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.)
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.)
So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just delivered their list of nominees for 2017, and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been telling anybody who would listen for many years that it was a travesty that ELO hadn’t yet been included or even nominated. I’m not kidding myself to think that they’ll get in; let’s face it, Tupac and Pearl Jam are sure things, leaving only three spots for 13 other nominees, so the math isn’t really in Jeff Lynne and company’s favor. (For the record, my choices: ELO, The Cars, Tupac, The Zombies, and Depeche Mode. Personal tastes play a lot into these things, obviously, and, as a songwriting guy, these five artists, to me, left behind the largest portion of memorable songs of this field.)
ELO’s last album in their heyday was 1986’s Balance Of Power; they would disband for fifteen years before their next studio album, Zoom, appeared in 2001. I’ve always had an affinity for this album, perhaps more than any of their other albums in the 80’s. It didn’t have any big hits but the songwriting was consistently sharp, the melodies pristine, and the production, with the exception of a synthy misstep or two, typically sumptuous; what else would you expect from Lynne?
ELO’s list of tear-jerking ballads will always be topped by “Telephone Line” with “Can’t Get It Out My Head” sitting at 1A; you just don’t get much better than those two. But Lynne delivered a late-period showstopper on Balance Of Power with “Getting To The Point.” Only the diehards (and I’m proudly one of them) know it, which is why I’m hoping that those reading this who are only casually aware of the band will check it out, and maybe check out the rest of the album in the process.
In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that ELO somehow sneaks into the final five for the Rock Hall, even as I know it likely won’t happen. And, while we’re on the subject, maybe next year at this time I’ll be doing a Weeper of the Week on Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, or Squeeze in honor of one or all of their nominations. One can dream.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a full list of my Counting Down books and E-books, check out the link to my Amazon page below.)