close attention to Macca’s career if you don’t realize by now that he’s going to undercut the more serious, “traditional” closer with something light and goofy. But this is one case where I’d actually take the goofy song over the serious one.
6. “That Was Me”- Paul rifles through his past history while giving his bass a workout. He adds some scatting, which is a relatively unique occurrence in the McCartney songbook. It’s a nifty little testament to how unreal one’s past can seem, and that’s something to which even a non-superstar can relate.
5. “Only Mama Knows”- Propulsive and hooky, like a second coming of “Jet.” The lyrics set up a story that they never quite tell, with McCartney playing the orphan left behind for we’re not sure why by we can’t say whom. Heck, even the narrator doesn’t know. Where’s Mama, dammit, to clear this up? (Somebody page Vicki Lawrence.)
4. “Vintage Clothes”- I sometimes wish Paul would heed the advice from this song when he chooses his setlists, if only so he would give a nod to great late-period albums like this one. “Don’t live in the past,” he exhorts and then churns through a sprightly rocker with some fascinating musical twists and turns. There is triumph in this tale for those who may feel their sell-by date has passed: “Check the rack/What went out is coming back.”
3. “Dance Tonight”- An attempt to learn the mandolin led to the infectious riff that kicks off this song and underpins it all the way. Back in the 70’s this would have been fallen into place with songs like “Let ‘Em In” or “Come And Get It,” songs whose sole aim is to be as catchy and good-natured as humanly possible. David Kahne’s production enhances the sonic irresistibility of it all. If a 16-year-old with bangs over his eyes had released the same exact song in 2007, they would have hailed him as the Next Big Thing.
2. “You Tell Me”- For much of the album, McCartney’s looks back to his past are either fond or whimsical. This is the one time when he seems to grieve about how quickly the time has passed, and it is a moving moment. The phrase “that summer of a dozen words” is perfect; why would you need to speak when everything is so right? Lovely, even when it gets a bit bogged down by bird-watching and beekeeping.
1. “Ever Present Past”- First of all, the title is great, so you’re off to a nice start. Second, and this is no offense to Paul’s excellent touring band, but the most chemistry displayed on any song on the album comes on this one-man band production, which possesses both thunder and nuance. And finally, it’s a little bit revealing lyrically, which is, quite frankly, not something that we can always expect from McCartney. It feels like it covers some of the same ground, musically and lyrically, as “My Brave Face,” which is why I didn’t go a star better. But it’s still a ripping good pop track.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on The Beatles, check out my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs in the link below.)
When you have a recorded legacy as monumental as the one possessed by Paul McCartney, it’s difficult to make a dent in it, especially these days when new releases by even the most prestigious of artists suffer quickly deteriorating shelf lives. I would argue though that the three-album stretch begun with Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (I’m not counting the specialty album Kisses On The Bottom) is the finest such stretch of his post-Beatles career. And it all began with this with cumbersomely-titled 2005 album, on which producer Nigel Godrich coaxed Paul to dig deeper, bite harder, and edit more carefully, all while doing his one-man band thing for an album as intimate as the end of the evening and as bracing as the first cold light of day. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “At The Mercy”- The one song here where all of the instrumental passages, while lovely on their own, don’t quite cohere into something greater. It’s too bad, because it’s not often that you get Paul talking about darker emotions like “the fear inside.”
12. “Anyway”- I feel like this song, while pleasant enough, sends the album out on a bit of a recessive note, even with the off-kilter instrumental coda that lengthens its running time.
11. “Too Much Rain”- Essentially a rewrite of the old standard “Smile,” with maybe a little less of the obvious undercurrent of melancholy that the old song possessed. Not bad, but not earth-shaking either.
10. “Promise To Your Girl”- There’s more than a little bit of “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five” in this, the album’s lone true rocker. It has the same kind of shapeshifting quality, at times charging ahead recklessly, at times stopping to ponder its whereabouts with dreamy falsetto vocals. That it holds together is a credit to McCartney’s compositional acumen.
9. “English Tea”- For all of those critics who feel like McCartney can get overly precious at times, this song must grate to no end. I, on the other hand, kind of like the idea of Paul skidding into the curve with this one, owning up to his tweeness with a Victorian era melody and exaggeratedly proper diction. An album’s full of this stuff would be deadly, but one for fun is just fine.
8. “How Kind Of You”- This one takes some clever musical turns, making the gratitude expressed by Paul in the song sound almost desperate. There are many times on this album where the lyrics somehow deepen within their interesting musical surroundings, and this is one of them.
7. “A Certain Softness”- McCartney loves slipping these exotic little numbers onto each album, showing his preference for a mellow, almost jazzy mood now and again. Sounds a little like something Antonio Carlos Jobim might have concocted for Frank Sinatra, which is a good thing.
6. “Friends To Go”- Macca dedicated this one to George Harrison, but I don’t see the connection. If anything, the story of the lyrics slightly recalls The Beatles “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” in the way they detail a wallflower’s wish to remain undetected. One of many tracks on the album that come at us from a funky perspective, making the familiar sound strange and novel.
5. “Follow Me”- Like “My Love” many years before it, “Follow Me” overcomes lyrics that might be considered trite on the page thanks to the moving tug of the music. The verses arch upward hopefully, while the middle eight steps unto the breach, fearlessly bringing our narrator to a much-needed friend. The uplift comes without any forcing, so that can feel good about being gently manipulated into warm fuzzies by a master.
4. “This Never Happened Before”- Consider this one along the lines of “Only Love Remains.” It’s clearly in the vein of adult contemporary, tailor-made for a big-screen romance (and it was indeed used in the bizarre Keanu Reeves time-travel tale The Lake House.) And yet the craft McCartney possesses ensures that it’s quite stirring, as it saunters around in the first half before building to quite a momentous climax.
3. “Fine Line”- One of the odder opening tracks and lead singles in McCartney’s oeuvre, yet it’s compelling nonetheless. The off-kilter, almost dissonant piano riff is actually much more like Harrison than anything in “Friends To Go,” and it draws you in. Even though the lyrics don’t necessarily connect the dots, there are enough intriguing lines to keep you inspecting it. Plus it sets the tone for an album that, as a whole, comes at you from a slight different angle than the usual Macca release (and is the better for it.)
2. “Riding To Vanity Affair”- Since torment often breeds art, it can be argued that the relatively smooth sailing that Paul and Linda McCartney’s relationship enjoyed was not conducive to inspiration. Paul more than compensated over the years, but this moody, piercing track, perhaps aimed at Heather Mills, perhaps not, you be the judge, operates at a rather prickly frequency. And the thing is, Macca was always really good at these types of songs way, way back; I’m thinking of Beatles’ gems like “I’m Looking Through You” and “You Won’t See Me,” from the days when he and Jane Asher were undergoing a tumultuous romance. Kudos to Godrich for pushing him to improve the lyrics of this song; McCartney responded with a suitably stinging rebuke of fake friends.
1. “Jenny Wren”- Again, there’s a bit of a Beatle callback here. Once upon a time, McCartney mesmerized with a toe-tapping, acoustic, avian-inspired number called “Blackbird.” Here he captures that same kind of sound, albeit with an encroaching darkness surrounding it, emphasized by the strangely hypnotic solo from the duduk. My, this is a stunning melody. And Paul fills it with lyrics that dare us to interpret their fascinating suggestions. I’ve always read the song as a lament at how women are left to clean up the messes of antagonistic men. Jenny seems like a Cassandra character, seeing and speaking the truth but never heeded. Somehow both gorgeous and deeply sad. Gun to my head, I’d say it’s the finest song he’s done since Wings’ implosion.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available from the link below or at any online bookseller.)
It just felt like there was too much going on for 2001’s Driving Rain to have much of a chance of making its mark. It was Paul McCartney’s first complete album of originals since the death of his wife Linda, and, in the interim, he had taken up with Heather Mills, so that aspect of it seemed to overshadow the actual music. On top of that came 9/11, which led McCartney to promote the album with “Freedom,” a jingoistic one-off that had little to do with the rest of the lovey-dovey material. All that aside, however, the album suffers anyhow from being unnecessarily long at 16 songs, not one of which quite muscles its way into classic territory. Here is a song-by-song review:
16. “Spinning On An Axis”- McCartney’s first of two songwriting collaborations with son James on the album is sunk by lyrics that aren’t nearly as deep as they want to be and music that struggles to define what it wants to be and ends up not being much at all.
15. “Freedom”- The intent was impeccable, and there’s no question the song did it’s job at the Concert for 9/11. But going back and listening to it as anything more than a curiosity is not something I can see many McCartney fans doing.
14. “Heather”- Some decent chord changes, but this mostly instrumental felt indulgent then. And, of course, knowing the outcome of the marriage, it feels downright awkward now.
13. “Back In The Sunshine Again”- The second McCartney/McCartney track on the album is a little better than the first, but not much.
12. “About You”- The rock racket it tries to raise sounds labored, and, by this point in the album, the praising love songs are struggling to say something new from the ones that preceded them. It does find its groove in the run-out, but by then you might have lost interest.
11. “Tiny Bubble”- Not to be confused with Don Ho, the best part of this bluesy midtempo track is McCartney’s willingness to let the melody drift to unlikely places. Nothing too memorable, but sounds pretty good while it’s on the speakers.
10. “Rinse The Raindrops”- The main section with the lyrics is forceful enough. How much tolerance you have for endless instrumental noodling probably dictates how you feel about the rest. As someone who thinks “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” should have ended before the bongos enter the picture, you can guess how I feel about it.
9. “Your Loving Flame”-Suffers from a lot of the same issues as “From A Lover To A Friend.” There’s a nice melody in there, but the lyrics are cliched and the production pushes a little too hard to try to get it to lighter-waving mode. That said, it fits into a kind of pleasing balladic template that makes you like it in spite of your best intentions.
8. “Driving Rain”- More jazzy than we’re used to from Paul, this one. And he wears it pretty well for the most part, although the improvisatory lyrics run out of steam as the song progresses. I do like the line, “Something’s open it’s my heart” though.
7. “Riding Into Jaipur”- Just a few weeks after the release of this album, George Harrison passed away. This feels like a preemptive tribute by Paul, and a pretty able one at that.
6. “Your Way”- Locating the heart of the country has never been an issue for Paul, and he does so effortlessly with this little, foot-tapping love song that’s charming if a bit slight.
5. “From A Lover To A Friend”- I feel like this echoes classic McCartney efforts without quite getting there on its own. The music is unmistakably lovely, stirring piano balladry with Abe Laboriel Jr. doing an excellent job on the Ringo-style fills. But the lyrics are all over the place to me, pronouns kind of thrown about willy-nilly to confuse the perspective and no real unifying aspect to really make the emotional connection. The music wins out in the end, but it feels like it could have been so much greater.
4. “Magic”- The serendipity of love is explored on this dreamy song. Macca’s bass work is inventive, and some leftover Jeff Lynne mojo must have been hanging around the studio from the Flaming Pie sessions, because this one could easily have slid onto an ELO album circa ’78 or so, which is a good thing.
3. “Lonely Road”- Those electric guitars really have some edge to them, and McCartney’s lyrics speak with a kind of fierce honesty to the disorientation that one feels after someone they loves moves on. Bluesy and tough, this song conjures up some raw emotions. Alas, it sets a personal tone that the rest of the songs just don’t quite sustain.
2. “I Do”- Producer David Kahne doesn’t shy away from ladling some Beatlesque bombast to the production here, and it suits the delicate melody and McCartney’s sweet sentiments. Just enough melancholy is located on the periphery to make the loving center that much more affecting. And Paul is everywhere, both singing high and lovely and rolling underneath it all on the bass, a wonderful performance at both extremes.
1. “She’s Given Up Talking”- Slow, heavy and compelling, with lots of vocal and instrumental effects that make matters all the more interesting. Kahne does a nice job laying things on and then pulling them away, while the relentless thrum of Paul’s bass and the smack of Laboriel’s drums provide steady ground. Add on the quirky little character sketch that McCartney delivers in the lyrics and you’ve got an unheralded track that would make for a great live cut if he ever decided to showcase some of his late-period solo stuff.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out the link below to my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now.)
Paul McCartney’s second solo foray into rock and roll and rhythm and blues history outdid the first, which was no small feat. Unlike CHOBA B CCCP, which had a tossed-off quality that sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the material, 1999’s Run Devil Run, consisting primarily of cover songs of mid-20th century classics and obscurities, benefits from what seems like a little bit more forethought. McCartney also found a wonderful ad hoc band for the project, featuring crackerjack guitarists David Gilmour and Mick Green. His three original songs aren’t anything too memorable, but his first album following the death of wife Linda found him on firm, familiar musical footing that must have been reassuring to him at such a difficult time.
15. “Try Not To Cry”- The staccato, herky-jerky feel of this McCartney original feels beamed in from a different era than the classic covers, breaking up the spell a bit. Plus it’s a rare McCartney song that is lacking in the melody department.
14. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”- Even though Chris Hall adds an excellent accordion part, zydeco is the one sub-genre represented on this collection where McCartney doesn’t quite feel at home.
13. “What It Is”- The band makes a pretty good ruckus on this one, but it feels a bit rushed in terms of the execution and a bit blah songwriting-wise.
12. “Shake A Hand”- McCartney gets a chance to tear up his larynx here. Maybe he gets a little silly with it here and there, but it slides by.
11. “Party”- One more wild rocker for the road sends the album out on a note of raucous fun. The prolonged ending is a nice touch.
10. “Run Devil Run” – The best of the three McCartney originals holds its own with the classics surrounding it. Frenetic but held together by the chemistry of the band and Paul’s powerhouse vocal.
9. “Blue Jean Bop”- Great way to start the album, with this modest little Gene Vincent number that gives Paul a workout on bass and lets Gilmour and Green cut loose on electric guitar.
8. “She Said Yeah”- The Beatles did pretty well with Larry Williams covers, so it makes sense that McCartney would look to one of his classics once again. The band revs this one up and provides some serious thunder, while Paul’s vocals are suitably wild and woolly.
7. “I Got Stung”- A great, relatively obscure barnburner on which the band to pack a serious wallop. That they do this while still sounding loose, not shambolic, is a testament to the unit assembled by McCartney for this project.
6. “Movie Magg”- McCartney slides into this Carl Perkins rambler like it was written for him. It would have been easy to do “Blue Suede Shoes” or something like that. He does more honor to the original artists by digging deeper into their catalogs, showing just how intriguing some of their lesser-known songs were. A wonderfully restrained and charming performance from Macca on this one.
5. “All Shook Up”- Here the band takes a well-known chestnut and imbues it with enough personality that it becomes their own. Each instrumentalist is fired up individually, but they also all come together cohesively for some unstoppable forward thrust. Explosive in a way that even Elvis’ original couldn’t claim to be.
4.”Coquette”- Of all the artists that McCartney has either covered or honored with homages over the years, Fats Domino is probably the one that, for whatever reason, has been the tightest fit. As Pete Wingfield knocks out the triplets, Paul struts through a standout vocal on this typically charismatic Fats’ composition. The lyrics don’t work unless the singer emanates confidence that the titular girl is going to realize her folly and come crawling back, and McCartney is on top of that all the way.
3. “Honey Hush”- What really stands out time and again on the uptempo numbers is how the originals are beefed up with modern rock heft while the original, classic feel is maintained. You can hear that balancing act pulled off most memorably on this rip-snorter. McCartney and producer Chris Thomas deserve credit for the arrangements they concocted on this and the other fast ones. Why would anyone want to hush up this glorious yakety-yak?
2. “No Other Baby”- This brooding slow-builder is one of the more obscure songs that Paul took on for this project, which works in its favor. Without the preconceived notions from the listener about what it should sound like, McCartney can turn it into a smoky, brooding slow-builder, the one cover here that you could say sounds “modernized,” and effectively so. He builds the tension expertly until finally uncorking with more emotive vocals as the song progresses.
1. “Lonesome Town”- Paul’s best decision on this classic ballad made famous by Rick Nelson was to sing it in a high register throughout. Whereas Nelson’s version is brilliant for all that it holds back, Macca’s take succeeds in a different way, spilling everything on the table. (Plus the original didn’t have a top-notch David Gilmour guitar solo in its favor.) I’m not one to jump to conclusions and say that he was thinking about Linda while he sang so emotionally here, but it’s certainly tempting to connect those dots. In any case, it’s a wonderful combination of songwriting perfection and interpretive feeling. And all of us who’ve ever been denizens of that figurative location can relate and wallow right along with him.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now. Order at the link below or at your favorite online bookseller.)
In many ways, 1997’s Flaming Pie set the template for what a late-period Paul McCartney album would sound like. With the singles charts no longer an option, McCartney could play directly to his fans and give them what they wanted: Some fun, feisty rockers, a handful of ballads, maybe a special guest or two, plenty of self-reflexive nods to the old days, and nothing that strayed too far from the brand (that’s what his side projects as The Fireman were for.) And Flaming Pie certainly rates on the higher end of these types of “In case of desire for Paul McCartney album, break glass” kind of projects, especially in terms of the love songs. Here is a song-by-song review:
14. “Really Love You”- Some people may love hearing old bandmates McCartney and Ringo Starr jamming away. To me, improvisation is best when you can’t tell it’s improvisation. I think anyone listening to this could tell it was made up on the spot.
13. “If You Wanna”- One of three collaborations with Steve Miller on the album, this sounds pretty good but, ironically considering it’s a driving song, doesn’t really go anywhere.
12. “Heaven On Sunday”- Jeff Lynne, who produces many of the tracks here, gives this one a lovely glow, but the best part is when Paul trades blues licks on guitar with his son James. That instrumental passage seems beamed in from a different song, creating a little disconnect from the adult contemporary feel of the main section.
11. “Souvenir”- Another one that’s a bit schizophrenic, half Wilson Pickett, half “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Lynne can’t quite meld it all together without the seams showing, but the individual parts of the disjointed whole command your attention.
10. “Young Boy”- Just an effortless pop track with a bit of a melancholy tinge. Miller shows his chops on lead guitar, while McCartney proves an able one-man rhythm section. A full album collaboration between these two should be on any Macca fan’s wish list.
9. “Beautiful Night”- The verses are gorgeous, reminiscent of the stellar Tug Of War ballad “Wanderlust,” all with Ringo lending those off-kilter, just-right fills any Beatle fan adores. The refrains are just OK, stirring musically but lyrically needing a bit more care. The coda is a fun ruckus, Starr getting in on the vocal act for old time’s sake.
8. “Great Day”- Paul wrote this album-closer in the early 70’s, and it’s eerie how well he recaptures his sound from that era, right down to Linda’s backing vocals. On an album that looks back as much as ahead, it makes for the right kind of send-off.
7. “The World Tonight”- Lynne gives McCartney’s drums a little Wilbury twist to add some rockabilly heft to the slightly psychedelic tone of this one. And Macca gets in a great couplet: “I go back so far, I’m in front of me.” The lyrical dots don’t always connect, but Paul sings it as if his life depends on it.
6. “The Song We Were Singing”- I could have gone one star higher on this affecting opening track if it had just a little more deviation from the acoustic verse to soaring chorus (with the harmonium, reminiscent of “We Can Work It Out”) formula, which gets repeated a bunch here. Still, it sets the nostalgic tone of the album quite well.
5. “Somedays”- Buoyed by typically sensitive George Martin orchestration, this introspective ballad manages to be both a devoted love song and a subtly pensive meditation on aging. Throw in some genuine empathy for those “who fear the worst” and you’ve got a number that covers a lot of bases without showing any sign of strain.
4. “Flaming Pie”- Among other things, this album is a great showcase for Paul’s instrumental dexterity. A largely do-it-yourself affair, it gives him showcases throughout on bass (of course), drums and acoustic guitar. Here he takes charge with some steamy piano licks, which back up wonderfully nonsensical lyrics inspired by John Lennon’s equally nonsensical tale about the origin of the name Beatles.
3. “Used To Be Bad”- A good little blues song immeasurably elevated by the easy camaraderie and instrumental excellence of McCartney and Miller. If you remember their late 60’s collaboration “My Dark Hour,” consider this duet a sizzling sequel that proves the pair hadn’t lost a stitch in the three-decade interim. People tend to think of Miller as a hitmaker, which he is, but his solos here remind that he can really rip on lead guitar.
2. “Calico Skies”- Well, this has always been what it’s all about with Paul, right? Sitting with an acoustic guitar, enchanting his audiences with the kind of tune that seems brand new and handed down through the ages all at once. And those who get at him about his lyrics should check out this set, which trips from the lips with nimble ease and both warms your heart and breaks it all at once. The kind of song that’s too good to be background music, because it will stop you in your tracks and whatever you’re doing will become secondary to the need to listen. Very powerful stuff in a humble package.
1. “Little Willow”- “Thanks, Mo,” Paul can be heard saying at the end of “Get Back.” This achingly beautiful lullaby was his way of expressing that gratitude to Maureen Starkey after her passing, as a way of trying to ease the pain her children felt. Lynne’s expert massaging of ballads comes in handy here, and his backing vocals provide supportive counterpoint to McCartney’s anguished, wordless cries. “Nobody warns you” is the hard part, the fact that even when you think you’re prepared to lose a loved one, you’re really not. But though you may bend in that cold, hard wind, the goodness of the loved ones still around allows you to locate the strength to hold on tight. All of that conveyed in three musical minutes that can pry cathartic tears from you on any occasion.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives this month. Pre-order it in the link below.)
It’s funny how much better this album is than I initially remember. When Paul McCartney released Off The Ground in 1993, I was underwhelmed. I think that’s because the songs that Paul chose as singles and the ones he put forth to promote the album in various TV spots were some of the poorer ones on the record. And there’s no killer, must-have track on here. But this is a very consistent collection of songs and performances, with McCartney ruminating on topics that were important to him with the able support of his tried-and-true touring band. If you’ve slept on this one, you should give it another try; take it from one who knows. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “Looking For Changes”- What happens sometimes when people write songs about issues is that they get so concerned with getting their lyrical point across that they forget to worry about the melodic aspects. I feel like that happens here. Paul’s lyrics are pointed enough about mistreatment of animals, but they don’t hit home as they might have had their been more hooks involved. And the generic title phrase kind of cops out. Which is too bad because, whether you agree or not with McCartney here (and I do), you have to admire his taking on the topic.
12. “Biker Like An Icon”- The music works for me, nicely downbeat and highlighted by an urgent chorus. And the story itself of the runaway girl compelled by a charismatic is interesting. I just could never get past the wordplay of the refrain to rate it much higher; that phrase is just too clumsy and somehow unintentionally funny, undercutting the serious intent.
11. “Golden Earth Girl”- “Julia”-like lyrics more comic than cosmic to these ears. Maybe they’d sound better recited at a poetry slam (and then again, maybe not.) And yet the music bails them out to an extent, as one of those McCartney tunes of simple yet boundless beauty gets the job done.
10. “C’mon People”- There’s a kind of arms-waving, all-inclusive, well-meaning McCartney song that can be grating when executed poorly. This one just sneaks by; it’s no classic, but the sentiment is expressed all right and the arrangement is off-kilter enough to keep it from getting too familiar, Beatlesque horns and all.
9. “Cosmically Conscious”- McCartney’s love of non-sequitur album endings is indulged here with this “hidden” psychedelic fragment that was apparently written way back in the White Album days.
8. “Winedark Open Sea”- Subtly rendered and all the better for it, McCartney keeps this love song simple save for the striking title. Nothing here that we haven’t heard before, but still quietly effective.
7. “Off The Ground”- The title track delivers some bluesy rock and solid lyrics. I would have gone up to four stars, but the “la-la-la” refrain in the chorus always struck me for a bit too cutesy for a song that’s tougher than all that.
6. “Mistress And Maid”- The arrangement Paul uses here does this song, one of the finest of the McCartney/MacManus compositions, no favors. It turns the story into a farce, when it’s better rendered as a tragedy. There’s a live version of Paul and Elvis duetting on this that’s a stunner; would that the album version had taken its cues from that. Nonetheless, the song itself, with that mumbling to garment-rending melody and the lyrical details of harrowing relationship neglect, still reaches you, even in the wrong setting.
5. “Peace In The Neighbourhood”- The looseness of the groove is quite inviting, keeping this from getting preachy, which could have happened easily. And I love those opening lines: “Best thing I ever saw/Was a man who loved his wife.” It suggests that love and peace begins at home, which is quite a profound notion when you think about it.
4. “I Owe It All To You”- There’s a certain desperation in the chorus, even as it expresses such warm sentiments, that makes the devotion and gratitude of the narrator all that more touching. This is also one of the more musically affecting songs on the album, with an arrangement that doesn’t overdo it and adds just the right touches to the acoustic foundation. Very well done in every respect.
3. “Hope Of Deliverance”- There’s nice interplay here between the light-footed acoustic guitars and the sudden melancholy shift of the music when the chorus approaches. And that refrain is pretty apt, because we are always in the terrible position of not knowing what comes next, and thus are forced to cling to hopes that might never be satisfied. That entire chorus sequence is so good that you can forgive McCartney for going to it so often in this relatively short song.
2. “Get Out Of My Way”- McCartney sinks his teeth into this Chuck Berry-esque ripper with relish. The live-band approach used on this album is well-suited to a track like this, and the horns are a surprise and well-utilized. Crash bang wallop, indeed.
1. “The Lovers That Never Were”- Not quite as good a song as “Mistress And Maid” just in terms of lyrics and music (though close), and yet the fact that the band pulls this tricky number off delicately in conjunction with McCartney’s forceful performance pushes it a notch above everything else on record. The melody keeps surprising you, phrases like “a parade of unpainted dreams” really stick with you, and the narrator’s helpless pleas to engage his reticent paramour make a strong impact. Another example of the McCartney/Costello partnership proving simpatico.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, will be released in a few weeks, but you can preorder it at the link below.)
The notion that Paul McCartney needs a strong, bold-faced collaborator to do his best work doesn’t hold water; see Ram, Band On The Run, even Memory Almost Full for examples that refute it. But there is no doubt that pairing up with Elvis Costello was a good match, for both men. A third of the songs on 1989’s Flowers In The Dirt were co-written by the duo, and a couple of those songs stand out as the best stuff that Paul had managed since Tug Of War. Some production fussiness still interrupts the uniformly sharp songwriting at times, but this was a great album at a time when McCartney needed one. Here is a song-by-song review.
12. “Rough Ride”- The mix of synths and horns dates this one pretty severely. Fussy and not as danceable as it thinks it is.
11. “Don’t Be Careless Love”- A weird one co-written with Costello, it takes some nasty turns, including a moment when the person the narrator is addressing gets chopped into little pieces. The doo-wop verses, complete with finger snaps, are the best parts.
10. “Distractions”- Sweet and soft as a lullaby with a hint of a Latin lilt, this one boasts a lovely, winding melody and some off-kilter orchestration. Probably a bit too sleepy to be a true standout, but it’s nice nonetheless.
9. “How Many People?”- It treads the same ground as “Ebony And Ivory,” simplifying issues that are endlessly complicated. But the reggae puts enough of a playful twist on it to keep any kind of heavyhandedness from entering the sonic picture.
8. “We Got Married”- This has more promise than what it actually delivered. The lyrics certainly boast some strong lines and a clear-eyed view of matrimony. It gets bogged down on a sludgy side road after the light-footed opening, David Gilmour’s estimable presence on lead guitar notwithstanding. By the end of it, it’s almost a different song than the one that began, and not a better one, but the strong opening weighs heavily enough for a positive grade overall.
7. “Motor Of Love”- Yes, it’s overproduced as well. But the chorus pulls things together in such stirring fashion that all is forgiven. And McCartney’s heartfelt effort on vocals keeps all of the saccharine elements from invading on the song’s better nature
6. “This One”- Bright and friendly if a bit too polite, this paean to taking action now instead of later when it comes to expressing your love glides by on its goodwill. Nothing too fancy, but displaying pop chops to spare.
5. “Figure Of Eight”- Paul’s energy level never falters on this one, and the song follows suit. He sings everything but the bridge in a high-pitched yelp, the desperation in his hapless narrator palpable as he tries to escape the soul-deadening rut which his relationship has carved. A rock-solid way to start Side Two, back when such things started to dwindle in importance with the advent of the CD.
4. “Put It There”- Here Paul is in foot-tapping, acoustic mode, a pose that suits him very well. When he keeps it light like this, the melodies that seem to ooze out of him are given full room to blossom. How sweet the sentiment also, a sepia-toned father-son story in song with no rancor or recrimination. A little ditty that lingers in the best possible way.
3. “You Want Her Too”- McCartney mildly complained after the fact that Costello playing the Lennon role meant that Elvis got all the best lines. He was probably referring to this quirkily effective duet. The production here very much sounds like Spike-era Costello, with a flying trapeze-like instrumental hook and a searing refrain. And Paul is right; playing the straight man tends to throw the spotlight on the wiseass, who, if you had to put money on it, would probably be the one to get the girl in this love triangle. But the two voices in potent harmony in the chorus is what you remember most.
2. “My Brave Face”- It should have been a bigger hit, but 1989 was already the beginning of the era where great songs were no longer hits, so that explains it. Costello seemed to give McCartney the permission to get as Beatle-y as he’d been in years (and to use far more syllables per line.) The chorus comes first, the acoustic guitar lick sounds like “And I Love Her,” Paul’s bass is forefronted, and there’s even an psychedelic little quaver on the electric guitar: all Fab 4 signposts. Throw in a just right lyric about the perils of bachelorhood and you have pop perfection.
1. “That Day Is Done”- Might just be the best of the Costello/McCartney collabs, and that includes “Veronica,” which is a brilliant song. And I’m not even sure this is the best version of it; check out Elvis’ take with the vocal group The Fairfield Four, which brings down the house. Nonetheless it’s a song that’s somehow beautiful and chilling at once, no matter who performs it. The production here leans heavily to The Band, what with the drowsy horns and all, and the gloomy lyrics owe a nod to “Long Black Veil” for sure. It’s a credit to the potency of McCartney’s personality on the microphone that he sounds completely at home with a song that you wouldn’t think was in his wheelhouse at all. And Nicky Hopkins is on piano, so there’s that too, if you weren’t yet convinced.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul McCartney and The Beatles, check out my new book arriving in March, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs. You can preorder it at the link below.)
With a couple days to kill in the studio and some ace session men on hand, Paul McCartney ripped off a bushelful of songs consisting mostly of classics from the first wave of American rock and roll. The resulting album (CHOBA B CCCP or Back In The U.S.S.R.) was released only in the Soviet Union in 1988 before finally getting a worldwide release three years later. Although the arrangements sometimes betrayed the tossed-off, hurried nature of the sessions, McCartney’s affinity for and ease with this material makes it an invigorating listen, reminding anyone who might have forgotten how great a rock and roller this guy is.
14. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”- A rock arrangement of this standard might have worked with just a tad more lightness to highlight the deft nature of Duke Ellington’s melody. But the band sort of bludgeons it, even if the instrumental break is well-done.
13. “Ain’t That A Shame”- Cheap Trick had a pretty good go at this song by not playing it too close to the vest. The respect that McCartney shows to the original smothers it a bit and makes it come off as more imitation than inspiration.
12. “Midnight Special”- Maybe too light a touch is employed here by McCartney and the band, with the arrangement by Paul not quite capturing the darkness in the song that makes that ever-loving light so important in the first place. Nice guitar work on this one by Mick Green though to recommend it.
11. “Lucille”- The groove is a touch mathematical here, especially when you compare it to Little Richard’s raucous original. McCartney has fun with the vocal though, inspired by one of his true idols, and there’s no denying that this is a bona fide classic that’s hard to botch as long as you bring the energy.
10. “That’s All Right, Mama”- You have to hand it to McCartney on one account: He certainly didn’t back away from the behemoth songs of the genre. His take on this track that Elvis immortalized hews a bit more country and western, with the exception of the robust guitar break. Doesn’t threaten the original by any stretch, but a fine turn nonetheless.
9. “Kansas City”- McCartney knows his way around this song, as it was included way back in the day on Beatles For Sale. His voice sounds remarkably spry considering the quarter-century between recordings, doesn’t it? But, then again, it sounds pretty spry today even further down the road. Pretty good heft delivered by the band on this one.
8. “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”- McCartney is, for sure, a “real gone cat” throughout this collection. On this, one of three Fats Domino-penned songs on the album, he and his buddies bust it up pretty good and vigorously sink their teeth into a tale of romantic revenge.
7. “Twenty Flight Rock”- This one holds a special place in Macca’s heart, as it was his knowledge of the song’s lyrics and changes that allegedly impressed John Lennon back in the day when the pair first met. Mick Gallagher gets a nice showcase on piano, as the band, taking the Eddy Cochran classic at a lope instead of a sprint, keeps their footing very well.
6. “I’m In Love Again”- Anybody’s who’s ever heard “Lady Madonna” should know that McCartney can do Fats Domino better than anyone save Fats himself. He slips into this rambler with no sweat at all, as Gallagher nails the piano triplets to anchor the music.
5. “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy- Man, does Paul sing this one wonderfully, touching every bit of the playfulness and bluesiness in the lyrics with ease. The fuzz of the guitar doesn’t quite square with the swing of the arrangement, in my humble view, but that’s nitpicking. The positives far outweigh that little nick.
4. “Crackin’ Up”- This is the most obscure song on the album, and it benefits from that, sounding alive and fresh rather than encased in glass. McCartney gets a lead guitar showcase and makes the most of it, while seeming to enjoy the quirkiness of the lyrics.
3. “Just Because”- The quartet nails the rockabilly vibe of this one, an antiquated song that Elvis also made famous. Great interplay among the musicians, while Paul’s bass and vocals bring a lot of charm to the proceedings. Certainly one of the most fun recordings on an album where “fun” was the operative word.
2. “Bring It On Home To Me”- Taking on a Sam Cooke song isn’t for the faint of heart if you’re a vocalist. McCartney tears into it fearlessly, adding a bit of a grittier edge in the higher notes compared to Cooke’s break-no-sweat smoothness. The call and response at the end leaves everything on the floor. A great showcase for his vocals, which retain their youthfulness and yet still reference the heartbreaks only life experience can engender.
1. “Summertime”- Taking this George Gershwin song and giving it an arrangement that hits the ominous notes of “House Of The Rising Sun” proves to be a stroke of genius. It really transforms it into something that Gershwin himself might not have realized possible. And it’s the one place where the heavier tones of the electric guitar don’t sound like they’re overwhelming the content of the song. Paul puts everything he has into the vocal; Ella would have been proud.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter & JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives in March. You can preorder it at the link below.)
Paul McCartney largely took the middle part of the 1980’s off, with the exception of 1986’s Press To Play. Some might snicker that he might as well have sat that one out too, and there is some merit to that argument. As brilliant a producer as Hugh Padgham and as adventurous a songwriter as Eric Stewart might have been, their styles seemed to clash with McCartney’s instead of complimenting it. He deserves credit for trying something out of his comfort zone, but, for the most part, McCartney seems at sea here, which, combined with a dearth of memorable songs, hamstrings this album. Here is a song-by-song-review:
10. “Pretty Little Head”- Sounds like it was crafted for a Miami Vice scene where Crockett and Tubbs have to find the drug dealers in a dense jungle. As much as I love Miami Vice, this is not a compliment, especially since the style didn’t suit McCartney whatsoever.
9. “Talk More Talk”- While the experimentation and wacky wordplay is admirable, the sterile production keeps this from being more than an oddity that won’t interest you more than once or twice.
8. “Angry”- If there was a target to this diatribe in song, it’s now lost to the mists of time, as McCartney himself might put it. What’s certain is that the participation of Pete Townsend and Phil Collins is largely wasted on this feisty but underwritten and overdone track.
7. “Press”- Imagine a television with a brightness knob. In the 1980’s, pop music production brightened from the sleepy twilight of the late 70’s until it hit just the right level and the day-glo colors popped perfectly around 1984. Only they kept turning the knob up until we could no longer distinguish the substance behind the blinding light. That’s the best way to describe this, one of McCartney’s least effective singles ever.
6. “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun”- A nice little reggaefied workout, that, despite the title, contains some creeping melancholy. McCartney’s bass work is as nimble as could be expected. The second half of the song is a bit more musically mundane, but not an embarrassment by any means.
5. “Stranglehold”- The opener mixes some rockabilly acoustic guitar, soulful horns, and a stop-and-start rhythm into something promising. The lyrics nicely conjure the sweet agony of anticipated passion quite well. Here the production doesn’t get too busy and the song is better for it.
4. “Move Over Busker”- Paul is on much firmer footing with this funny rocker. The lyrics seem to suggest that the musician doesn’t hold as much weight in the world as the bigger stars he encounters; the title alone implies a kind of disrespect for what McCartney does. He has the last laugh, however, since the song swaggers with more raucous confidence than most movies can ever hope to achieve.
3. “However Absurd”- The title is apropos here. The music suggests something of great circumstance, as it seems to be intentionally overbaked what with the stomping drums and the stressed-out strings and all. Meanwhile the lyrics contain some striking individual lines, even if they don’t add up to much in the grand scheme of things. At times it almost seems like a Rutles track parodying an earnest Beatles ballad. Not sure what Paul was after, but it’s fascinating anyway.
2. “Footprints”- McCartney has always had a soft spot in his songwriting for the outsider who many of us might not even consider, the still-waters-run-deep kind of fellow with a whole world going on behind his staid expression, a world about which we can only guess. “Footprints” is played with great touch and sensitivity by the instrumentalists and features a melody that takes you to places you never expect when the ride begins. An understated but affecting character sketch.
1. “Only Love Remains”- I know you’re not supposed to make a ballad the lead single, but I wonder if Press To Play might be regarded a bit differently if Paul had led with this atmospheric, romantic, grand slam of a ballad. Tony Visconti’s orchestration is subtle until it needs to be sweeping, and Paul’s melody soars when it’s not allowing a little bit of doubt to creep in to keep things honest. There’s not a false moment, and the message may be time-worn, but it’s still crucial. We all can get caught up with things that ultimately don’t matter too much, but songs like this, especially when rendered by a master like Macca, set us straight on what’s truly important and resonant.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. And preorder my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, in the link below. It’s available in March.)
Recorded for the most part at the same time as predecessor Tug Of War and released by Paul McCartney just a year later, 1983’s Pipes Of Peace suffers by comparison to the earlier album. It’s hard to hear some of the songs and not think that they were leftovers. That said, it’s the more experimental album, as McCartney and producer George Martin attempted to keep listeners on their toes, not easy to do for an artist as ingrained in the culture. They occasionally succeed and occasionally overdo it, but the efforts are admirable. Here is a song-by-song review (ratings based on a five-star maximum):
11. “Tug Of Peace”- Attempting to provide a kind of link to the previous album, McCartney included this percussive, electronic quasi-instrumental that calls back to “Tug Of War.” Busy, but not that engaging in the end.
10. “Through Our Love”- The idea, I suppose, was that this would be the unifying, stirring ballad to wrap it all up. But it’s lyrically underwritten (lots of “true/you/do” rhymes) and lush enough to cause a toothache.
9. “The Man”- The arrangement is a little overbaked, helping to undercut some interesting ideas (the lyrics are a kind of cousin to “The Fool On The Hill”) and the combined charisma of McCartney and Micheal Jackson on the lesser of their two collaborations on the album.
8. “Average Person”- Some of the effects get a bit cloying on this track, one which would have been better served by just playing it close to the vest with the solid piano-driven rhythm. Maybe one too many musical ideas on this one, but McCartney’s energy and commitment keep it afloat.
7. “Sweetest Little Show”- On this track, some good-natured rockabilly gives way to a contemplative acoustic guitar part. This is one of the times on the album where the experimental bent helps lift what could have been a pedestrian track.
6. “Hey Hey”- A fiery instrumental co-written by jazz fusion legend Stanley Clarke. It kicks up more dust than anything else on the record.
5. “Pipes Of Peace”- The title track is quirky and melodic, even if it seems grafted together from the bones of other songs, including ELO’s “Fire On High,” The Beach Boys’ “Heroes And Villains,” and Macca’s own “C Moon” and “Let ‘Em In.” It always struck me as the set-up for a concept album that never materializes, but it’s heartfelt enough to register.
4. “The Other Me”- It’s not me; it’s me. That seems to be the argument leveled here by the guilty suitor portrayed by McCartney in this nice, if relatively inconsequential, little midtempo number. And, hey, haven’t we all acted like a “dustbin lid” from time to time?
3. “Keep Under Cover”- It has an effective, stomping groove that nicely counteracts the strings and really pops when it emerges from the dreamy opening. The lyrics mainly stay out of the way, but McCartney sings them fervently enough to make you think there’s more there than meets the ear.
2. “Say Say Say”- McCartney certainly got the better end of the bargain when it comes to his collaborations with Michael Jackson. Whereas Michael kept the limp “The Girl Is Mine” for Thriller (and, who remembers this, actually released it as the leadoff single,) Paul was able to include this pop-funk ripper (and “The Man”) for Pipes Of Peace. He wouldn’t always be so fortunate in his business dealings with the Gloved One, of course, but these were happier times between the two. Their ease together pours out of the speakers here.
1. “So Bad”- I’ve professed my affinity for Paul’s occasional falsetto soul testifying elsewhere in this series, and he really nails it in this one. I’ll also defend the lyrics, which may seem to some to be mindlessly simple. I would argue that complicating them would have distracted from that melody, as soft and mesmerizing as a leaf gently twisting in the wind as it falls to ground from on high. Should have been a bigger hit, if you ask me.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul McCartney’s first band, check out the link below to preorder by new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, which arrives in March.)