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Class B

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Lush Pop, Art Rock, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day





APPENDIX: My Review Of Paul McCartney's Moscow Concert

Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Paul McCartney fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Paul McCartney fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Paul's musical output has surpassed his Beatles legacy in the terms of quantity, but not of quality... wait, that's the rub. There is a myth in among the world's population, and that myth is as follows: Paul was great as a Beatle, but his solo stuff sucks. This myth seems to be shared by everybody, starting with people who hate the Beatles and ending with 'serious' critics who waste half of their lives trying to convince their readers that Paul's solo work lacks 'substance' and is pretty lightweight as compared to his days in the Beatles.

The myth is, of course, easy to accept. First, many people simply do not want to waste their time hunting for Paul's albums. They are happy enough with their Beatles collection and prefer to ignore McCartney's solo material because they don't have the will, the cash, the time or the guts to assemble a second collection. To justify this, they readily accept the myth. Second, 'solo' artists in general aren't really that respected in this world of ours, especially if they come from formerly successful and highly praised bands: a misconception, but so it is. Third, there are ageist problems: some people dismiss everything a certain rock artist has written after thirty simply because, well, simply because he's thirty years old. Fourth, many people are only acquainted with some of his sappier stuff that regularly comes on the radio - like 'My Love' or 'Silly Love Songs' - and, quite naturally, make the assumption that he's 'too sappy'. Bah.

It is, however, obvious, that once one really considers the strong and weak sides of the myth, it can't help but be shattered to pieces. Of course, Paul's solo work can't help being inferior to the Beatles' material, but for one reason and one reason only: solo Paul has no John, George, or Ringo to contribute their material as well. This way, the principle of 'selection' doesn't really work: while in the Sixties only the best contributions of the band were accepted onto the albums - compositions that all, or most band members, were in agreement about - in the Seventies and later on Paul had no-one to control him (unless, of course, you want to count Linda or Denny Laine, but I wouldn't do that if I were you).

On the other hand, if you take any amount of later-day Beatles albums - Abbey Road, The Beatles, whatever - and select all the McCartney tracks, I don't really see how this stuff could be significantly better than any selected amount of Paul's best solo period (sometime in between 1970-79). Throughout the Seventies, Paul had been working on exactly the same formula, if his output can really be called 'formulaic': it's so diverse, varied and often experimental that it mostly defies classification. I'm perfectly aware that there are people who even despise Macca's work with the Beatles, especially 'lightweight' stuff like 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' or 'Honey Pie' or 'Martha My Dear'; however, any person who enjoys these songs, but closes his eyes on Paul's solo albums like Ram or Band On The Run, is either deeply strange or simply let himself get too deeply engulfed in the myth I have described above.

The first period of Paul's solo career, in fact, made him succeed where his colleagues could not: after the euphoria caused by Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Harrison's All Things Must Pass had died down, Paul suddenly found himself the only Beatle who could still enjoy an almost unlimited commercial success, with albums going platinum and constant Top Ten singles and stuff. The critics initially hated his output - they were still convinced he was to blame for ruining the Beatles - but the public didn't give a damn, and its tastes in the early Seventies were civilized enough to recognize that Paul's talent wasn't yet starting to wane. After Band On The Run, though, Paul got the long-awaited critical acclaim at last and spent the next two or three years basking in the glow of his newly-found fame: believe it or not, he was almost as big as Led Zeppelin, and weren't Led Zep the Beatles of the Seventies (commercial-wise, that is)?

Paul's Seventies output is extremely interesting: always diverse, always melodic, rarely banal, and, of course, plenty of various moods and hooks. If you're new to Paul, do not make the mistake of dismissing him as 'too sappy' or 'too sentimental'. True, his work has never been as pure-hearted and sincere as John's moving, autobiographical compositions; and if you're looking forward to finding something about the meaning of life, go away. Paul's work is primarily destined for entertainment - sometimes funny, sometimes silly, sometimes slightly sad, without any deep sense to it. But who needs deep sense when you have these flawless melodies and albums stuffed to the brim with inventive, impeccable musical ideas? And, while balladry does play a significant part in Paul's career, it's usually compensated with multiple forays into other genres: country, blues, boogie-woogie, pop rock, bluegrass, even heavy metal on occasion. If you're still in doubt, pick up some of his more rockin' stuff like Venus And Mars or Back To The Egg and see for yourself.

Of course, Paul started fizzling out in the Eighties - but hey, who hasn't? I can hardly think of a dinosaur whose Eighties' output would live up to the regular standard... He started fiddling around with electronica and dance music, starred in an unsuccessful movie, made all kinds of stupidities before finally emerging from his mid-life crisis and starting a comeback in the late Eighties with Flowers In The Dirt. Unfortunately, the late Nineties finally seem to have squeezed the last drops of talent out of him, and the recent death of Linda McCartney has been hard on him, too. But that doesn't mean you have to judge him by his current washed-upness: take a general look, woncha? No Beatles' collection is complete without at least a good handful of Paul's Seventies' albums, and hey! George Starostin's website is just what you need - come, take a look and let me guide you through Macca's sea of long players! (Don't take it too seriously, though).

For the record: Paul's entire catalogue has been recently re-issued. You might have seen these reissues - the little discs with white album covers and the original sleeve in absolutely diminutive form so that you have to use a magnifying glass or something. The good thing is that most of them include (sometimes) cool bonus tracks. This doesn't liberate you from the necessity to buy Wings Greatest if you're a completist, but at least it can save you some time looking for the more obscure songs.

P.S. Due to the hugeness, the page is now divided in two halves. The first half covers Paul's 1970-79 output, the second half covers everything else plus the few collections and videos I have reviewed. The later output can be accessed either by clicking on the individual titles linked above or from the link at the bottom of the page.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

A half-finished effort, but with flashes of brilliancy every now and then.


Track listing: 1) The Lovely Linda; 2) That Would Be Something; 3) Valentine Day; 4) Every Night; 5) Hot As Sun/Glasses; 6) Junk; 7) Man We Was Lonely; 8) Oo You; 9) Momma Miss America; 10) Teddy Boy; 11) Singalong Junk; 12) Maybe I'm Amazed; 13) Kreen - Akrore.

OK, so, regardless of what I've told you earlier about McCartney's immaculate style of production, this is one truly sloppy record. Paul rushed off into the studio somewhere in the spring of 1970 to quickly assemble a record so that it would come out before Ringo's Sentimental Journey and all the people would see that it's him taking major decisions among the Beatles. See what a a heck of a mess the band was in - Paul didn't even have time to assemble any musicians and had to play all the instruments himself, thus effectively proving himself to be a Witted Multi-Instrumentalist.

The result is sadly predictable: a lot of songs here aren't really songs but rather short instrumental links ('Lovely Linda', 'Valentine Day'), and the number of purely instrumental compositions significantly exceeds the average on a later McCartney solo record. But Paul is Paul, and his amazing, at that time perhaps the best in the world sense of melody works so effectively that most of these links and instrumentals can only be treated as small overlooked gems. To paraphrase one reverend Zappa critic, 'Valentine Day' alone packs more personality than an entire Traffic album. It's actually one and a half minutes of spooky weirdness that's great fun - the ominous guitar riff, the short oozing bits of lead guitar playing, the unusually dreary atmosphere for such a cute title, all of these things are just so groovy... Likewise with the forty seconds of 'Lovely Linda', perhaps the best love anthem ever produced by any single Beatle to his lifemate, bar 'Something', of course.

And how come nobody ever recognizes 'Hot As Sun/Glasses' for the dang melodic classic it is? That main guitar melody it's based on is an allegory of life itself! So upbeat, so jangly, so catchy, so heartfelt and warm, and with an experimental second part that is, sure enough, played on glasses. Okay, deliver me of the second part, but it's still so short it doesn't matter. 'Momma Miss America'? Again, some pretty spooky music here - sounds like a lively barroom piano ditty in a minor key, atmospheric and at the same time substantial - hell, even danceable, although I'd probably be afraid to dance to it by myself... In fact, the only truly failed experiment on here is the last track, the somewhat lame drum instrumental 'Kreen - Akrore'. It does feature a few guitar lines that could have been put to better use on a better track, but for the most part it's just Paul fooling around with his drums, probably to prove to everybody he could really play them. Well, he can, but he ain't no Ginger Baker, and me not impressed. So just shut your player right before track 13 so as not to spoil a really perfect listen.

A couple other tracks are 'grooves' - apparently, unfinished 'musical themes' with bits of lyrics strapped on and hastily arranged so as to fit onto the record. But who but Paul McCartney would be able to build up an entire lengthy song on one verse ('That Would Be Something') and manage to get away with it? Count it as Paul's solo alternative to 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road', if you wish, only softer and a little bit more inventive, with 'lip-drum solos' attached as a special bonus. 'Teddy Boy', originally conceived as a potential Beatles song (you can meet an early take on Anthology III), is a funny folk ditty with grotesque A. A. Milne-style lyrics that could have grown into something bigger but eventually didn't; I'm not a particular fan of the song but I still can't see why some people hate the song with a strange anti-nazi-type passion.

These are all 'embryonic ideas', though - and the few songs that should be treated as 'finished product' all belong to the highest category. Well, after all, how couldn't they? The man was on a roll after Abbey Road; it's only natural that these songs be at least as powerful as his contributions for that Beatles album. Sure enough, they are. 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is the best known song from here, with a gorgeous, absolutely heavenly piano melody and soaring guitar solos. In the hands of the Beatles it would have undoubtedly grown to the status of yet another World Anthem of the likes of 'Hey Jude' or 'Let It Be'; here it sounds a bit too strained and repetitive (after all, it would have been nicer to come up with a few more verses and diversify the instrumental passages a bit), but still manages to be a major classic in the solo McCartney canon, and rightly so.

But if 'Maybe I'm Amazed' is the only song from this album you're acquainted with, I can but envy you the minutes of pleasure of discovering the other highlights. 'Junk' is beautiful beyond words - I like to think of it as something of an 'Eleanor Rigby' with 'lonely junk' replacing 'lonely people', i.e. with pity for unanimate objects replacing pity for animate ones. Its instrumental reprise near the end of the album doesn't worry me a single bit; on the contrary, I can't get enough of that soft, plaintive, heartbreaking melody. 'Every Night' is a very pretty pop rocker with lovely vocal harmonies, 'lightweight' as it may seem to Beatle fans. I could care less, because the melody makes me tip my hat and that's that. And I can hardly resist the jolly pop shuffle 'Man We Was Lonely', with Linda on the choruses, not to mention the only true rocker on the record, 'Oo You', where Paul even throws in some distortion to keep the 'arder type of fan happy.

As you can see, apart from 'Kreen - Akrore' I basically like or love every single track on here. So the only reason I'm giving this an eight (I used to give it a seven, but I got over that) is that even the more or less wholesome songs don't always have that 'polished' look McCartney is famous for, and end up reducing the record to a pleasant lightweight homey listen. I mean, these songs never conceal anything - you pretty much get everything on first listen and that's that. Well, what can a poor boy do if he's all alone in the studio and has got an impatient Ringo Starr on his neck?

By the way, that Sentimental Journey is a horrid album. Go figure...



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Moving, charming and musically superb. Most of the songs are prime Beatles-quality.

Best song: hard to determine, they're all great.

Track listing: 1) Too Many People; 2) 3 Legs; 3) Ram On; 4) Dear Boy; 5) Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey; 6) Smile Away; 7) Heart Of The Country; 8) Monkberry Moon Delight; 9) Eat At Home; 10) Long Haired Lady; 11) Ram On (reprise); 12) The Back Seat Of My Car.

Second time 'round, and lo! what a wonderful effort. This time around Paul has got a professional drummer (Denny Seiwell) and his wife (Linda McCartney, if you're not informed) to help him with the playing, so there are no significant problems with songs being underarranged or something. Actually, just for fun, the album is credited to 'Paul & Linda McCartney' - evil tongues say that Paul only did this to earn more money from the record company, and they were even sued by some record company executives or managers who wanted Linda to prove her composing skills, heh, heh... in any case, she probably did prove something, because the family won the lawsuit. Oh well.

Some songs on here do feel a little bit thin when it comes to full-fledged arrangements, but it's certainly less of a throwaway than before: thin or thick, all of the songs are finished products. Hey, what's that I said? This is a great album! All the songs display a great songwriting talent - a talent equal to that of one of the Beatles, indeed! How could this guy write just as well as Paul McCartney of Beatles' fame? Oh, see, lots of people usually forget that this is Paul McCartney of Beatles' fame. They usually treat him as a separate Paul McCartney, and that's where the problem lies.

Anyway, there are lots of fantastic musical ideas displayed all through this record. Ram is, in fact, the ideal place to start with Paul if you're looking for something relatively calm, stripped down and cozy: whereas later on Paul would incorporate a lot of bombast into his work, especially in the mid-Seventies when he was successfully posturing as a glammy stadium-rocker, on Ram he simply plays the part of a humble little farmer - just look at him handling the ram on the front cover! (Which, was, by the way, later parodied by John on the back cover of Imagine, where he was holding a fat pig by the ears). If there is a theme underlying the album, it's the theme of 'quiet silly little fun': Paul sings about the advantages of living in the country, the fussiness of big city life, the pure delights of family life and the innocent pleasures of teenage days. All of this is, of course, drenched in his usual 'nonsensic' approach and heavily spiced with moments of sheer delirium, but that doesn't make the album any less entertaining - on the contrary, I adore this delirium. And isn't delirium the highest form of art, by the way?

Let's run around, then. First of all, for those who doubted it, Paul shows us that he can still pull off a mean funny rocker: the groovy 'Smile Away' with its famous line 'well I can smell your feet a mile away - smile away!' is just the thing for you, based on a gruff, dirty, smelly (yeah) little riff and graced by stingy, exciting guitar solos, plus the doo-wop harmonies borrowed from another age. From another age also comes the wonderful Beach Boys-like retro harmony number 'The Back Seat Of My Car', a perfect ode for all the little dudes and doves. From the recently passed age we have the terrific psychedelic brain-muddler 'Monkberry Moon Delight' - the song would have easily fit on Magical Mystery Tour, if only for the fact that not a single line in the verses ever makes sense. But who wants sense when one gets a magnificent vocal melody instead, not to mention the guy almost throwing a fit as he keeps repeating the title of the song over and over in some mantraic trance - almost like Harrison repeating 'Hare Krishna' in 'My Sweet Lord'? Isn't that absolutely, totally hilarious?

Practically everything on here rules, yes, even including the Twenties-inspired comic number 'Three Legs' (lots of critics thought it was about the lame fate of the band, but that's at least arguable). No matter that these songs sound so 'home-made': it only makes them closer to you. Where does he get those brilliant melodies? Like, for example, the slightly sad, but bouncy acoustic riff of the title track? Or the sharp, mercilessly pounding piano chords of 'Dear Boy'? Or the jolly Mellotron (don't tell me it's a real trumpet) cookie in 'Admiral Halsey'? Or the catchy happy lines of 'Eat At Home'? Did he really think of all of them himself?

The two songs, however, that come close to being the greatest on this album are the two side-openers. 'Too Many People' has some great lyrics, an unforgettable hook in each verse, and one of the best codas to a Paul song: if you haven't heard that frantic guitar solo at the end, or the way it suddenly transforms itself into a lot of overdubbed 'stinging' acoustic guitars, you don't know nothing about Paul at all. And 'Heart Of The Country' may be silly and lightweight, but I deem it a logical successor of 'Mother Nature's Son', only in a more funny context. I don't give a damn about what that song really meant for Paul (about finally settling down and solving his old-time problems, probably), but it sure means a lot for me, and don't you dare write it off as stupid pop crap! It's an epochal song. And don't forget the wonderful pop suite of 'Long Haired Lady' which sounds like one of the most gentle and mysterious love ballads I've ever heard. Sounds very Brit-flavoured, too. Who's that long-haired lady? Is it Linda McCartney or the Queen of May?

So, you probably already understood that this is my favourite McCartney album. Indeed, I prefer it even to such a highly-acclaimed album as Band On The Run, just because it's so home-made and fresh and delicious, and also because lots of these cool tunes could have easily made their way onto The Beatles or Abbey Road or anywhere like that. And let me tell you this: I totally and absolutely despise even the slightest effort to dismiss the album as 'lightweight' or 'charming, but disposable', or anything like that. It's absolute hogwash that 'music should make sense'. Music should impress; and this music is so well-written, memorable and catchy that it can't but impress. And in any case, I don't really see how Ram can be more 'lightweight' than, say, A Hard Day's Night. Personally, I would take these funny little Edward Lear-like lyrics over the Beatles' early love cliches any day of my life. And the melodies rule. They rule. This is unquestionably the best pop album of 1971 and one of the best pop albums of the entire decade. A true classic.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

The first Wings album, but it still sounds more like a McCartney solo...


Track listing: 1) Mumbo; 2) Bip Bop; 3) Love Is Strange; 4) Wild Life; 5) Some People Never Know; 6) I Am Your Singer; 7) Bip Bop Link; 8) Tomorrow; 9) Dear Friend; 10) Mumbo Link; [BONUS TRACKS]: 11) Give Ireland Back To The Irish; 12) Mary Had A Little Lamb; 13) Little Woman Love; 14) Mama's Little Girl.

Said to be the first and worst Wings' album, but I must vehemently disagree... Oops, on second thought, though, I must rather agree. One cannot disagree with the obvious fact that this was the first Wings' album: and if you dunno, Wings originally consisted of Paul, Linda, Denny Laine (ex-MoodyBluesman who was supposed to be too bluesy for the Moody Blues, but as a Wingsman he seemed to be just all right) and Denny Seiwell (the Ram drummer), although the only members that should interest you are Linda and Laine.

Oh, and that McCartney dude, of course. The funny thing is, he also contributed a couple of songs. From time to time.

Nah, just pulling your leg for a bit. Actually, this album is still pure solo McCartney, it doesn't sound like being put together by different members of a band. And here it comes to the second part of the critics' statement. Well, it might have been the worst Wings' album, but by no means does it mean 'bad'. A radical problem is that it is horrendously underdeveloped, but not in the way that his debut album was underdeveloped. What I want to say is that it was obviously a very quick and rash toss-off: the band didn't have enough songs, enough melodies, enough creative ideas, enough anything. Hence the scarce number of the songs - there's but eight compositions, not counting the short reprises christened 'links', out of which only two or three, most importantly, 'Some People Never Know' and 'I Am Your Singer', are more or less polished to perfection. And the songs are all deadly long, which, paired with their repetitiveness and lyrical shallowness, can prove a deadly blow to the listener.

Still, honour must be given to Paul: by anybody else's accounts, this would be an unbearable experience, yet Mr McCartney is able to make it work - if only by the sheer power of the unbeatable melody-making machine that this gentleman's mind once used to contain. Yes, the songs are few, overlong and repetitive, but most of this stuff is as catchy and well-written (okay... "well-designed", if one takes into account the album's 'unfinished' nature) as almost anything in the McCartney catalog. As a result, I don't give a damn: throwing away the biases, I enjoy it practically from top to bottom, even if it is far more lightweight than Ram, and what can be more lightweight than Ram? Still, as you might have guessed, I don't take 'lightweight' for a rude word. Here, 'lightweight' rather means something like 'funny'.

Indeed, a couple of numbers are just funny grooves: on 'Mumbo', for instance, Paul seems to be pulling a Lennon by imitating his Primal Scream. However, it is obvious he never tried visiting Janov: it ends up sounding like a horrid mess, and, indeed, this is the only track on the whole album I like to skip while listening to it. Still, for the first few listens it's a good laugh - especially when you try to decipher Paul's crazy patter. Then the novelty factor wears off and boredom sets in, but not disgust - just boredom. On the other hand, 'Bip Bop' is one groove that works: it's just a silly bit of nonsense poetry set to a weird country rhythm, and it chunks along nicely like anything from his debut record (isn't it an outtake?) It would be easy to regard it as a piece of stupid rootsy nonsense, but since it's so firmly tongue in-cheek, I'll disregard that possibility. Oh, the hours of air guitar playing to that rhythm... well, we all have our guilty pleasures.

Also, lack of material at that stage seems obvious, cause they cover Buddy Holly's 'Love Is Strange' (in a good way, too - and they go on with the instrumental part in the intro for so long that you think it's going to be an instrumental and then the vocals jump out at you all of a sudden. Cool!) Moreover, writing the other songs apparently cost Paul little effort, and that's probably why people treat it with such a scepticism. But the title track is quite enjoyable. Just forget the dumb animals' rights lyrics and concentrate on the melody... er... well, okay, I confess, I would be hard pressed to find a melody on that one, but there's something about the moody atmosphere and Paul's hysterical vocal delivery that touches me. Reason? Still has to think of it. Paul's minimalistic, piano-based response to John's critique, 'Dear Friend', is very touching - that's one underproduced song that's meant to be minimalistic, like 'Imagine', only with a bitter, slightly ironic edge. Yet in its own way it hits harder than 'How Do You Sleep' with its subtlety and deep understatement.

And then there's the album's masterpiece - the multipart ballad 'Some People Never Know', which has to qualify as one of his best sentimental bits of balladeering, with its harmonies again reminiscent of the Beach Boys. Catchy, shiny, resplendent in all of its multifacet beauty... pretty as a picture, in other words.

So one last word, specially to people who haven't bought Wild Life because the critics said it stank: it stinks about as much as you. So if you stink, don't buy it. But if you don't, go ahead. Everything stinks in its own way, the problem is when the stinkiness gets out of control.

The bonus tracks on the re-release include a couple of 1972 singles, all of them quite conventional: 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' is a, strange enough, happy pop number about you-know-what (was Paul really hoping the Queen would happily dance along to this song?), while 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' is yet another happy pop number about you-know-what (released deliberately in contrast to the politicized 'Ireland').



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Gettin' serious and playful at the same time. Complex, too. Melodical, too. As hell.


Track listing: 1) Big Barn Bed; 2) My Love; 3) Get On The Right Thing; 4) One More Kiss; 5) Little Lamb Dragonfly; 6) Single Pigeon; 7) When The Night; 8) Loup (1st Indian On The Moon); 9) Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands Of Love/Power Cut; [BONUS TRACKS]: 10) I Lie Around; 11) Country Dreamer; 12) The Mess.

So! Where are those funny grooves and 'lightweight' compositions? Gone they are! Paul is stepping onto more inventive, more creative and experimental territory. Wild Life was not as bad as they picture it, but it was still just an experiment and a first try - a shy treading of water with raw, unfinished material. The real story of Wings and Paul's creative re-creation begins here. This is yet another pop album, but it's not just pure pop. Having cast a questioning eye into the modern trends and fashions, Paul evidently perceived that the most hip thing there was to do was to reinvent himself as a... prog rocker! Yeah, I'm not afraid of that word, dammit - prog rock is certainly one of his main inspirations on this album. Sure, neither Paul nor his Flippers... er, sorry, Wings had the necessary musicianship strength to pull off a genuine prog rock album, and, of course, Paul never intended to make a prog rock album in the straightforward sense of the word. But what the hell - can't you hear prog rock influences in such bizarre tracks as the instrumental 'Loup (1st Indian On The Moon)' with its howling rhythm and creepy keyboard and bass breaks? Or in the brilliant, totally idiosyncratic and unforgettable acoustic suite 'Little Lamb Dragonfly'? There's some serious overcomplication for you, like "progressive ideas seen from the point of view of a veteran popster". Which is, of course, the best way to do progressive. Mind you, I'm not saying that this album is progressive - I just see some influences, that's all. Not to mention that one of Paul's favourite bands at the time was Jethro Tull...

Anyway, don't go mistaking 'Little Lamb Dragonfly' for pure sweet pop - go and listen to the lyrics and tell me if they are pure pop or not. As is obvious, this is my favourite track on the whole album and rightly so; a breathtaking, proverbially beautiful acoustic suite that holds up pretty well against anything on Abbey Road. Hell, when these tear-inducing, stately la-la-las strike in on the border between the two main sections, I have no problem in seeing the good old Beatles majesty right before my eyes and ears. It's here, goddammit, it's here and now.

Don't know whether you'll agree or not, but I'd say that the almost-not-less-gorgeous closing medley also borrows a lot from prog-rock and not from other sources, like, for example, the most obvious - the final suite on Abbey Road. Not that I can prove it (this time even the lyrics are hardly prog), but I somehow feel it. Anyway, what was Paul really listening to these days? The heyday of prog? Oh, never mind. Never mind my theoretical dabblings. Just take a listen yourself. In any case, all the four parts of the medley rule mercilessly - I don't mind if everybody baffles them for being dumb, lightweight, repetitive, slow, boring, etc. What I hear are four delightful slices of pop melody - sure, the endless 'hold me tight, hold me tight' chanting on the 'Hold Me Tight' section (not the old Beatles song - this one's better) might have been trimmed a little, but I'm probably the only person in the world to go nuts over the 'baby I love you so, be I love you so, be I love you so' climactic ending of 'Power Cut'. Well, I don't mind; I'm here to promote great melody and that's exactly what I'm trying to do. Although, on second thought, these parts of the medley probably wouldn't have made it as individual numbers: as in the case with Abbey Road, the decision to incorporate them within one large song melded the "lightweight greatness" of the parts into one large, mastodontic greatness of the whole suite.

Most of the other tracks are hardly "prog-influenced", but none of them are bad. Some more pop originals, all of them quite nice - not as banal as the ones on Wild Life, and all filled with subtle hooks. The quiet, delicate country ballad 'One More Kiss' is punctured by little melancholy guitar licks in the chorus (the ones that go 'only one more kis... pinnnng... I never meant to hurt you little girl... pinnnng...'). 'When The Night' is another successful late period Beach Boys rip-off. And 'Single Pigeon' is a generic Macca piano solo number, which means it's delightful and seducing.

The main hit from the record was 'My Love', but this is where the saccharine level gets a little bit too iffy even for my ears. Not one of my favourites, although I can't deny the inhumane catchiness of the melody, and the guitar solo by Henry McCullough is absolutely terrific (Paul sometimes used it as an argument for his 'democracy' in the studio - he wanted another solo, but Henry asked him to change it at the last minute and came out with a winner). But if you want something a bit more rockin', you might as well grab the opening 'Big Barn Bed' and 'Get On The Right Thing' - there's enough ass-kicking in these two songs to make a slight compensation for the lack of fast dancing numbers. My money's not with these one, though: it's certainly with 'Little Lamb Dragonfly' and the closing medley.

And don't forget to get the recent re-release, cause it has a great single of the epoch. 'Country Dreamer' is another charming country pop number, but I personally prefer the B-side 'I Lie Around': it's just so incredibly entertaining! The melody is simply untouchable, and it's Denny Laine who sings it, too. The reissue also has a decent live rocker ('The Mess') that has a weird gloomy atmosphere about it, so untypical for typical McCartney rockers.

P.S. I've just had an idea about 'Little Lamb Dragonfly'. OF COURSE it is directly related to 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' which he released on single a year ago. That's where both the 'little lamb' idea and the wonderful 'la-la-la-la''s come from. 'My heart is breaking for you little lamb/I can help you out/But I cannot help you in'. That's what Mary is bound to say to the lamb when she goes to school! Hah! Congratulate me on my brilliancy!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14

Another heavenly album. Beautiful songs, beautiful moods, beautiful vibes.

Best song: 1985

Track listing: 1) Band On The Run; 2) Jet; 3) Bluebird; 4) Mrs Vanderbilt; 5) Let Me Roll It; 6) Mamunia; 7) No Words; 8) Helen Wheels; 9) Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me); 10) Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five.

Critics just love it, and this time I feel like loving the critics, even if I don't see no reason to distinguish this album so highly among the five or six other Wings' albums that surround it (I mean, it's certainly the best one, but the others are much more than lifeless pieces of shit, too, mind you). The songs are absolutely wonderbeautiful, though. The album itself does not fit into any pattern you'd like it to fit into, 'cause it has it all: ballads, rockers, psycho, blues, country - you name it. As with most good albums, it is often dubbed 'conceptual', but it isn't. The title track may be conceptual if taken together with the album cover - it's all about Paul comparing himself and his band with runaway bad dudes escaping justice (jeez, what an original metaphor), but that's where the concept ends, really. Still, it does manage to embody the title track - a nice little three-part (prog again?) suite going from a lazy orchestrated shuffle to a hard-rockin' ode before finally turning into a gorgeous pop song where it stays until the very end. Highlights include: the memorable riff in the 'hard-rockin' part, good lyrics, the great sing-along line 'ba-a-a-a-nd on the run' and some cool guitar licks played along to same singalong line. Classic!

And soon after that you get taken to a mystical land of Paul turning into a bluebird, riding his magic horse, standing under the tropical rain and talking to Mr Picasso. Perhaps the greatest charm of this album is that it's his only one (hey! along with Ram, of course) without any straightforward love ballads with silly lyrics. Out of these songs, only 'Let Me Roll It' comes close to being a love song, but it's hard-rockin', with a tasty little riff rolling in and out and in and out for about a hundred times, and nobody even makes any effort to solo along to it. There's really no need to do that: it's so cool and moody it almost sounds like a solo by itself. Meanwhile, 'Jet' (which is about Paul's dog) shows us some more of Paul's rockin' efforts: the way the synths and heavy rhythm tracks blend with each other, you'd almost swear you're listening to an early Harrison effort. However, where George was mostly aiming at a highly emotional, spiritual impact, Paul just runs you over with the very 'massiveness' of the sound itself. I suppose that some might see it as little else as a generic arena-rocker, and to a certain extent it is indeed so, but whoever heard of an arena-rocker with such a great, original melody? Changes in tempo, vocal harmonies, a complex riff and utmost memorability, all packed together in what must probably be the greatest canine ode in the world (unless, of course, you also count in 'Martha My Dear').

The ballads are as charming as ever, plus there's some sudden depth to them you'd never really expect from McCartney: 'Mamunia' is gentle and somewhat 'wise' (the lyrics certainly refer to some African customs; who is 'Mamunia', I wonder?), while 'Bluebird' displays an unexpected Robinson Cruesoe-ism ('all alone in the desert island/we're living in the trees...'). 'No Words' is a beautiful power ballad (I realise that 'beautiful power ballad' is an oxymoron, but hey, we're talking McCartney here, and he ain't no Steve Tyler) that's kinda short but manages to incorporate a solid dose of human emotions into its two minutes or so. Even more cool are the psycho numbers which build on the Ram legacy but do not repeat it: 'Mrs Vanderbilt' is another multi-part number which is serious and danceable and groovy at the same time (love these 'Ho! Heigh-ho!'s), and 'Picasso's Last Words', written specially at Dustin Hoffman's request, are just plain fun epithomized, with bits of previous tracks thrown in now and then to contribute to the pseudo-conceptual stuff. But the album's magnum opus is certainly the closing '1985' which has nothing to do with Orwell-type fantasies, but has a lot to do with groovy psycho drug fantasies (dunno if it was really made on drugs, but wouldn't be suprised if it were). Anyway, the piano riff is so strong it blows you away in the very first minute, and the climax - with all these weeping guitars, shrieking synths, booming drums and Paul hooing and booing all over the place - is the strongest on any Paul album. (Actually, the record ends with a short re-run of the title track refrain - conceptuality again?) Hullaballoo! Thus ends the critics' most tasty honeycomb.

A great album from head to toe. Funny, the more I think about it, the more words like 'venture', 'journey' and 'travelogue' stick around my head. It has something to do with Paul's journey to Lagos early that year, and the African themes he subsequently incorporated into the album ('Mamunia' and the hey-hos, I suppose?), but the record is certainly more than that. It's easily Paul's most diverse effort, and it takes you different places. Just look: the concept of 'band on the run' = 'escape, sail away, move out, etc.'; the desert island themes of 'Bluebird'; the African motives of 'Mamunia'; French themes in 'Picasso's Last Words'; and the dangerous futurism of '1985'. Even The Beatles never did that; maybe that's why, when I listen to this album, I always forget that it's somehow related to the Fab Four and just treat it as a separate, McCartney-unrelated musical experience. I don't even suppose it's easily possible to recognize this as a McCartney album if you're not told about that previously.

My only warning to everybody: don't be fooled into thinking this is the only album by Paul that is worth buying. It's simply one of the best, and probably the most coherent lyrically, with little or no flaws. Oh, and if you see 'Helen Wheels' on the track listing (and you probably will), bear in mind that this wasn't on the album originally - it was a single. It's still good, a classic rocker in its own right. I don't have the remastered version, so I don't know if there are any other bonus tracks. The single material from that epoch was top-knotch, as far as I know - songs like 'Junior's Farm' and 'Live And Let Die' are always honoured on my CD player.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13

Hard-rockin', experimentative and groovy. Why should this album be worse than any other one in 1975?

Best song: ROCK SHOW

Track listing: 1) Venus And Mars; 2) Rock Show; 3) Love In Song; 4) You Gave Me The Answer; 5) Magneto And Titanium Man; 6) Letting Go; 7) Venus And Mars Reprise; 8) Spirits Of Ancient Egypt; 9) Medicine Jar; 10) Call Me Back Again; 11) Listen To What The Man Said; 12) Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People; 13) Crossroads; [BONUS TRACKS]: 14) Zoo Gang; 15) Lunch Box/Odd Sox; 16) My Carnival.

Probably the last 'classic' Wings album, it seems to be pretty obscure among the general record-buying public, and it's a total shame. This is McCartney's 'rocking' album: some of the tracks come close to heavy metal, others are "glammy" beyond hope; in all, he was never as close to becoming a full-fledged Rocker around that time. Indeed, there is only one serious pop effort on this record: 'Listen To What The Man Said' was a deserved hit but, in my opinion, it doesn't even give a slightest hint at what this record is really about. It's nice, with a bouncy melody and generic stupid lyrics ('soldier boy kisses girl/Leaves behind a tragic world/But he won't mind/He's in love and he says love is fine'), but a bit too mechanic and saccharine to me (even the so universally hated 'Silly Love Songs' is more acceptable). I can't blame the melody - well, this is Paul's peak period, and I can't blame any of the melodies on this album - but I feel a bit uneasy about the dippy atmosphere, so incompatible with the blasts of energy that come from one angle of the record and with ultra-depressing, deeply emotional lyrical melodies that emerge from its other angle.

The true strength of the album lies in its more serious elements. The concept may go to hell as much as I care (actually, the concept is limited to the opening title track - a clever acoustic ditty with impressive wordgames about the meeting of two planets/two friends/two rock'n'roll heroes, as well as its lengthier and more bombastic reprise on side B), but, anyway, Paul never had the strength (the will? the guts?) to make a real conceptual album - he only managed to fake one. The songs themselves are fine, though. My favourite is the heavy rocker 'Rock Show' with some more experiments in song structure and lots of interesting sections, ranging from resplendent synth parts to generic hard riffage; the drive is simply incredible, the lyrics are good (it's about Paul and his band going on tour), and the swinging piano/synth/guitar/booming drums coda is better than 'Helter Skelter'. Some are quick enough to condemn the song as a glam throwaway, but it doesn't take a mental genius to see that the song is conceived and structured as a hilarious parody on the entire glam rock movement, but a parody that manages to combine amusing lyrics, thick solid riffs and can be enjoyed on many different levels.

But that's not all, rockers also include 'Letting Go' - with a shattering intro of roaring and soaring guitars and a fascinating break where the guitars and saxes blend together reaching a magnificent climax. Wow! My favourite moment on the record, bar none. Note also that the first thirty seconds of this song completely justify Paul's reputation as one of the best self-producers in the business. The manner in which he so swiftly and yet so gradually builds up the tension is... well, suffice it to say that it's typically characteristic of a person with a mind more flexible and sensitive than the one of your average Neanderthalian. Not that you see a lot of Neanderthalians these days, but then again, judging by the quality of Prindle's reader comments on his Misfits page, you never know when to trust your eyesight. Returning back to the topic - the build-up, with layers of guitars slowly extending over each other and then with the deep bass propelling itself and then with the deep synthline propelling itself, is amazing.

Meanwhile, 'Medicine Jar' is an energetic anti-drug song (apparently, it's not a Paul song - he generously allowed guitarist Jimmy McCullough throw on some compositions, and this one sure ain't bad) which veers on punk, although the lyrics look like they come from a health propaganda campaign. And 'Spirits Of Ancient Egypt' is just memorable - it sounds like something the Kinks could have easily recorded in the late Seventies, cuz it has the same boom and rhythm pattern, but it's better than most of their efforts since it's not as boring. Denny Laine sang it, too, and the guy was from the Moody Blues, after all.

Plus, for 'traditional Macca lovers' there are some definitely luvly ballads - 'Love In Song' is sad, ingenious and partially bombastic, but it's a good kind of bombast - the Macca bombast. 'Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People' is even better, especially the latter - with moving lyrics about old people and a suitable melody. Take it as a pessimistic antagonism to 'When I'm Sixty-Four' - what was Paul thinking about at the moment, I wonder? 'Here we sit, two lonely old people, and nobody asks us to play'. A rare case of Paul in an exclusively gentle and truly compassionate mood.

Any surprises? Paul wouldn't be Paul if he hadn't prepared some nice surprises for you. 'You Gave Me The Answer' is a retro Twenties-style lightweight Hollywoodish number, and it even boasts a muddy production so as to make it more 'genuine'. Well, it might be a re-run of 'Honey Pie', basically, but it's given a more 'authentic' flair, so some might even like it better. And the punchy, jerky 'Magneto And Titanium Man', as far as I can tell, is a retelling of a comic strip (competition with 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite'?) 'Call Me Back Again' usually gets most of the arrows whistling through the air - it's a rather unsuccessful take on a 'soul groove', but somehow I never found it as offensive as most. Mayhaps that is due to the fact that Paul doesn't even try to sound sincere on that one, and it never struck me as 'fake', unlike all those Bowie treats on Young Americans.

A really really really diverse and satisfying record, and certainly the last in a series of 'greatest efforts' (although he managed to come close one more last time on London Town). You can really feel Paul inviting you in his own personal world - with all kinds of possible things going on and where you might find everything to feed your desires. This record is as diverse as practically any of the Beatles records (yes, and including The White Album, too!) - maybe not as solid, but certainly just as variegated. And nobody knows it. C'mon, people - shake your heads free of that anti-ex-Beatles propaganda rubbish! This is not Phil Collins - it's Paul McCartney, by gum! Catch it while it's hot!



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

A 'democratic' album. Which means you might just as well grab the best songs on a compilation.

Best song: LET 'EM IN

Track listing: 1) Let 'Em In; 2) The Note You Never Wrote; 3) She's My Baby; 4) Beware My Love; 5) Wino Junko; 6) Silly Love Songs; 7) Cook Of The House; 8) Time To Hide; 9) Must Do Something About It; 10) San Ferry Anne; 11) Warm And Beautiful; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Walking In The Park With Eloise; 13) Bridge On The River Suite; 14) Sally G.

Actually, it's not as hot any more. We all know Paul to be a despot and Mr do-it-all-yourself, but, for no obvious reason, here he suddenly proved himself feeble and allowed all the other members of the group to throw in a hand - all of them, except for the drummer, I suppose (who is still allowed to sing one of Paul's contributions). Yes, even Linda. Paul himself is responsible for just about half of the songs on the album, which therefore makes it Wings' Quick One, just to draw on a perfectly sane Who comparison. The results are predictably poor, even though not a catastrophe - Denny Laine and company were 'moderately skillful' songwriters, and there's really little to twirl your nose at. Not much to jump about in happiness as well, though.

What's even worse, Paul suddenly made a break in experimenting and genre-choosing and stuck to a mainstream pop sound. Obviously, success was getting to his head, with his albums finally making the big time and his sugary pop singles like 'Listen To What The Man Said' making an even bigger time, and so he puts a thick sugarcoat on the record, writing only one rocker for the whole of it. What a rocker, though - the fast, screeching, anthemic 'Beware My Love' which is emotionally desperate as never before or after; not only does Paul scream off his lungs, he also does this convincingly, making the song something bigger than just a powerful groove like 'Rock Show' or 'Jet'. I'd say that the overlong female chorus in the beginning is a bit unnecessary - and apparently, Paul eventually felt the same, because the live version of the song on Wings Over America cuts it out. Apart from that, this is simply the wildest McCartney ever got since at least 'Oh Darling', and hey, that was a looong time ago, now wasn't it?

The other originals are all pop - ranging from excellent to controversial to horrible. That's actually the biggest problem with the album: McCartney went here for an intentionally simplistic, 'elementary' approach, ditching all the pseudo-experimentalism of Red Rose Speedway and the like, and basically it's all a gamble. Where it succeeds, it succeeds really fine. 'Let 'Em In', the album's hit single and arguably the album's finest song, is built upon a descending/ascending cyclical piano line that's absolutely brilliant, and gives this charming, unbeatable feeling of silly giddiness that only McCartney knew how to master perfectly in his prime. And 'Silly Love Songs', the album's other hit single, while it did serve as a piece of red cloth for the critics (including even both Lennon and Yoko Ono who gave out some sneering remarks on the subject), is equally irresistable, with a bassline to kill for and wonderful three-part harmony arrangements. The song's message was quite anthemic for Paul, too: 'Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs - what's wrong with that?'. Kinda reminds one of 'it's only rock'n'roll but I like it', doesn't it? Funny how the critical type of public seems to react so negatively towards these statements of pure sincerity.

On the other hand, the same simplistic approach also results in 'Warm And Beautiful' - perhaps Paul's first major misstep in his entire career of writing lightweight pop compositions. Sounding like something vaguely reminiscing of Soviet pioneer anthems, the melody could have indeed been written by a three-year old, and to make matters worse, Paul sings the song with the intonation of a three-year old just beginning to learn how to sing. One could hardly imagine a more anti-climactic ending to the whole record. The soft, boppy 'San Ferry Anne' is somewhat more decent, but it still sounds like an unbearably childlike ditty - and without an ounce of that giggly humour that made most of Paul's previous childlike ditties so cute and enjoyable. Trouble strikes! And when trouble strikes with Sir Paul McCartney, well, that's definitely some kind of trouble.

A few quick words about the other contributors, now. Linda makes her 'songwriting/singing' debut on 'Cook Of The House', an unpardonably crappy Fifties' throwback tune in which she extolls her household virtues. Maybe she can cook, but she sure can't sing. Or, at least, she can't sing lead vocals - I really have nothing against her vocals in the background. Plus, the song is really horrible, it does sound like 'cook rock' (hey, good expression here). At least stuff like '3 Legs' was pure kitsch, which made it pardonable - 'Cook Of The House' is definitely ugly in its absolute straightforwardness. Denny Laine contributes the slightly catchier mid-tempo rocker 'Time To Hide' (real moody atmosphere on that one), but my favourite is Henry McCulloch's 'Wino Junko': it's the only song that really catches the 'speed of sound' on here, and even so, only near the end. It's silly and it's also about drugs, but at least it's memorable... And somebody else's 'She's My Baby' and 'The Note You Never Wrote' are also average, even though the latter features a good guitar solo.

Average is the word here. None of the non-Paul band members' songs - bar 'Cook Of The House', of course - really suck, but there are almost no definite highlights. I would probably have rated it a six as it were, but the absolutely undisputable quality of the three "really big" numbers on the record - 'Let 'Em In', 'Beware My Love' and 'Silly Love Songs', all timeless classics - manages to pump it up a bit. However, needless to say, as an attempt to show the world that "Wings" are a real multi-talented band, it fails miserably: it's still 'Paul and all these other guys', however well you might put it. Heck, nobody except Paul can really sing well, and even Paul seems to partially lose interest in songwriting. He probably was much more preoccupied with controlling ticket sales at the time - this was the period of his grandest tour ever...



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

A triple live-album. 'Nuff said.

Best song: forget it. I'm not even gonna try.

Track listing: 1) Venus And Mars/Rock Show/Jet; 2) Let Me Roll It; 3) Spirits Of Ancient Egypt; 4) Medicine Jar; 5) Maybe I'm Amazed; 6) Call Me Back Again; 7) Lady Madonna; 8) The Long And Winding Road; 9) Live And Let Die; 10) Picasso's Last Words; 11) Richard Cory; 12) Bluebird; 13) I've Just Seen A Face; 14) Blackbird; 15) Yesterday; 16) You Gave Me The Answer; 17) Magneto And Titanium Man; 18) Go Now; 19) My Love; 20) Listen To What The Man Said; 21) Let 'Em In; 22) Time To Hide; 23) Silly Love Songs; 24) Beware My Love; 25) Letting Go; 26) Band On The Run; 27) Hi Hi Hi; 28) Soily.

Ah, here is finally the actual proof that McCartney really dug prog. This is a triple live album, see? He's clearly steering his boat in the direction of Yessongs and Welcome Back My Friends! (Of course, Harrison's Bangla Desh also was triple, but that was just in order to record the whole concert). Two major differences, though. First, prog rock had just died a peaceful and natural death - or at least it was in the process of dying; likewise, the great glammy show of the early Seventies were beginning to stink as well. And yeah, this was McCartney's first major Wings tour, so I understand that he simply didn't have the possibility to release such a record earlier; but it remains a fact that Wings Over America was an even more suitable pick for the critics' axes than the preceding studio album, so even if it hit the charts in a major way, it also seriously soured down Paul's reputation.

Second, this album doesn't sound like prog rock at all. It's just a 'monumental' live album reflecting a hugely successful stadium glam-rock tour. It has an airplane on the cover (although one might be slow to realize it) so as to remind you this was a really huge event, and nobody's gonna doubt it, of course.

Question is: do the songs really match the packaging? Well, yes, of course they do. But then another question is: does the playing match the songs? Well, no, of course it doesn't! Lots of tricks which made them sound so intriguing in the studio are just plain lost in this context. But that's not because Paul and company are trying to change the melodies around - on the contrary, according to the good old Beatles tradition, they try to reproduce the originals as faithfully as possible. Yet they fail. Which results in a plain understandable conclusion: essentially, this album is only recommendable to huge McCartney fans who can't get enough of him. In fact, all of his live albums suffer the same fate. Buy them only after you get everything else (I mean, everything good).

On the good side, though, Wings Over America seems to be standing up to time far better than all of Paul's later love records. The primary reason is that for the most part, Paul sticks to Wings material - out of the huge setlist, only five songs are taken from the Beatles catalog, and even out of these five, there are a couple pleasant surprises like 'I've Just Seen A Face' and 'Blackbird', which McCartney never played live again, as far as I know. Well, the three other numbers are 'Lady Madonna', 'The Long And Winding Road' and 'Yesterday', of course, three stage favourites - but even these were only bastardized and banalized on the latter day tours, and they don't spoil the impression that much.

Everything else is pure Wings - including not only predictable hits, like the big numbers off Speed Of Sound, 'Listen To What The Man Said' and 'Band On The Run', but also lots and lots of more obscure material which, again, was never played live after that. For starters, the band reproduces Venus And Mars almost in its entirety, which gives an extra boost to lovers of that particular underrated album. And while I could complain a lot about what's missing here (no numbers from Ram and nothing but 'My Love' off Red Rose Speedway, eek), it's really a silly thing to do. Who am I, McCartney's tutor or something?

Plus, after repeated listenings some of the stuff really begins disclosing itself in a better way; while few of these songs could even hope to surpass the studio versions, most of them add at least a little 'additional twist' which is quite a value in itself once you get used to it. Thus, 'Rock Show' and 'Jet' are excellently merged together in one ten-minute medley. 'Spirits Of Ancient Egypt' and 'Beware My Love' are both graced by rip-roaring guitar solos from Jimmy McCulloch. The minimalism of 'Let Me Roll It' is broken by a few mean, pseudo-metallic lead guitar lines. 'Bluebird' is decorated with a very pretty, romantic acoustic introduction. 'Time To Hide' somehow assumes a lot of power, with a heavy emphasis on the thumping bassline. 'Listen To What The Man Said', when devoid of the corny vocal overdubs, sounds more natural on stage than the syrupy studio version. And it's funny to hear the audience clapping their hands along to the steady piano roll of 'Let 'Em In'. Of course, sometimes these changes come out in a bad way - 'Medicine Jar', for instance, has Jimmy McCulloch play a monotonous wah-wah solo which almost obliterates the subtle climactic effect of the original, and 'Letting Go' is reduced to a miserable joke without the dark echoey production. But what the heck, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs...

Finally, there are a few surprises waiting for the uninitiated. A brief snippet of 'Picasso's Last Words' leads us into Denny Laine singing an acoustic version of Paul Simon's 'Richard Cory' (and scoring an extra point by adlibbing '...and I wish that I could be - John Denver!'). Silly, but funny, and it also gives an idea of how Denny got the idea of writing 'Deliver Your Children'. He is also given the opportunity to perform his eternal Moody Blues hit, 'Go Now', which is overblown and overdrawn, but is still tolerable. Finally, this is the only place where you'll find 'Soily', another one of Paul's 'experimental' series of rockers (like 'The Mess' in the bonus tracks to Red Rose Speedway). Frankly speaking, I don't know what the hell you could actually need it for, but there it is, and if you're generous enough, you might as well take it.

In all, time has slightly embettered my initial feelings towards the record - of course, it still remains a fact that Paul is one of the least capable live players in the rock world, but if he ever did something worthwhile on the stage, most of this would be captured on Wings Over America. Plus, it's a great choice to take with you on a holiday in your CD player. I know I did. Enjoy yourselves.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

Return to form? Well, at least this sounds more intriguing and tasteful than the one before...


Track listing: 1) London Town; 2) Cafe On The Left Bank; 3) I'm Carrying; 4) Backwards Traveller; 5) Cuff Link; 6) Children Children; 7) Girlfriend; 8) I've Had Enough; 9) With A Little Luck; 10) Famous Groupies; 11) Deliver Your Children; 12) Name And Address; 13) Don't Let It Bring You Down; 14) Morse Moose And The Grey Goose; [BONUS TRACKS]: 15) Girl's School; 16) Mull Of Kintyre.

Ah! Better! Sure, the number of sweety pop songs is larger than on the 1974-5 releases, but, anyway, who are we speaking of? Slayer? On the other hand, this album adds an interesting side to Paul: his newly-found Englishness. Previous efforts like 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' don't count, of course: they were deliberately naive and and clumsy. Here he suddenly starts to milk this Brit persona with such a frenzy you'd thought he just left the Kinks or something. The title track, 'Famous Groupies', 'Morse Moose And The Grey Goose', 'Cafe On The Left Bank', 'Children Children' all qualify, and in this respect I'd say that London Town is indeed the closest Paul ever got to a conceptual album. Not that all of these songs are good, mind you. Apparently seeing that Speed Of Sound was somewhat lame, McCartney suddenly immerged himself in such furious waves of experimentation that one or two of these ditties are downright unlistenable - especially 'Morse Moose And The Grey Goose': six minutes plus of punkish shouting over generic disco backing just don't move me at all. That said, 'Morse Moose' is just about the only true clunker on this entire record; it's almost painfully consistent, dammit.

Which brings me to the point: why the heck is this stuff so criminally underrated? I've heard people virtually spit on this album, level it with the ground, accuse Paul of selling out, being uninspired, stoned, drugged out, whatever, while at the same time praising other Wings' albums of the Seventies, including even At The Speed Of Sound. What makes this record so much worse than its peers from the late (or early) Seventies? Who can tell me? No-one ever will. Cut the goddamn crap, people; London Town is filled to the brim with top-notch melodies from Sir Paul, and in addition to that, it features a huge bunch of different styles... perhaps there's the rub. The album's just way too diverse for those who don't wanna get it.

As usual, there's a handful of typical McCartney naive pop songs; however, this time they're often infested with that British 'nursery rhyme' hook and suddenly turn out to be charming in a unique way: the Denny Laine collaboration 'Children Children' is lightweight but catchy and sincerely gentle, based on beautiful acoustic guitar interplay and a cozy, caressing organ pattern. 'Girlfriend', on the other hand, steps in with a wonderful falsetto and smacks it up with a great guitar solo before ending in some great vocal harmonies. On the surface, it appears to be sappy and sentimental, but does no-one but me sense the humour and irony in the song? 'Girlfriend, I'm gonna tell your boyfriend exactly what you do...'. And don't forget the near-heavy-metal mid-section, too.

The best known songs off the album are the hit 'With A Little Luck' (to my ears, it's easily the most uninteresting track on here, with an obvious commercial sound, even though it is certainly listenable - maybe that's what explains all the hate?) and the slightly more obscure but much more pleasant introspective title track. Or 'outrospective', perhaps? It has some of the most interesting lyrics Paul ever wrote, that's for sure.

Complaining of overproduction? You can have beautiful ballad 'I'm Carrying' on which Paul shows that he's still master of the acoustic and he don't need no filthy synths to make a great song (unfortunately, that all changed in just a couple of years), just a tiny bit of inobtrusive orchestration in the background. Whoever will scientifically prove me that the song is inferior in quality to, say, 'Here There And Everywhere', will inherit this site - I'll go out of business that very day.

Comnplaining of straightforwardness? Don't whine! There's plenty of bizarre stuff on here, too, like 'Backwards Traveller' with its spacey beat and puzzling 'unfinished message', after which it immediately segues into the moody instrumental 'Cuff Link', built around a tight little melody played with a wah-wah or, more likely, some cunning synthesizers imitating a wah-wah.

Short scoop on the other stuff: 'Famous Groupies' is blatant retro with hilarious lyrics, and 'Name And Address' is just something you'd like to shake your hips to - Paul goes for something like a Gene Vincent sound on here. 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' has some cool guitar effects which will probably move you to tears (at least they sure move me - how sweet of Paul to write a song called 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' which can't help but produce that exact effect), and 'I Had Enough' is just your basic rocker (not a very good one).

That said, I'd like to focus your attention on what I think is the absolutely best song on here, and moreover I rate it among Wings' most brilliant and astonishing work of all time. And - drumroll - it's a song co-written by Paul with Denny Laine!!! The fast, acoustic-driven 'Deliver Your Children' is a bitter pessimistic anthem with strange, sad and plaintive lyrics one wouldn't really expect from Paul, but somehow it works just perfectly. The rhythm pounds at you, the lyrics feel genuine, the singing is deeply moving, and the acoustic solo at the end is highly professional and emotional. Indeed, this is probably the only successful effort at a tearin' pessimistic 'tired-of-life-type' song ever done by the band; 'Little Lamb Dragonfly' stands close, but it's more of a psycho effort, while 'Deliver Your Children' has straightforward lyrics a la Ray Davies and it is still great. As far as I know, it isn't available on any hit compilations (whoever would care to include a song written and sung by Denny Laine, for Chrissake?), so you might just as well get the whole album for that one song. It'll be worth it.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

An unusually energetic and furious album, but it also loses some of McCartney's identity.

Best song: OLD SIAM SIR

Track listing: 1) Reception; 2) Getting Closer; 3) We're Open Tonight; 4) Spin It On; 5) Again And Again And Again; 6) Old Siam, Sir; 7) Arrow Through Me; 8) Rockestra Theme; 9) To You; 10) After The Ball/Million Miles; 11) Winter Rose/Love Awake; 12) The Broadcast; 13) So Glad To See You Here; 14) Baby's Request; [BONUS TRACKS]: 15) Daytime Nighttime Suffering; 16) Wonderful Christmastime; 17) Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reggae.

The last Wings album. They disbanded shortly afterwards, after Paul had done a short term for transporting pot in Japan. Not that I really care, but then again, if Denny Laine had still been sticking around, maybe the next album wouldn't have turned out so gruesome. However, Denny got really pissed off at Paul for letting the band down (they were on the verge of a huge tour when Mr McCartney got jailed) and the band just split, forcing Paul to venture out onto the steep path of solo projects once again... But let us stop this digression and get back to, err, basically, the egg.

Just like London Town, this one shows Paul still sucking in modern influences, but it also shows Paul relinquishing that tricky Brit path and retreading to more mundane matters. There's the usual shred of conceptuality, but this time around it's not very original - the album is presented as a radio broadcast (it opens with transistor noises, before venturing into the funky 'Reception'). Maybe that's what the title is about - getting back to the standard formulas laid out by so many rockers years before? But then again, what are disco and punk doing here? Because the gorgeous ballad 'Arrow Through Me' sounds a bit like disco, and the speedy rocker 'Spin It On' is undeniably punk. What 'egg' are we speaking about when the album simply reeks of late Seventies, with just about every genre of that epoch tackled (you also get bouncy New Wave-ish pop and heavy metal)?

Bizarre. There's a lot more heavy rockers on here than on any previous albums bar Venus and Mars, but they're not very effective, with one notable exception: 'Old Siam Sir' just shakes the cat out of the barrel, both literally and figuratively. It begins with a mean-sounding, dirty-looking riff and soon afterwards transforms itself into a magnificent heavy guitar symphony with wave after wave of roaring sound crushing down upon the listener before he scurries for shelter towards the soothing 'Arrow Through Me'. However, the other rockers don't do that much: 'Rockestra Theme' was a mammoth experiment of forming a 'rockestra' out of tons of famous and not so famous guitarists, but they don't solo or display their talents or anything - they just play the same sequence over and over again, and really, there was no need of getting Townshend, Gilmour, Page and others in this heap, cuz it might just as well have been done by amateurs. Or by computers. Rock'n'roll isn't meant to be orchestrated type of music - heck, the main point of an orchestra is to make loud, sweeping music, and rock'n'rollers have been making loud, sweeping music for quite a few years now by the simple means of amplification. Luckily, Paul hasn't been that eager to repeat his experiment since then.

That said, the other two 'massive' rockers, 'Getting Closer' and 'So Glad To See You Here', are moderately catchy as far as McCartney Metal gets, and aren't particularly irritating or unmemorable. McCartney's sense of melody is active and working is usual.

However, even if the rockers are for the most part ineffective, the pop numbers still catch you by the tail as usual. The medley 'After The Ball/Million Miles/Winter Rose/Love Awake' may not ultimately stand the test of time, being somewhat shallower and more trivial than, say, the beautiful medley that closes off Red Rose Speedway, but it has its moments, nevertheless: and it's at least memorable throughout. Pretty diverse, too - the glorious pomp of 'After The Ball' followed by the weird folky mumble of 'Million Miles' followed by the melancholic romance of 'Winter Rose' followed by the graceful bouncy 'Love Awake'. It's all 'pop', but this is the perfect illustration to 'pop' having so many different faces...

Oh, and I've already mentioned the blistering 'Arrow Through Me' (incredible melodic twists and cute disco basslines), and nobody should bypass the pretty acoustic throwaway 'We're Open Tonight (For Fun)' (which I've always been mishearing as 'we're open tonight, orphan'). It's throwaway, but it's beautiful. It sounds as if it could have come off Ram or something like that.

In fact, the only track that infuriates me on the whole record is Denny Laine's loathsome contribution 'Again And Again And Again'; not that it boasts a particularly bad melody, but it sure features particularly crappy lyrics which are so thrown around in yer face it makes you wanna shove them back into Denny's throat. 'You don't wanna stay in my school/You don't wanna be the one that's cool/You don't want to be the little woman/I love.' Tough case. Tough crowd. But don't despise the album just because Denny's a zero songwriter (which isn't true anyway - remember, it's the same Denny who penned 'Deliver Your Children' a year ago).

Unfortunately, Back To The Egg had been really badly underrated both in the press and by fans; it was the record - the one on which release Paul finally completed his transformation into 'dinosaur', 'old fart', 'washed-up old crank', 'scourge of good taste', etc., etc. Of course he did. You can see it now that whatever record he would have deemed to put out at the time, it was doomed anyway. If he'd gone totally retro, nobody would have noticed; he preferred to experiment with the sounds of the new generation, and got predictably slammed. Like, 'don't mess with our music, jerk!' As it turns out, Back To The Egg actually stands the test of time better than almost any given punk or disco record of the era, barring the few great classics of the genres. Or does it?

Well - for me, it sure does. Hope it does for you, too. And if it does, be sure to scoop up the new CD release that tacks a couple bonus tracks onto the end, including the excellent melodic B-side 'Daytime Nighttime Suffering' (the A-side was 'Goodnight Tonight' which I actually like less because it's way too discoish) and the cheesy but fun 'Wonderful Christmastime', the single that signalized Paul's drifting towards the electronic sounds that would mar his Eighties career so much...



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Hey, one doesn't repeat the same mistake twice. Especially if it's synth-propelled.

Best song: COMING UP

Track listing: 1) Coming Up; 2) Temporary Secretary; 3) On The Way; 4) Waterfalls; 5) Nobody Knows; 6) Front Parlour; 7) Summer's Day Song; 8) Frozen Jap; 9) Bogey Music; 10) Darkroom; 11) One Of Those Days; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Check My Machine; 13) Secret Friend.

A fatal - and pretty ominous - misstep. After the infamous Japanese bust and the disbanding of Wings, Paul thought it would probably be better to start all his life a-new once again: nothing's better than a serious shake-up of your foundations to find new inspiration, right? So, just like ten years ago, he locked himself in the studio, tried some new songs, and came up with another quasi-solo album, even if this time around it wasn't as totally solo as McCartney.

Unfortunately, he really needn't have bothered, cuz this record, quite unlike McCartney, pretty much sucks. The big deal is that it features synths and different electronic gadgets as the central instruments, and most of the songs are purely experimental. Ditching his punkish and discoish ventures of Back To The Egg, Paul makes a seemingly/superficially wise decision: punk and disco are not the word of day any longer, but New Wave and synth-pop are, so let's make a record that sounds close to New Wave and synth-pop. Unfortunately, as this album - and six years later, its disastrous inheritor Press To Play - amply demonstrated, Paul McCartney and synth-pop are two things incompatible. Why? God help me, I really don't know. Paul had previously experimented with multiple genres, coming up with multiple successes in most of them, but synth-pop and electronica proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back and completely shattered Macca's near impeccable reputation (well, at least, up to this point it was near impeccable with me).

My guess is, it was Paul's overconfidence in himself that ruined him. If you look at all these synthy little things, you'll see that most of them don't really feature any neat melodies - Paul was way too busy just fiddling with the knobs, hoping that the melody would come by all by itself. Well, it didn't. Where the best synth-pop outfits around were using synthesizers and electronic devices to enhance their sound, Paul just centers around the sound itself, forgetting to write real songs. In other words, it's all mostly atmosphere, and that's no good news on behalf of Mr McCartney. If I want "synthy atmosphere", I'll stick to Human League.

Proof? There's plenty of short and not-so-short instrumentals, just like on McCartney, but the ones on Paul's debut featured really interesting musical themes and were actually quite listenable. Tracks like 'Front Parlour' and 'Frozen Jap', on the other side, seem only to reflect his interest in high technologies: did he really think somebody would find pleasure in listening to this electronic crap? 'Front Parlour' almost sounds like Kraftwerk, for Chrissake! Bad, unmemorable Kraftwerk at that. Of course, it might have been interesting when this stuff was relatively new and unexplored, but truth is, by 1980 it had already been explored by numerous bands, usually to better effect, and now it all seems horribly dated. Carry me back to the happy days of 1980 and we'll see if I'm impressed. 'Bogey Music' takes a rockabilly melody and passes it through the same electronic sound to horrible effect, like a robot singing 'Rock Around The Clock'. Is it interesting? Occasionally, perhaps. But it's not like I'd want to return to this song pretty often.

The worst offender, I think, is the robotic mantra 'Temporary Secretary'. Goofy, but unfunny - if I want robotic mantras, I'll stick to Kraftwerk again. The irony is, the main vocal melody of the song ('Mister Marks can you find for me...') is pretty good; I can imagine a non-synthy arrangement where the song could have been a highlight. As such, it sounds pretty crappy.

So is there something to redeem this record? Fortunately, yup; it's still a McCartney album, and there are enough songs on here to - at least partially - compensate for the failed experimentation. Namely, there's a small bunch of tunes which don't feature synths or at least don't feature them prominently, and these are actually quite good. The hit single 'Coming Up' is a jolly happy pop song with a cute memorable melody (New Wavish, with jerky guitars that are almost copped from David Byrne); it's the only semi-classic track from here, but a deserved one. The feeble, underproduced keyboard ballad 'Waterfalls' does preshadow some of his later balladeering crap, but it's at least amusing and sweetly innocent in that disarming McCartney way. The bluesy 'On The Way' is moody - and it's kinda funny to see Paul offer a take on generic blues, not something we hear from the guy every day. The good-time party atmosphere drunken boogie-woogie 'Nobody Knows' is certainly better than 'Bogey Music'; I'd be hard-pressed to find a sloppier song in the entire Macca catalog, but that sloppiness was obviously intentional, and you don't know how refreshing it actually sounds after all that synth crap. Finally, I have grown myself some appreciation for the bleak, eccentric 'Darkroom' - yup, it's synthy as hell, but the catchy vocal melody coupled with the hicky paranoid atmosphere makes up for a really fun listen. All of these songs are really redeeming, and should never be dismissed if you're considering an objective overview of the dude's highlights.

However, even some of the electronica-free songs already point out that the well is slowly running out of water ('One Of Those Days'). In all, this is certainly not the Macca album to own first - and if your Macca clearance level is low, it may even not be an album to own at all. The re-issue has it backed up with two more electronosasters: the vomit-inducing computer collage 'Check My Machine' and the even lengthier, interminably boring piece 'Secret Friend' with little lyrics and much garbage. Really, Paul. Nice try, but let's consider this your practical joke. Just look at his expression on the front cover!



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

The last great McCartney album in a very long time - amazing or predictable?

Best song: TUG OF WAR

Track listing: 1) Tug Of War; 2) Take It Away; 3) Somebody Who Cares; 4) What's That You're Doing?; 5) Here Today; 6) Ballroom Dancing; 7) The Pound Is Sinking; 8) Wanderlust; 9) Get It; 10) Be What You See (Link); 11) Dress Me Up As A Robber; 12) Ebony And Ivory.

Yeah, this is indeed the last great 'hurrah' for Paul in at least ten years. The mistake of McCartney II seems to have been finally and fully corrected here, and in the best way possible: namely, Paul went back to none other than George Martin himself to produce the album. As a result, or not as a result, the album even managed to hit #1, and I'm not at all surprised.

In direct contrast to its predecessor, the synths are used only moderately on this one, and as far as trends and outside influences go, there's just one serious disco experiment: his collaboration with Stevie Wonder on the lengthy 'What's That You're Doing'. Unsurprisingly, the song seems to be the weakest spot on the whole album: a total embarrassment, completely out of touch with the rest of the record, and yet, somehow it turns out to be the longest track on it. Not as awful as I once thought, but even for usual disco/funk standards, the tune is pretty lifeless, and McCartney gives out a hideous vocal performance.

Fortunately for the innocent listener, the other songs are really, really good. Paul has taken up the guitar and normal keyboards again, and at times he also gets lightweight and silly in the traditional Ram-esque vein. Like, for instance, on yet another duet - this time with Carl Perkins. The boogie-woogie 'Get It' is, indeed, one of the funniest songs he ever did, and one of his last successful retro numbers; Perkins adds a delightful 'hoarse touch' and fun guitar solos, before ending the silly, but oh-so-cute throwaway with a fit of infectuous laughter.

The fun abounds on the record, in fact. 'The Pound Is Sinking', I think, is the forgotten gem here, with Paul turning in some 'macroeconomic' lyrics before suddenly turning the song into a crazy psycho number with a ferocious climax. Don't know why, but the song sometimes reminds me of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and not only because of the title (which brings to mind you-know-what-if-you-know-Genesis), but also because of the multi-part "tell-tale" structure and all. No need to mention that each one of the parts is almost infuriatingly catchy, and the several climactic moments are worth a lifetime.

The straightforward rockers are fun (the unforgettable 'Ballroom Dancing'), the straightforward pop numbers are catchy (the charming, romantic, yet danceable 'Take It Away'), and the ballads do display genuine emotion. 'Somebody Who Cares' is sad and uplifting at the same time - who knows what the hell it is supposed to reflect? Paul's consolation to all the miserable people out there? The moment where he goes 'there's always someone somewhere, you should know by now' is almost as revelatory as the best stuff by Harrison on All Things Must Pass.

And the sad, quiet, reflective 'Here Today' is a really moving tribute to Lennon - I'm not as much in love with the song as everybody else because apart from the middle-eight, the melody is a little smudged and hookless, but that's not the point, now is it? It's nice to see Paul put all the past quibbles away and show the world that after all's been said and done, he still really cared. Not that I ever doubted that, and, in fact, one needn't forget that the well-publicized feud between Paul and John only lasted about two or three years - you don't hear mutual attacks on their solo records after 1971 that much at all, in fact. But still... it would be kinda cool to make a collection of "The Musical Correspondence Between John and Paul", stuffed with songs like 'How Do You Sleep' and 'Dear Friend', and then make the listener turn sentimental and compassionate by ending it with 'Here Today'. Just a vague thought.

Lennon's death resulted, however, in one more significant change for Paul's image. He probably felt that it was his due to take over some of John's functions, or he might have thought that his nearing forty gives him a 'major' position. Anyway, both the opening title track and the closing 'Ebony And Ivory' (again with Stevie Wonder) find him in a new role which now seems normal for him, but in fact he'd never tried it before: the role of an anthemic songwriter. He'd rarely written political songs or social anthems before (even 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' was disguised as a happy pop song), but this marks a new period in his writing. Not that he's very good at anthems, but at least he's trying, and first time around it seems to work.

'Ebony And Ivory' is an anti-racist song which thumps along cosily (its being overplayed and overhyped caused a natural 'anti-hype' backlash, but really, there's no problem with the song as far as I can see it), and the title track is a peace anthem which seems to go off almost unnoticed before it suddenly launches into an overloud, bombastic part in the middle. If it weren't for that 'in years to come...' part, indeed, I'd probably write it off as filler, but as such, it manages to become the best song on the album. No kidding, I hate bombast when it's unjustified. This one seems to be justified. Eh? What's that? Justified by what? Well, that's one question I really wouldn't appreciate answering to. It's just based on my personal intimate feeling. How can I put feelings into words? Oh, you're right, that's what these reviews are all about. Well, they're really not as much about my feelings as about my immediate need to express myself when I want to and shut up when I don't want to.

So I think I'd better shut up on that one. As the wise Jimi Hendrix once said: 'move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over'. So scram. Beat it. Add your comments and let's just get away with it.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 7

A dull, lifeless effort, with that insipid Eighties sound in all its might.


Track listing: 1) Pipes Of Peace; 2) Say Say Say; 3) The Other Me; 4) Keep Under Cover; 5) So Bad; 6) The Man; 7) Sweetest Little Show; 8) Average Person; 9) Hey Hey; 10) Tug Of Peace; 11) Through Our Love; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Twice In A Lifetime; 13) We All Stand Together; 14) Simple As That.

Regardless of anything you have to say, the Eighties were probably the worst decade for rock music - the Nineties kinda revitalized the want for quality and sincerity, even if for a little period. But the Eighties were indeed the Dark Age for rock music, and nobody felt it more than the 'dinosaurs'. McCartney, the Stones, the Who, Dylan, Clapton, everybody fell under the Eighties Curse by switching their originality and creativity for dull electronic music and heavy metal. Nobody can really blame them for that - back in the Eighties, generic metallic riffs and lifeless synthesizer bleeps were relatively 'fresh', and it's no surprise so many people mistook them for the future of music. But in retrospect, hair-metal and synth-pop have turned out to be an absolute nadir, apart from a few more or less worthy representatives of the genres.

Oh, excuse me. 'Heavy metal' is not the kind of music McCartney is famous for. He's famous for his failed computer experiments. Strange enough, though, Pipes Of Peace isn't really built around synths and stuff. It's hard to say, though, around what it is built. It's full of uninteresting, uninspired, grossly banal pop structures that don't hold your attention even for a minute. The only track that at least vaguely approaches 'classic' status is the title track; yet another of Paul's bombastic 'anthems', it's at least slightly memorable and boasts a whole bunch of melodic hooks, which is more than I can say about the other tracks.

Would you like me to discuss them one by one? Guess not. Let's just give it a short try, OK? Ready, steady: 'Say Say Say' is a mechanic, artificial love song written and sung together with Michael Jackson - not really bad, but all drowned out in dance-pop gloss that's as far away from McCartney as possible; 'The Other Me' is an unbelievingly banal pop ditty which could just as well have been a hit with Britney Spears; 'Keep Under Cover' is a discoish synth-driven, poorly-written social comment that sounds like an unfortunate outtake from McCartney II; 'So Bad' is a poorboy's 'My Love', with sweety murky falsetto and a really really horrible generic Eighties pop refrain ('Girl I love you/Girl I love you so bad... and she said Boy I love you/Boy I love you so bad', yuck!) - some would say it's really not all that different from 'Girlfriend', but where 'Girlfriend' was playful, humorous and well-structured, not to mention the terrific guitar solo, 'So Bad' is pathetic, overtly "serious" and monotonous; 'The Man', another collaboration with Michael Jackson, is...

...let's just stop right here. I'm really not ready to discuss this album track by track, it's giving me a heart disease. Suffice it to say that it ends in another ridiculous idea - combining the title track with 'Tug Of War' under the name... guess what: 'Tug Of Peace'. The two songs were good enough separately, but this is just a totally unnecessary trick. Why such a stupid idea? Why all those break dance rhythms? Why does 'Through Our Love' superficially sound like a cool McCartney ballad but doesn't feature even a single patented McCartney vocal hook? Who knows what prevented Paul from writing another 'Ebony And Ivory', at least?

WHY? Why is it so bad? (Err, excuse me, I really didn't mean to mention that song again). Who can tell? Who can guess? What the hell prevented him from writing good songs? I don't really have the answer. Production-wise, Press To Play may be an even worse McCartney album, but song-wise, Pipes Of Peace is hardly better. Not until Flaming Pie fourteen years later did Paul suffer a similar massive breakdown in songwriting.

Apparently, the reason lies in Mr McCartney being way too open towards modern trends. No, I don't mean electronics - what I mean is the contemporary pop scene. That same Michael Jackson, for instance, and others; not to name any further names, I'll just say that Pipes Of Peace sound very 'early-eightish' to me. The disco-funk thing, the new-born adult-contemporary thing, the germs of synth-pop... you know the score. And neither Paul nor George Martin, who produced the album, really knew how to assimilate these things in a correct way. As a result, the form here overrides the substance - and the album sucks. Basically, Paul was just more interested in laying down all those 'fashionable', but utterly generic, rhythm tracks, than in sticking to what he did best; the case of McCartney II, the case of Press To Play, the case of this album. And if you need further proof, take another listen to the instrumental 'Hey Hey' and tell me if you could name a more boring, pointless, useless instrumental on any of Paul's Seventies' records.

For the record again, there are three bonus tracks on this album, and, to my opinion, they are the real reason to own it. Well, at least the last two. 'We All Stand Together' is a groovy fantasy pop symphony, complete with silly backing vocals, cat miaows, and amusing 'bom-bom-boms'; and 'Simple As That' is just an incredibly catchy song with a self-sufficient chorus ('Simple as that/Would you rather be alive or dead?'). Both date from 1986, and both are better than anything else he put out around that time. Also, there's 'Twice In A Lifetime', a bombastic ballad from 1993 (!), and it's not at all bad. Cool vocal melody twists, touching confessional mood. If you see the album cheap, get it if only for the bonus tracks. You might just experience some 'simple pleasure' from listening to them, like I do.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Soundtrack! But not as bad as it might have been, even if there are only two new songs. 


Track listing: 1) No More Lonely Nights; 2) Good Day Sunshine/Corridor Music; 3) Yesterday; 4) Here There And Everywhere; 5) Wanderlust; 6) Ballroom Dancing; 7) Silly Love Songs/Reprise; 8) Not Such A Bad Boy; 9) So Bad; 10) No Values/No More Lonely Nights; 11) For No One; 12) Eleanor Rigby/Eleanor's Dream; 13) The Long And Winding Road; 14) No More Lonely Nights (Playout Version); 15) Goodnight Princess; [BONUS TRACKS]: 16) No More Lonely Nights (Extended Version); 17) No More Lonely Nights (Special Dance Mix).

One of the most controversial albums Paul ever put out. Essentially, this is a slightly lame soundtrack to a failed film about Paul losing his mastertapes (whatever that actually means). The few short extracts I've seen from the movie didn't inspire me that much, but maybe I'm just crabby or something: after all, Broad Street has always been compared to Magical Mystery Tour, and I actually liked that last one. In any case, while the artistic need for Mystery Tour in 1967 was obvious and could be easily explained - psychedelia and all, I'm a bit baffled as to what actually led Paul to creating this bizarre, slightly surrealistic picture as late as 1984 when nobody really needed it. Obviously, the movie failed because it just couldn't succeed.

As for the soundtrack, it mostly consists of re-recordings of older Beatles ('Eleanor Rigby', 'Yesterday', 'Here There And Everywhere') and solo Paul ('Silly Love Songs', 'Ballroom Dancing', 'So Bad') hits, with just two significant new songs thrown in. 'Not Such A Bad Boy' is a cute little rocker, rather straightforward and not particularly interesting; 'No More Lonely Nights', though, is one of Paul's best attempts at a bombastic power ballad, slowly growing from introspective acoustic beginnings to all-out rip-roaring crunch, featuring Dave Gilmour's patented dentist wailings on lead guitar. It's actually one of Paul's first attempts at the kind of full, echoey, pompous sound that would become so essential in his Eighties/early Nineties albums - not exactly a good sign, but as usual in the case of Masters like Paul, the first attempt is usually the best.

Oh yeah, I keep forgetting there's also a song called 'No Values' here, which sounds like something Paul concocted in about five seconds and hastily threw on at the last minute to raise the percentage of original material. Just a pedestrian mid-tempo rocker with a flat rhythm track and a very artificial, insincere hook in a chorus stupidly chanting 'no values, no values, no values at all'. And in case we wish to be punctual, the album ends with 'Goodnight Princess', a generic jazz instrumental that makes up for decent background music - that is, if we can allow ourselves to forget that McCartney songs are usually supposed to be something more than just decent background music. So skip both of 'em and concentrate on the two good songs.

That said, one excellent song and one decent one is hardly enough to justify the existence of an album like this, and there's plenty of bad news as well. The most obvious question is: who the hell needs these endless re-recordings of old standards and what for? Okay, so a couple of songs are very seriously re-arranged: 'Ballroom Dancing', for instance, gets an entirely new instrumental section and becomes somewhat meaner and tougher than the Tug Of War arrangement. Whether it's good or bad is beyond me, though. Some songs get synthesized horns. Some get more orchestration. But who really cares? Besides, Paul's voice is actually starting to deteriorate a wee bit, and it's unclear why he chose 'Yesterday' and 'Here There And Everywhere', songs where an excellent vocal delivery is responsible for a huge part of their charm.

A particularly bad idea, in my understanding, was to extend 'Eleanor Rigby', incorporating it into a lengthy, multi-part "suite" called 'Eleanor's Dream', that runs for almost nine minutes without end. Granted, I haven't seen the movie sequence - maybe it works better in the context of the movie, but outside of it, it doesn't work at all. Try it this way: take the main musical theme out of the song and play around it in different ways, ranging from prog-rock to avantgarde to whatever comes into your head. For nine minutes. That's 'Eleanor's Dream' for you. Sure gets tedious very quickly.

And as if that wasn't enough, Paul decides to butcher even his sole major success on here, re-running 'No More Lonely Nights' twice more, first in a brief needless instrumental snatchet, then in a dreadful 'playout' version based on hip-hop rhythms. But that's not all! If you get the remastered CD edition, the bonus tracks include it even two times more - there's an eight-minute long 'extended' mix of the 'playout' version, and a four-minute long "special dance mix". By the end of the album you're guaranteed to hate the song, and certainly guaranteed to despise its author.

The final rating here is compromised: objectively, most of these songs are good, and the arrangements are never unlistenable, but if we're also supposed to rate records by the frequency of their appearing on our turntable, that's bad news for the record: after listening to it for the required three times, I have no further need for it. Go to the originals for more pleasure - unless, of course, you're already sick of them and are ready to try anything for a change. Be sure to get a Macca compilation with 'No More Lonely Nights' on it, though; the song is essential, if only as a very important link from early Eighties' Macca to late Eighties' Macca. Oh, and it sounds nice, too. That was an important addition.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 1
Overall rating = 5

Pure electronic garbage. One of the lowest moments in rock history. 


Track listing: 1) Stranglehold; 2) Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun; 3) Talk More Talk; 4) Footprints; 5) Only Love Remains; 6) Press; 7) Pretty Little Head; 8) Move Over Busker; 9) Angry; 10) However Absurd; 11) Write Away; 12) It's Not True; 13) Tough On A Tightrope; [BONUS TRACKS]: 14) Spies Like Us; 15) Once Upon A Long Ago.

Gimme blood! Oh, how I lust for it. This is the worst effort by any Beatle ever. Its loathsomeness surpasses Ringo's Hollywood albums, George's Hare Krishna mantras and maybe even John's 'experimental' albums (okay, so I'm ready to put George Harrison's Electronic Sound slightly lower, but read my review of it and prepare to fall into even deeper despair). Two of the songs are decent - and that's coming from a man whose policy has once been of never letting even a drop of filler penetrate onto record. Out of these two, 'Press' is happy boppy pop with a catchy melody, a joyful and optimistic ode to Linda that can't be spoiled even by Paul's clumsy and annoying handling of the drum machines; and 'Footprints' is weakly reminiscent of his ten-years-old beautiful ballads, with a sad and complaintive melody this time and a subtle vocal hook in the 'where footprints never go...' chorus.

Most of the rest is unlistenable putrid bullshit crap. He's managed to stay away from electronica for three albums, after his initial failure with the genre on the disastrous McCartney II: why for God's sake should he have returned to it here? No reason. And as if he were intent on recapturing what he had missed, he plunges into the world of drum machines and synthesizers regardless of any consequences or even a basic sense of measure. This stuff is chaotic and twisted enough so as not to be danceable, yet it is derivative and generic enough so as not to be experimental in the 'artistic' sense. Results? A cross between Depeche Mode, Modern Talking and a very, very drunk Peter Gabriel entering the newly equipped recording studio for the first time, held by the shaking hand by Phil Collins. If the picture isn't colourful enough for you, there's nothing else I can do.

'Highlights' include: the punk (my god, Paul! 1986? Punk? Where were you in nineteen seventeen?) 'Angry', very memorable because Paul actually tries to 'bark' on the song in a hysterically rabid tone, but he can't, so it's as disgusting as such things ever get; the hysterical 'Move Over Busker', which sounds essentially like a typical Kiss rocker updated for the electronic age; and worst of all, the computer-laiden, spacey-sounding, boomey-drumming, vomit-inducing 'Pretty Little Head'. Apparently an attempt at writing something truly experimental, Paul heaps up guitars, synths, barrages of drum machines, backing vocals, synthesized percussion, marimbas, tom-toms, anything goes, and gets the necessary effect - try to open your fridge, put everything you have on every rack in one big pot, bring to the boiling pot and serve it for dinner, and you'll get yourself a 'Pretty Little Head'.

There are "anthems", too. Anthems include the overarranged, clumsy 'However Absurd' with Paul's voice being probably let through a couple Vocoders to the pleasant effect of sounding like a lame hoarse dog (okay, that's harsh, but he is hoarse on this track, and the screaming fit at the end of the track is a total disgrace). Collaborators include the famous guitarist Eric Stewart, notorious for some of those magnificent 10CC songs in the mid-Seventies, and also notorious for bringing that band's reputation to the garbage can in the late Seventies; apparently unsatisfied with ruining just his own band, he shares a lot of writing credits here, too (well, at least he relieves Paul of some responsibility for this garbage), and guest musicians include Pete Townshend (what a bringdown) and Phil Collins (sounds like it, definitely sounds like it).

Nah! The ballads 'Good Times Coming' and 'Only Love Remains' slightly approach the degree of 'acceptable' (which is lower than 'listenable' - 'Only Love Remains' continues to betray Paul's reputation as hookmeister # 1 when it comes to piano balladeering), but the other tracks are bad, bad, bad... I really want you to understand me. This is not just your average bland Eighties pop like Pipes Of Peace. This is worse. This is unbelievably uninspired, absolutely atypical, un-McCartneyesque synth crap. An absolute zero and even lower. Avoid this album like plague. There's a compilation out there called Paul McCartney Collection which has both 'Footprints' and 'Press'. Grab it and forget about this album. It shouldn't exist, not only is there no reason for its existence, there are lots of reasons for its non-existence. Starting with the real ugly album cover where he tries looking like he's twenty when he's in fact forty-three. Is this the big problem? Trying to sound fashionable again? Oh well, history will decide 'who has fell and who's been left behind'...

P.S.: I have just reduced the rating to a 1. 'Footprints' and 'Press' are OK, sure enough, but the rest is so unbelieeeeeeevingly horrid that it still drags the record down. Just to give you a feel how bad it really is. Anyway, I rated Double Fantasy a 9, even though half of the songs there are Yoko's - it's just that the other half is so unbelievingly good. Why shouldn't I rate this a 1 because these songs suck like nothin' else?

Another P.S.: just to give you one further argument, upon relistening to this album again some time later, after I'd gained enough knowledge about the good and bad music of the Eighties, I'm hating it even more than before, if that is possible. Goshdarn, was Macca deaf, dumb, and blind in 1986 or something? Even the Rolling Stones had never sunk so low, not even in that year. And wait, I have forgotten to mention that the bonus tracks are just as abysmal as the non-bonus tracks - a bunch of pathetic overblown hookless ballads and 'Spies Like Us', which I can't interpret in any other way than a shitty self-parody.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Macca's 'Rock'n'Roll'. Worse than Lennon's but at least better than Press To Play.


Track listing: 1) Kansas City; 2) Twenty Flight Rock; 3) Lawdy Miss Clawdy; 4) I'm In Love Again; 5) Bring It On Home To Me; 6) Lucille; 7) Don't Get Around Much Anymore; 8) I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday; 9) That's All Right Mama; 10) Summertime; 11) Ain't That A Shame; 12) Crackin' Up; 13) Just Because; 14) Midnight Special.

The album was first released in Russia in 1988 as a gesture of good will towards the Soviet people. That says it all. Not that Paul took a lot of pains to release it: basically, it consists of a one-night recording session with his touring band that included guitarist Mick Green among others (the ex-Pirates guy), and all the songs are covers of old rock'n'roll classics. So one might say that he's putting on Lennon's shoes - but there's a difference: Lennon recorded these classics for the sake of the Idea - going back to his roots and trying to make a successful blend of rockabilly with jazz-rock arrangements and the wall-of-sound (or, okay, one might say that he recorded them for the sake of fulfilling the court decision, but at least he was honest enough not to make the process purely perfunctory). McCartney seemed to have recorded them just because he had a bit of spare time and wanted to fool around with his new band. It shows, too: the playing is tight and compact, but the numbers hardly seem rehearsed. In fact, any out of hundreds of professional bands at the time could have made it even better, and in a far less sterile environment too. Although some of Green's leads are fascinating, I'll admit - the guy sticks to the old school of guitar playing, but actually favours letting his hair down and putting out some distortion when necessary, all the time sticking to melodicity and never letting the guitar go on for too long (or, rather, it's Paul who doesn't let him). But there are many solid guitarists in this world, and after all - are we supposed to be listening to a Mick Green album?

Of course, Paul wouldn't be Paul if he hadn't tossed in a couple surprises. Besides the obvious boogies, like 'Lucille' (here, a definite highlight, with a stunningly thick bassline and crashing drums locking in an adrenaline-raising groove), 'Kansas City' (the 'classic' version as opposed to the Beatles' hybridization on For Sale) and 'Twenty Flight Rock' (cute Cochrane impersonation!), he also covers obscurities like Duke Ellington's 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' and (surprise, surprise) 'Summertime'. The first one is nice, the second one could be nice, but Janis Joplin's version still sticks in my head and while it's there, no other version will ever come close. I'm ready to kill for it. Honestly. Although actually, the guitar solo on 'Summertime' - the only place where it is extended, and rightly so - is totally stunning, and can be a perfect justification for such a blues wiz as Peter Green making a record together with Mick later on.

So... what was I talking about? Ah, yes. I was just going to say that the faster numbers on here usually work better than the slower ones. The Presley numbers ('That's All Right Mama' and especially the even faster 'Just Because') will have your toes being tapped and your head being bobbed in no time, that's for sure. Guess we'll also have to thank drummer Chris Whitten and pianist Mick Gallagher for that - listen to them getting off on 'Just Because'! The heavy drum sound and the light tinkling more-precise-than-lightning piano! Fast rock'n'roll heaven, yoohoo!

Not that all the slow numbers are bad. The problem is, they often recall better versions - if they don't, they work ('Crackin' Up' - you gotta love that shrill jangling guitar line that upholds the song and the funny, slightly cheesy organ fills); when they do, they mostly make me sigh and shrug my shoulders ('Midnight Special' is probably a nice way to conclude the record and all, but it was done better by CCR; 'Bring It On Home To Me', thoroughly sterile apart from the usual guitar solo, was done better by both the Animals and Lennon, and probably a billion and a dozen other artists; 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' was done better by Elvis, etc.). No matter how raw or good-timey this stuff sounds, only a diehard fanatic could find himself regularly returning to it.

In all, a good record to put on if you're in for a dance or just loud fast hilarious rockabilly, but not recommendable at all as an important Macca purchase. Not at all. What can you find here? Paul is famous for his songwriting, production and singing. There's no originals, the production is next to none, and the vocals are slightly out of tune and sometimes even annoying (am I the only one who hates it when Paul consciously, or unconsciously, sings out of tune or gets out of tempo? He just seems to me the kind of guy who was born for 'correct' singing). So? Oh wait, I forgot. The album should be remembered as a memento. And even now, when you get the CD, you will probably find the original - and very much dated - message to the Russian people from Paul: 'When I was young I asked my Dad if people wanted peace...'. Don't know about Western people, but for us, this sounds soooooooo dang 'nineteen hundred and eighty eight' that every time I drag out the record I keep remembering the blessed/accursed times of perestroika.

Oh, and just in case you wonder about the correct pronunciation, the title of the album shouldn't be read 'Choba B CCCP'; naturally, the letters are Cyrillic and the spelling is 'Snova V SSSR', which, of course, means exactly what that old 1968 Beach Boys rip-off meant. But I guess you knew that.



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

The comeback? The 'back door comeback', I'd say. But truly - there are good songs on here, at last.

Best song: PUT IT THERE

Track listing: 1) My Brave Face; 2) Rough Ride; 3) You Want Her Too; 4) Distractions; 5) We Got Married; 6) Put It There; 7) Figure Of Eight; 8) This One; 9) Don't Be Careless Love; 10) That Day Is Done; 11) How Many People; 12) Motor Of Love; 13) Ou Est Le Soleil; 14) Back On My Feet; 15) Flying To My Home; [BONUS TRACKS:] 16) Loveliest Thing.

The band for the Flowers In The Dirt sessions should probably be listed here, as it was Paul's longest-lasting outfit since Wings (which weren't much of a stable organization, to begin with). These guys are: Hamish Stuart on base (awful looking chap, but didn't he used to play in the Average White Band or something? Good reputation, then), Robbie Mcintosh on guitars (just as awful looking, but at least he's a good guitarist), Paul Wickens on keyboards (very sly looking gentleman, but at least he sure can imitate that piccolo line on 'Penny Lane'), and Chris Witten from the USSR sessions, taken over on drums (later replaced by Blair Cunningham). Oh, and Linda, of course. Well, that's about it. Now I can discuss the flaws and advantages of Flowers In The Dirt.

Critics hailed it as a big comeback (the big comeback, exactly), but I figure they must have been exaggerating. Funny that the same thing happened to Dylan's Oh Mercy and the Stones' Steel Wheels, and they both came out the same year. Both were moderately good, but both were overrated. I'd call 1989 the 'back-door comeback' - the first year in a long time when 'rock dinosaurs' started putting out something more than just commercial (or anti-commercial, sounds the same to me) 'product'. Later on, all three of them managed to have a 'real' comeback (with Off The Ground, Voodoo Lounge and Time Out Of Mind), but that's another story. Still, history sure does have its laws.

So what is there to tell? The definitely good news is that Paul has finally realized that fashion and trend-following isn't everything. So you won't find that crappy Faux-Electronica sound here - at least, not in its overdominating form: synths are still prominent on some tracks (although I'd say that Wickens favours pure organ sound more), but there's also some mighty fine guitarwork which we really haven't had since Tug Of War. No drum machines, either, and in general, the production is slick as usual, but it's one thing to have slick production - has Paul ever produced something non-slick? - and another thing to have deadmeat production. At least you get the impression of real people making real music and having fun with it here.

Another good news is that his songwriting has definitely taken a turn for the better - maybe due to collaboration with Elvis Costello, but probably independently of that, or, rather, Costello was just needed as a 'stimulant', much like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Eric Stewart before that (granted, Stewart didn't help much, but I guess that was a case taken to the extreme, with Paul actually co-writing rather than just occasionally feeding on an outside creative idea). So all things taken, this sounds like Paul again - like the live Paul, I mean. Where Press To Play seemed to substitute Paul McCartney the human for a gray robotic, totally lifeless, model, Flowers In The Dirt makes the opposite statement. Paul is back and he's speaking to you.

Not that everything he says is good. There's some political filler (the dumb reggaeish anthem 'How Many People', initiating a lengthy string of similar 'crowd pleasers' that occasionally get saved by their strong melodies but mostly just fail as total embarrassments), some over-synthed ballads ('Don't Be Careless Love', with shamefully clumsy vocal harmonies for somebody who once used to be the God of vocal harmony) and even an overlong, bombastic, totally out-of-place and out-of-style religious hymn ('Motor Of Love' - that's Harrison stuff for you! Six minutes of pure adoration, with no serious melody in sight to prevent you from worshipful delight!)

But most of the other tracks are rather pretty, even though there's practically no standouts, and at least the hooks are back in place. These songs are not very diverse - every one has a steady beat, good guitars going, and a generic good pop sound. Gone are the happy days of the mid-Seventies when every second song sounded different. But be thankful for what you get, anyway - if you had already lost hope by 1989, here's at least a good chance. Also, most of these songs are introspective: in 'My Brave Face' Paul ponders about his identity, on 'Distractions' he hums about life's simple pleasures, and the prettiest of them, the acoustic country ditty 'Put It There', is a little teeny-weeny bit of nostalgia with touching lyrics. Be sure to check out 'Rough Ride', too, with its naggin' melody and general moody atmosphere, and the crazy-soundin', heavy-poundin' 'Figure Of Eight' with Paul rising to the very height of his vocal powers which are still there despite the gradual deterioration of the voice in question. The Costello duet 'You Want Her Too' is often supposed to be a highlight too, but I think it's mainly because Paul's and Elvis' call-and-response vocal battles remind people so much of the Lennon/McCartney competition in the classic Beatle years, when Paul would come up with something nice and John would beat him back with something brutal. The melody of the song isn't all that strong.

The 'bizarre' track on here is the closing, New Wave-inspired 'Ou Est Le Soleil' which does sound a lot like some Police instrumental on Zenyatta Mondatta - only more complicated and somewhat more stupid. 'Ou est le soleil? Dans la tete!' But at least this is one experiment that works and doesn't get real nasty, and shows us McCartney is still willing to uphold his reputation as "that guy who usually takes one chance per record". Bonus tracks include some singles or something from that era, but they're crappy, except the cute ballad 'Loveliest Thing' which is too generic but otherwise quite good. Rock on!



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

A standard concert album for those who can't get enough of minor variations on McCartney music.

Best song: hell, it's a greatest hits live. How should I know?

Track listing: CD I: 1) Showtime; 2) Figure Of Eight; 3) Jet; 4) Rough Ride; 5) Got To Get You Into My Life; 6) Band On The Run; 7) Birthday; 8) Ebony And Ivory; 9) We Got Married; 10) Inner City Madness; 11) Maybe I'm Amazed; 12) The Long And Winding Road; 13) Crackin' Up; 14) The Fool On The Hill; 15) Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 16) Can't Buy Me Love; 17) Matchbox; 18) Put It There; 19) Together;

CD II: 1) Things We Said Today; 2) Eleanor Rigby; 3) This One; 4) My Brave Face; 5) Back In The USSR; 6) I Saw Her Standing There; 7) Twenty Flight Rock; 8) Coming Up; 9) Sally; 10) Let It Be; 11) Ain't That A Shame; 12) Live And Let Die; 13) If I Were Not Upon The Stage; 14) Hey Jude; 15) Yesterday; 16) Get Back; 17) Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End; 18) Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying.

Oh, what a mammoth this is. He's only had his second live album out, and it's a double CD (Wings Over America was a triple LP set, if you remember). However, this time it's not a prog rock emulation - it's just a means of money-making. Oops, sorry - there's a short version of this one out, called Tripping The Live Fantastic - Highlights!, so if you're only curious, you might as well pick up that one. The double CD is really something, though! The track listing seems almost endless on first sight, with tons and tons of Beatles and McCartney solo classics that are run through as close to the originals as possible. The obvious question is why?, and I think I've already answered it. Now how's it if I just omit this stupid review and refer you to the complete track listing above which already clobbers up as much web space as possible? Or would you like me to re-run it again?

Let's see, you'll have your 'Got To Get You Into My Life', 'Birthday', 'The Long And Winding Road', 'The Fool On The Hill' and you'll even have an extended version of 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' - both the main theme and the reprise linked together by a lengthy instrumental passage, not that it's a very good idea (at least, Paul could have pretended they were Sgt Pepper's band by bookmarking the very show with the themes - although, granted, that could have been interpreted as insulting towards the memory of the band). Oh, at least it gives us a little diversity. You'll also have your 'Can't Buy Me Love', 'Matchbox', 'Things We Said Today' (atrocious version! simply atrocious!), 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Back In USSR', 'I Saw Her Standing There'... oh God I'm already sick.

Please excuse me for a moment...


Errr. Sorry. Now where was I? Ah yes. So as not to repeat my mistake, I probably won't be listing the solo McCartney songs here. Suffice it to say that you'll have to endure an entire half of Flowers In The Dirt (the good half, at least), and some hits from the back catalog, too. The major surprise is 'Coming Up' which is totally rearranged and made more of a rocker than of a pop song, with elements of drum soloing. And speaking of Beatles hits, the real surprise is the closing medley taken from Abbey Road. It's probably the only track on the album whose appearance I wouldn't be able to predict. Again, it's not different from the original, but maybe for the better. Otherwise, Paul has included several short links, probably to 'amuse' the audience, which range from stupid (crazy noises on 'Inner City Madness') to downright annoying (the silly ditty 'If I Were Not Upon The Stage' which he suddenly cuts short, says 'oh no, that's not the one' and launches into 'Hey Jude'). Some songs are also obvious studio recordings ('Sally', the closing 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying'), probably covers, and not very interesting at that. Anyway, nothing beats 'Yesterday'. Whatever you try, you'll still be enjoying the classics and dissing the grooves. On the other hand, all of these classics have their original versions. So what am I pointing at? Oh, nothing. Well, at least there are worse ways of spending your money. Like buying the complete works of Ian Fleming, for instance.

A few final words on the quality of the performances - first, since there's such a lot of retrospective material on here, you can't help noticing how Paul's voice has deteriorated; almost every time he raises it, it reacts by cracking, and, of course, Paul reacts as if nothing happened, but it's still painful. But... you know, come to think of it, I have detected a potential artistic purpose of this CD - with all the Beatles material on here, Paul probably wanted to tell all of us that not only are the Beatles still popular, but that the Beatles live on as an actual live experience as well, even if the experience in question is only represented by one Beatle. What else did he need the exact reproductions for, like the 'crowd noises' from 'Sgt Pepper' over the amps? Just to re-create the 'Beatlesque ambience' for the happy crowds, to create an illusion of that happiness and perfection. Does it work for you, I wonder? Because it doesn't work one iota for me. I understand that wish, and I can't see any objective harm in this 'fakery', but there's something that thoroughly prevents me from enjoying it. I'm not even sure if I would enjoy going to a McCartney concert - have all the people waving in ecstasy all around me to the enchanting sounds of 'Penny Lane' or rocking their asses off to 'Can't Buy Me Love' when for me these things are hardly imaginable without Ringo, George and John around.

I'd sure like to know what Paul himself thinks on the subject. It's one thing to please the crowds with a few perfunctory renditions of his most popular Beatles highlights, as he did on Wings Over America - that album just threw in a defiant 'Yesterday' and 'Long And Winding Road' to please the public, but otherwise was intent on showcasing Paul's new personality, which is why it was so dang adequate. But it's another thing to pretend as if he were the Beatles, and this is what happens here, whether it's a conscious thing or not. Spare me.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10

Washed-up old badger trying to revitalize his ancient hits? Anyway, why not give 'em a listen?

Best song: THE FOOL

Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Mean Woman Blues; 3) Matchbox; 4) Be-Bop-A-Lula; 5) I Lost My Little Girl; 6) Here There And Everywhere; 7) Blue Moon Of Kentucky; 8) We Can Work It Out; 9) The Fool; 10) Things We Said Today; 11) San Francisco Bay Blues; 12) I've Just Seen A Face; 13) Every Night; 14) She's A Woman; 15) Hi-Heel Sneakers; 16) And I Love Her; 17) That Would Be Something; 18) Blackbird; 19) Ain't No Sunshine; 20) Good Rockin' Tonight; 21) Singing The Blues; 22) Junk.

'Welcome to Unplugged, a program where everybody takes his plug out and goes mad'. I don't know exactly what plug Paul meant and from where it should be taken out, but that particular plug seemed to stay in its place securely. Because nobody really went mad about this event, certainly not Paul himself (granted, I can't seem to remember any particular Unplugged shows where everybody really went mad - the atmosphere isn't exactly inviting you to stand on your head). Instead, he'd rehearsed some of his hits with the band (anyway, I don't think he needed that much specific rehearsing - lots of the tracks overlap with the ones on Tripping), mostly sticking to the authentic acoustic stuff, and performed them flawlessly. Or, well, as flawlessly as was possible for a 48-year old Beatle with a band of relatively unknown professional musicians; speaking of the band, it is carried over from the Flowers In The Dirt sessions again, with one replacement - Blair Cunningham on drums instead of Chris Witten (with a rather rude introduction - when presenting the drummer, Paul announces, 'and on the drums here, we have Chris Witten! I know, I know, he looks different, but he plays a lot better. Now seriously...'). But old band or new band, they're not anything more than just tight and professional. And that means there's really nothing to get particularly excited about.

Still, the record has its share of surprises - and unlike the ones on his major live albums, they seem to work. Thus, Paul's band runs through a couple of oldies you won't find anywhere else, including 'I Lost My Little Girl', Paul's first ever song. Apparently he thought the Unplugged sessions to be the most appropriate place to bring up that rarity, and I can't agree more: imagine singing 'I woke up this morning/My hair was in a whirl/Then I realized/I lost my little girl' in a stadium! He'd probably get booed off the stage. Here, though, the groove does amuse, and it's nice to see the guy not shunning his naive formative past. 'Hey people, let me tell you the story of the very first song I wrote', he sings in the middle eight. Cute.

Oldies also include Elvis' big hit 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky', here done in its original authentic country arrangement, and another wonderful scary country ditty called 'The Fool'. Whose one is that? It's wonderful! And they really, for once, engage in a moody performance that can leave you in a slightly dizzy suspended state. You'll also discover 'San Francisco Bay Blues', which was done by Clapton on the same program (was this some kind of competition or what?), and some less interesting ditties, usually the classic rock'n'roll numbers from Paul's youth, none of which have been, however, recorded for Back In USSR - 'Be-Bop-A-Lula' and 'Mean Woman Blues', in particular. Perfunctory they are, though - I can't imagine just about any average barroom band doing them any worse.

The hits? Most of them are Beatles ballads, either done decently ('Here There And Everywhere', 'Blackbird'), or totally ruined ('Things We Said Today' which needs to be tight and menacing; here it is loose and complaintive, and they kill it, kill it, kill it! The ominous atmosphere of the original is completely lacking; 'And I Love Her' with Paul sounding like a ninety-year old gospel singer and very, very poorly placed backing harmonies from the band). The most embarrassing moment, though, is when he forgets the words to 'We Can Work It Out' so they have to start it thrice! Gee, what a fascinating capture of a truly historic moment! To Paul's honour, though, he easily gets away with it - 'ah, well, this is so informal we'll start again', he says, 'a few more whoo-hoos!'. And 'If we don't get it this time, let's just pretend I did, okay?' for the next time... geez, had John been in his place, he'd probably sing the same verse four times over and not feel any particular guilt about it. Wasn't John, like, the worst lyrics-remembering guy in history?

McCartney solo numbers are mostly limited to songs from his debut album, which I can only explain by the fact that these songs are really suited for an unplugged performance. They're good (especially the instrumental take on 'Junk' and the funny groove 'That Would Be Something'; 'Every Night' is pretty flawless as well). Still, this record is not something to jump about madly, because it ends up looking like just another fine commercial product. The only reason I can see for any non-diehard fan to buy it is these few cute cover tunes and 'I Lost My Little Girl' (and maybe some of the banter), but otherwise it's just okay. All Paul McCartney live albums are just 'okay', and you shouldn't set expectations high. On the positive side, they're never bad or embarrassing - even if the old fellow forgets a couple of lines, he can still joke his way out of it.

And finally I'd like to warn all of you out there that my copy is called 'the official bootleg', with 22 tracks. It's the more rare version, because the more widely available is a smaller one with only 17 tracks which, what with the stupid Russian bootlegging policies, I haven't even seen. It's no big secret, though, that I'm not particularly interested in looking for it, but you, on the other hand, could try and find the complete version - at least it'll be more stuff for same money.



Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

The real comeback. This is the first record in many years that's as diverse as possible. Get it today.


Track listing: 1) Off The Ground; 2) Looking For Changes; 3) Hope Of Deliverance; 4) Mistress And Maid; 5) I Owe It All To You; 6) Biker Like An Icon; 7) Peace In The Neighbourhood; 8) Golden Earth Girl; 9) The Lovers That Never Were; 10) Get Out Of My Way; 11) Winedark Open Sea; 12) C'mon People.

At last, this is the moment we've all been waiting for. If you bring yourself to the point of realizing there's no fault in getting old and having an average dose of crap on every record, you'll certainly love the album. And why, do you ask me? Because there's a great deal of self-assuredness, creativity and inventive ideas here. But primarily, it's a diverse album - the most diverse since Tug Of War. It's not all electronic, and it's not all average pop, and it's not all introspective midtempo rockers (guess what records I'm putting off?) It's... different. It's also quite happy and hilarious, and it's also well produced. Well played, too. And he even manages to stay away from influences - you'd never tell this is Nineties rock'n'roll. So that there's a real chance of this album not sounding dated in a hundred years or more. Of course, that didn't stop the critics from giving the album its share of nudges and kicks - ah well, critics only became happy when Paul ditched all of the so-much-hated "overproduction" together with all the interesting melodies on Flaming Pie.

You've probably heard the most bombastic, anthemic tracks from here, like the bouncy optimistic 'Hope Of Deliverance' and the majestic 'C'mon People'. But really, these are not the best cuts on the record. Melodically, they're good - catchy and uplifting, but they again represent McCartney's pro-Lennon facet, and try as he may, he can't afford that ear-splittering sound John's best anthems are known for. 'Hope For Deliverance', though, would have easily fit onto Flowers In The Dirt, if only with slightly altered lyrics. Other bombastic songs include the peace anthem 'Peace In The Neighbourhood' (a jolly good pop piece with the friendly peaceful atmosphere captured to near-perfection, but somewhat overlong for such a simple melodic idea - 'Band On The Run' this ain't), the animals' rights anthem 'Looking For Changes' (somewhat lame rocker, but at least it's easily memorable), and the love anthem 'Winedark Open Sea' which is just a bit too dang repetitive for my tired ears. If anything, this album suffers from being too bombastic, more so than any previous one, indeed. But at least the melodies are good! EVERY single one of these songs has something to offer you in the way of untrivial chord sequences. You can squirm as much as you like at the bombastic hold-up-your lighter arena balladeering of 'C'mon People', but you can't deny the presence of Macca genius in the main melody (the barebones piano melody of the verses - granted, the chorus is a bit too flat with too few chord changes to be interesting).

Now, though, if you bypass the slicky anthems, this is where the pleasure really starts. Just let me look at the track listing. Title track? Ah, now there's a really good rocker, with loud distorted guitars and stuff. It's slightly dance-poppy, but what of it? The melody is unbelievably catchy, and the atmospherics really allows for a slightly dizzy 'off the ground' feel, what with the bouncing percussion and the faraway echoey vocals. 'Mistress And Maid'? Another Elvis Costello collaboration which could also have fit onto Flowers, but that's not saying anything bad. The problem with Flowers was that it mostly consisted of such songs and this made it drag. When they are limited to just one or two numbers, it's perfectly all right. Next, we have the pretty love ballad 'I Owe It All To You', which somehow seems to me to be a precursor of his 'super-sincere' style on Flaming Pie (but better than any ballad on that record) and the true masterpiece - 'Biker Like An Icon', a creepy story of an unshared love. It's another generic fast rocker, but it's underpinned by a tasty acoustic melody, and it's also a great chance for Paul to get a bit raunchy and over the top. I like it, even if the lyrics are a bit too straightforward ('there was a girl who loved a biker, she used to follow him across America, but the biker didn't like her?' Whatever!) and the story is kinda flat and leaves one wishing for more.

Then we have 'Golden Earth Girl', an unbelievably resplendent "experimental ballad" with a very unusual structure and psycho lyrics (a bit too psycho, though - with lines like 'fish in a sunbeam, in eggshell seas, fish in a sunbeam, eggshell finish' it looks like he's pushing it too hard in order to establish those sonic panoramas; that stuff should probably have died together with 'I Am The Walrus'). To my mind, it's the unjustly forgotten gem on the record - neither does it get airplay nor was it performed on the tour. Sad, because it's tons better than yet another quasi-Flowers In The Dirt-outtake - 'The Lovers That Never Were' (which is uncomfortably similar to the superior 'That Day Is Done' on that record). But not the terrific rocker 'Get Out Of My Way', oh no not that. It's in no way menacing and spooky, like 'Biker', and lacks depth and intelligency, but that was probably just the desired effect. On the other hand, the guitars tear and roar, the melody is strong, and Paul gets in his last truly outstanding vocal performance. And how's that about that cute false ending? The closing riff brings the song to a rough stop, then the guitars suddenly rush in again and you get one more short instrumental passage before cutting off dead - this time, forever. Real sweet.

Truly and verily, I know lots of people write off Macca's entire career after the mid-Seventies like there's no tomorrow. But Off The Ground is really good. It has his feel for melody re-instated, it gets some blood flowing and it has a cool album cover. And what else would you expect?



Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8

Another live album. Paul, wake up! You're no Rolling Stone!

Best song: ????????!!!!!!!!!!!@#$%^&*(

Track listing: 1) Drive My Car; 2) Let Me Roll It; 3) Looking For Changes; 4) Peace In The Neighbourhood; 5) All My Loving; 6) Robbie's Bit (Thanks Chet); 7) Good Rocking Tonight; 8) We Can Work It Out; 9) Hope Of Deliverance; 10) Michelle; 11) Biker Like An Icon; 12) Here There And Everywhere; 13) My Love; 14) Magical Mystery Tour; 15) C'mon People; 16) Lady Madonna; 17) Paperback Writer; 18) Penny Lane; 19) Live And Let Die; 20) Kansas City; 21) Welcome To Soundcheck; 22) Hotel In Benidorm; 23) I Wanna Be Your Man; 24) A Fine Day.

Basically Tripping The Live Fantastic Vol. 2, and the only thing we should be grateful for is that there are no overlaps with it. Eventually, that means eliminating classics like 'Hey Jude', 'Get Back' and 'Yesterday' (only to be replaced with other classics like 'Penny Lane', 'Michelle' and 'All My Loving'), and eliminating songs from the then-promoted Flowers In The Dirt (only to be replaced by songs from the now-promoted Off The Ground). Apart from that and the soothing circumstance of this one being a single CD - completists breathe a sigh of relief - there's really not much difference: the band is exactly the same as on Unplugged, Paul is still in good energetic shape, obviously fuelled with the good vibes from the last album, the classics are still performed note-by-note to recreate the obligatory Beatlesque atmosphere, and the few silly grooves stay in place ('Robbie's Bit', a minute-and-a-half instrumental tidbit with the man engaging in a few tasteful, but rather generic bluegrass passages).

The only slightly eyebrow-raising moment comes at the end of the record, which is the 'soundcheck' section - after a bunch of noises and a 'welcome to soundcheck' announcement, the band plays three songs, one of which is a weird "funkified" rendition of 'I Wanna Be Your Man' - sounds like it's been criss-crossed with 'Not Fade Away' or something - and two others are McCartney originals unavailable elsewhere. Not that they are all that impressive. 'Hotel In Benidorm' is an okay acoustic ballad with some pretty acoustic soloing, and 'A Fine Day' is distingishable for its soaring slightly feedback-drenched slide guitar parts, but little else. Besides, you really have to sit through the entire album before you get to these bonuses (I mean, you wouldn't want to buy it just for these three tracks, right?), and that's really pathetic compensation for your humiliation.

I suppose that I should also mention, returning to the basic part of it, that there are serious overlaps with Unplugged, like on 'Here There And Everywhere' and 'We Can Work It Out' (at least this time around Paul doesn't forget the words! But on the negative side, the band misses a beat in the most crucial moment!) Even 'Good Rockin' Tonight' is reprised from that record. Well... supposedly Paul didn't have much hope anybody would buy Unplugged anyway.

The performances themselves can hardly be discussed in any possible way... well, okay, so the only thing I'm gonna say (apart from the usual recommendation - just look at the track listing and see for yourself!) is, it's really cool that the "regular" section of the concert here, in order to avoid overlap, ends with the rocking 'Kansas City' rather than some casual obligatory set of crowd pleasers ("Hey Jude" and "Yesterday" included). I mean, just because "overlapping" was considered to be a potential problem, the CD setlist doesn't look entirely generic - with 'Paperback Writer' and 'Lady Madonna' and even 'Magical Mystery Tour' on it. In a certain way, it could even be better! But I only say it because I'm in a good mood, mind you. In comparison, the video for the tour (see a short review below), while benefitting from the fact that it is a video, has all the crowd-pleasers intact, and suffers as a result.

I must say, though, I'm really baffled trying to find out why the hell did he think it was real necessary to release three live albums, one of them double, in less than five years. What's the point? To showcase his new drummer? To say the things that have been left unsaid? To cash in in such a primitive manner? Come on now, the BEST thing about the record - and I mean it - is the album cover, where Paul is crossing Abbey Road again, but this time HE'S GOT HIS SHOES ON! SO THERE, YOU BUGGERS! (Of course, there might be some strange message in him actually standing on one foot with the other one high in the air, and has anybody deciphered the meaning of the dog yet? Don't you go forgetting about the dog, now!) But seriously, does anybody really want to buy Paul Is Live, especially if he already owns Tripping? Who is that person? Oh, sorry, one of them is me. But I only bought a bootleg copy (please don't sue me), and only for the purpose of reviewing it here. Now that I've sat through it, I doubt if it will ever get back onto my CD deck.

God, are some people obsessed. Oh, well. At least there was no tour after Flaming Pie! With Paul's voice getting ever and ever weaker (last time I heard it at a benefit concert singing 'Yesterday', it sounded like a pale pale shadow of the former glory), one more live album would crash him down the waterfall of absolute embarrassment. Although, frankly speaking... this here record is an embarrassment. I know I really shouldn't give it such a low rating because the songs all rule, but there are limits to how pointless can an album actually be, you know. Me, I wouldn't listen to this stuff even in the guise of a mild alternative to putting on my Beatles records for the thirty thousandth time. I'd rather just keep silence.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8

Flaming disaster. The search for simplicity has ended in banality and primitive tunelessness.

Best song: YOUNG BOY

Track listing: 1) The Songs We Were Singing; 2) The World Tonight; 3) If You Wanna; 4) Somedays; 5) Young Boy; 6) Calico Skies; 7) Flaming Pie; 8) Heaven On A Sunday; 9) Used To Be Bad; 10) Souvenir; 11) Little Willow; 12) Really Love You; 13) Beautiful Night; 14) Great Day.

I just gave the damn piece of plastic yet another listen (and then another, and another one! I must be really dedicated!), hoping that my heart would finally soften. It hasn't. It got worse. I lowered the rating. Even though 'Young Boy' came as a pleasant surprise for me. But nothin' else.

What distinguishes this album is two main features: (a) the concept of 'simplicity' so praised by Paul in the liner notes; (b) the general love of critics toward this album. Both of these are flake. The idea that the album should be 'simple' came to Paul after working on the Beatles' Anthologies, and it must have been one of the most bizarre ideas he's ever had - ranks along with his decision to overabuse electronics in the Eighties. Because, see, if there's one musician in the world who can never be associated with the word 'improvisation', it's Sir Paul McCartney. All of his music was always carefully planned, rehearsed, and immaculately produced - independent of the actual arrangements. We all know how much time Paul was always spending on fleshing out the arrangements, polishing the melodies and sound on Beatles tunes, as well as on his own ones on his best solo albums. In comparison, this music seems sloppy, demo-ish and - as a consequence - utterly boring and thoroughly undistinguishable, not to mention that all the songs friggin' sound the same.

As for the critics who pan Ram and Red Rose Speedway but go on to praise Pie as a 'best-of-artist' album (please refer, for example, to the schizoid band of thugs writing reviews for the All-Music Guide), well,.I simply have no words. They probably really expected this album to be great - after all the Anthologies hype, it was comfortable to raise a 'McCartney revival' propaganda campaign. So really, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd praised Press To Play, were it to come out in 1997. Also, the usual "fake/meaningless" image of Paul is so reviled and hated by critics (and moderate fans) around the world, that I guess whenever he makes a record that pretends to be - or is - really sincere and introspective, it is guaranteed appraisal immediately. Sure, it's so much more convenient to write a positive review for a song that goes 'but we always come back to the songs we were singing at any particular time' than for a song that goes 'fish in a sunbeam, eggshell finish', now isn't it? Sorry guys, no dice - if I want to appreciate a record exclusively for its "personal message", I have Bob Dylan or Peter Hammill to turn to; from Macca, I want well-written songs, and this is not the case.

What is there to praise? An incredible, unbelievable lack of melodies - LACK OF MELODIES ON A McCARTNEY RECORD? Whoever heard that? But it's true! The fast songs ('The World Tonight', 'If You Wanna', 'Really Love You', etc.), all have the same tempo and basic chord structures; when the tune first arrives on 'The World Tonight', it's nice to hear Paul engage in a simple, not overproduced rocker, but when he does the same thing again and again, it becomes tedious, particularly culminating in the ridiculous jam mode on 'Really Love You', which steals the bassline from the Police and that's about it.

The slower songs either have a banal acoustic melody or none at all - 'Great Day' and 'Calico Skies' are the worst offenders, all atmosphere, no hooks in sight whatsoever (probably has something to do with the fact that Paul never abused pure acoustic songs in the past - how often do we find more than one acoustic ballad per a McCartney album?) The more 'energetic' songs have about one chord change per song, as if Paul wrote the lyrics first and the melodies two minutes before committing the songs to tape. The lyrics, despite pretentions for "sincerity", are always below the lowest (even 'Young Boy', which turns out to have the most interesting hook on here, has lyrics unacceptable to McCartney standards, not that they are incredibly high, too). Occasional solos by his son don't really help - they're just generic pieces of boring solo crap. And where are the production values? Everything is sacrificed in the name of 'simplicity'. Patchy, dull demos which any person could have easily produced. One doesn't need to be Paul McCartney to make his Flaming Pie.

And really, Paul - there is no need to speculate on Beatles legacy, like naming the album after one of Lennon's quotes (I think everybody knows that now; by the way, the song 'Flaming Pie' gotta rank as the dullest, most primitive song that Paul ever wrote - ever heard a more straightforward, off-the-cuff melody?) and claiming that it inherits the groovy mood of the early days. It doesn't. It doesn't even sound like a Beatles tribute band. It just sounds like a washed-up old badger trying to cash in on the strength of his name, that's all. And it's a pity. Is there really nothing else left in him? The album's underarrangements really did Macca a poor service: they showed us all the 'strength' of his songwriting, so that this time there was no escape behind booming drums, cheezy synths and Elvis Costello. And this strength equals zero. As much as I hate to admit it, this album is as far removed from meat'n'potatoes as any generic hogwash of the Nineties like Marilyn Manson and company. I still give it a 4 because none of it is really nasty, but that's what a 4 usually is - it's when there's no place on the rock to hold on to it. Pity, that: it's almost like he was so dazed by the Anthology work he came out a changed man, and a man changed for the worse. And that was even before Linda's death. Where to now, St Paul?



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

Back In USSR Vol. 2. Nothing to say, really.


Track listing: 1) Blue Jean Bop; 2) She Said Yeah; 3) All Shook Up; 4) Run Devil Run; 5) No Other Baby; 6) Lonesome Town; 7) Try Not To Cry; 8) Movie Magg; 9) Brown Eyed Handsome Man; 10) What It Is; 11) Coquette; 12) I Got Stung; 13) Honey Hush; 14) Shake A Hand; 15) Party.

Why, back to the roots, of course! Let me try not to be too much sneering or pathetic here, as I predict that the critics will blow this album to pieces. They were forced to give positive reviews to Flaming Pie in order to support all the 'Anthology-back-to-the-simple-back-to-the-freshness' hoopla, but nothing will stop them from writing Macca off completely after they'd even seen the track listing on here.

You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Apparently, in order to stop the rumours about his being washed up and retiring from the business completely, Paul decided that one more sip out of the fountain of rock'n'roll wouldn't hurt, and released an album with fifteen covers of old rock'n'roll, doo-wop and rockabilly standards, covering acts from Gene Vincent to Ray Charles to Elvis to some old dudes whom I don't even know but who were probably quite popular in Liverpool around the late Fifties. Most of the songs are really really short, and Paul is never actually trying to make the arrangements interesting, like on Back In USSR; his backing band is fairly unimpressive this time - professional, but completely soulless. Which is all the more shameful as it features a handful of rock legends, rthe most notable of these being none other than Dave Gilmour himself. I'd never have guessed, though. Dave Gilmour going back to his roots, too? Playing boogie-woogie? Well, at least you can see now why Dave never made much of a career before joining Pink Floyd... In other words, a letdown. A letdown?

Actually, what is the purpose of this album? Back In USSR had a clear purpose: it was Paul's little souvenir to the peoples of Russia, a slight, delicate throwaway that had pretty much artistic significance but a lot of bootleg value. Run Devil Run? Maybe it is intended to be a throwaway, but why would Paul let his reputation suffer so significantly... again? It is obvious that recording and releasing such a collection is important to him - probably as a gesture of self-assertion: yes, I can still do the bop, whatever them picky critics and the younger generation say. Well, maybe he can, but so do at least several dozen old dinosaurs that are still around and playing and performing, and many of them do it much, much better than old fart Paul. Try as you might, you won't find no 'Long Tall Sally' on this album, and it's also quite understandable why Paul mostly sticks to more obscure material, like Chuck Berry's 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man' and other boogie tunes (title track, 'Honey Hush') whose authors I do not even know: when he does songs that are more well-known and usually evoke the original versions, it simply sounds horrendous. Me, for instance, I will never forget him for butchering 'I Got Stung', one of my favourite Elvis tunes; others will probably cringe at the way he massacres 'She Said Yeah', 'All Shook Up' or 'Movie Magg'.

The mellower numbers are a little bit more acceptable - 'Lonesome Town' is stupid, but it somehow gets into your head, and the same goes for 'No Other Baby' and a couple other tracks. Even so, none of this goes beyond 'cute'; and the worst thing is, it could never even hope to go beyond 'cute'. Wasn't it obvious that the project was doomed from the very start? Who really needs a fifty-six year old Paul McCartney wiggling his way through the melodies of his youth when, I dunno, at least we have Mick Jagger who is still able to do these kinds of things with enough conviction?

On the other hand, there are at least a few things that should be praised and supported about this album. Actually, not about the album itself, but about Paul's decision to make it. First, let us not forget that Back In USSR immediately preceded Flowers In The Dirt, Paul's famous comeback album which, if not fully, at least partially pulled him out of the slump where he'd spent most of the Eighties. In that sense, I do not exclude that Paul will be able to follow Devil with a more or less solid original work - we just have to wait and see. Second, like I said before, this is a serious self-assertion move: I sincerely hope that making this album has helped him in overcoming the loss of Linda and in rejuvenating his organism, at least a little. He didn't shoot himself, go on drugs or start anti-depressants: so much for the better, after all, isn't rock'n'roll the best cure for all diseases? Third, while nothing on here is really valuable, none of the tracks are actually horrible - Paul is no David Bowie, and he never approaches the old standards with a perverted mind to render them unlistenable. You can listen to this and not be ashamed. In that sense, my final judgement will be a bit contradictive: I'm really glad that this album exists, but I wouldn't advise anybody to waste his/her cash on it. And if you're a completist, chances are that you'll soon see multiple copies in used bins, too.

P.S. I see now that I was somewhat wrong in my predictions - just visited the All-Music Guide and they gave the album a suppah-duppah review, calling it something like a truly great record coming right after one of Paul's best solo efforts. Well, there are two possible explanations: either they just feel pity for poor Paul and do not consider it appropriate to bash the record out of ethical considerations (in which case I understand them, but call on you to never trust the AMG as their opinions are always conventional), or, more probable, the critical industry has recently underwent a massive atack of paranoia as a whole (in which case you should never trust anyone but yourself, brother).

P.P.S. Well, time to revisit my own conception again - on subsequent listens, I myself don't quite understand why I was so infuriatingly harsh on these performances because, well, they do rock whatever I might have said about the butcherings and massacres. At any rate, a 3 is way too low, because that would have to mean an 'offensive' album, and Run Devil Run is by no means more offensive than the DEFIANTLY offensive Flaming Pie which got a 4. So I'm raising the rating a couple points and acknowledge that some of the songs do rock hard, but in any case I still insist that the album has no lasting value whatsoever and still has far more 'functional' advantages to it than anything else.



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9

The old stuff is awesome, but the originals are, well, not thoroughly impressive.


Track listing: 1) Junk; 2) A Leaf; 3) Haymakers; 4) Midwife; 5) Spiral; 6) Warm And Beautiful; 7) My Love; 8) Maybe I'm Amazed; 9) Calico Skies; 10) Golden Earth Girl; 11) Somedays; 12) Tuesday; 13) She's My Baby; 14) The Lovely Linda.

I have been mostly staying away from Paul's classical work all these years - had a chance to buy Standing Stone cheap, but missed it intentionally, and hearing this album doesn't really make me want to regret my decision. It ain't just because I'm not a 'fan' of classical music or anything: I'm just not a big connoisseur of the classics, and I'd be hard pressed to describe a 'classical' record, especially written by a modern composer, not to mention a modern composer whose main specialty is not classical. Also, Paul McCartney is certainly no Frank Zappa: whereas Frank mostly got into 'classical' with his usual experimentalist purposes, trying to continue the avantgarde line of Varese and company, Paul mostly got into 'classical' with just the purpose of testing his forces in the genre. There's nothing 'avantgarde' about the compositions on this album - most of them are fairly traditionalist, and none break any new ground. The only difference from the two classical albums Paul had done earlier is thus the instrumental rearrangements of some of Paul's 'rock' material, and that's the main reason I actually bought this album: I suspected that the 'original' stuff would be dismissable, but the rearrangements could be interesting. And I was right.

There are three lengthy 'symphonies' here - entitled 'A Leaf', 'Spiral' and 'Tuesday' - and well, what can I say? As far as I can see, they're horrendously derivative of Russian symphonic music, especially the entire 'Leaf' and the first half of 'Spiral' which are almost ripped off of Tchaikowsky. I have not the slightest reason to go listen to these and skip the master, and, indeed, I don't recommend this to the fans at all. Yeah, just because it's McCartney, zillions of fans will rush out to buy it and then pretend it's great. Okay, maybe it's great, but if it's great, it's certainly not the fault of Paul himself. Not to mention that 'Tuesday' is, for the most part, abominable - tons of orchestral sap with an almost undistinguishable theme (sometimes I wonder if there is a theme). This is, in fact, pure 'mannerism' - he's going for a symphonic sound, but he's forgetting about substance. Just like he forgot about the substance while recording Flaming Pie, in amidst all the 'tremendous fan'; don't you think he's actually repeating himself? All in all, these tracks are enough for me to never bother about his previous two 'oratorios'.

Things, however, get much better when he ditches the London Symphony Orchestra and just presents his efforts to the 'Loma Mar Quartet' - a string quartet, right. The two 'originals', 'Haymakers' and 'Midwife', recorded with the quartet, are short, cute and gentle, especially the former. But the most interesting, for me, at least, are the 'remakes' of old McCartney classics. 'Junk' sounds truly awesome when performed by a string quartet - in fact, the result is so strikingly Vivaldi-esque that I'm seriously starting to consider the possibility of the tune being originally ripped off of some Eighteenth century, pre-Mozartian dude. Same goes for 'Maybe I'm Amazed' - the strings arrangement is majestic, and I have not the least doubt that adding a strings section to the original would have provided it even more grandeur and convincibility. The main problem is that these versions are so short you barely notice them in between the mastodontic orchestral 'sludge'. Maybe a good way would be to re-program the album, cutting it drastically short but also making it genuinely enjoyable.

Apart from that, Paul has a really strange selection of choices. Okay, 'My Love' is probably predictable, and this string quartet version might even be better than the regular version. But 'Warm And Beautiful'? That's easily the schlockiest tune on Speed Of Sound, and no strings are gonna save this one. 'She's My Baby'? Man! Why not 'Silly Love Songs' or 'Jet', then? Actually, the way the guys try to make their way through 'She's My Baby' is downright ridiculous - now here's one tune that's definitely untranslatable into classical, and yet, they try to make their best and fall flat on their face. And, of course, Paul never misses the chance to insert some reference to Flaming Pie: both 'Calico Skies' and 'Somedays' are reprised, and both of them are completely unremarkable (geez, they never had any melody in the first place, and what happens when you try to orchestrate a melody-less piece? Shit!). 'Golden Earth Girl' sounds fun, though, a bit sad and moody, and the decision to end the record with a one-minute snippet of 'The Lovely Linda' is perfectly understandable - after all, this is all mostly in memoriam.

In fact, I've been thinking: wouldn't it be nice for Paul to make this his last recorded effort? In that case, his solo career would be splendidly bookmarked - opening with 'Lovely Linda' on McCartney and closing with 'Lovely Linda' on WC. One could say that his entire solo output was recorded as some kind of loving tribute to his wife, then: what a great banner to be recording under... but I digress. Anyway, this record is not at all bad or anything, and the fact that Paul doesn't sing or doesn't try to rock out never makes it such a potential 'old man embarrassment' as Run Devil Run. Even so, recommended for the diehard only, and exclusively because of these nice little rearrangements. The original stuff is just another historic curio, nothing else.



Year Of Release: 2001
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11

Not only does Paul try some new tricks, the melodies are actually decent for a while!


Track listing: 1) Lonely Road (Nu Nu); 2) From A Lover To A Friend; 3) She Given Up Talking; 4) Driving Rain; 5) I Do; 6) Tiny Bubble; 7) It Must Have Been Magic; 8) Your Way; 9) Spinning On An Axis; 10) About You; 11) Heather; 12) Back In The Sunshine Again; 13) Loving Flame; 14) Riding Into Jaipur; 15) Rinse The Raindrops.

Now first of all let's get this one straight: this is not a great album, and though the distance from a 7 to an 8 (like the 8 I gave Off The Ground) might seem tiny and petty, in this particular case it's particularly strong. McCartney is still going through the motions. Occasionally he recycles his older melodies, occasionally he fails on the new ones. He doesn't sound particularly comfy about making the album, either, which is hardly a great work condition for Paul. He doesn't always gel with his backing band - no big surprise, since he hadn't met a single member of it (bar his own son James, of course) before the sessions. His voice cracks more often than you'd wish it. And I can only wonder at whether it is the beginning of a new ride or the end of the old one.

Even so, it's a HECK of a comeback after Flaming Pie and the forgettable gaffe of Run Devil Run, and thus, Paul's best record in nearly a decade. No doubt, he's been inspi... err, what's the word for it? "artistically moved", maybe? all this and more, anyway, by Linda's death, and as a result, Driving Rain is easily the most turmoiled and unstable record in Paul's entire career. Like I already said, Paul doesn't seem to work well under pressure; but when we actually come to think of it, Paul hasn't ever been under that much pressure. Between him and the rest of the Beatles, he's easily lived the easiest life of them all, with his little drug busts and all basically just minor incidents when compared to John's political and personal misfortunes, George's broken love, and even Ringo's alcoholism. So far, he'd always been making records in his tight cozy little shell; Driving Rain catches him with the shell broken, his personal life perturbed and his further existence in a very dim light. What's that lead to?

To his darkest and dreariest record ever. From the opening dark bass riff of 'Lonely Road' and right down to the chaotic paranoia of 'Rinse The Raindrops', there's a sense of deprivation, depression, confusion and self-questioning. And not just in the lyrics - when was the last time you heard the atmosphere of 'She Given Up Talking' on a McCartney record? There never was a time like that. And this atmospherics isn't just a toss-off: here, the Flaming Pie ideology of "just picking up a guitar and playing for fun" has been rejected - not as completely as I'd like it to be, since some of the songs do suffer from being underproduced (yeah, I like my Macca benefiting from all the benefits of complex production, what's wrong with that? That's his usual style!), but essentially it has. And yoohoo, all of a sudden the melodies actually appear - maybe in the process of fleshing out the complex arrangements. Not always, not everywhere, and I'd be hard pressed to find a 'Band On The Run' or 'Silly Love Songs' level classic on here, but the good thing is, more than half of the songs have something to offer.

He does repeat himself, of course. The pretty piano ballad 'From A Lover To Friend', for instance, blatantly borrows a few vocal moves from 'This One', but it doesn't prevent him from establishing a few independent vocal hooks again - as he ruminates over his current position and, obviously, uses the song as a subtle justification of his new passion ('from a lover to a friend, let me love again'?). The less memorable ballad 'I Do', on the other hand, borrows its hook from 'Pipes Of Peace'. I could probably go on (no immediate associations, but I'm pretty sure you could trace back further reminiscences), but then again, heck, it's like his twentieth album or something, and you're bound to start repeating yourself on your twentieth album even if you're the next David Bowie.

I won't even mention the forgettable tunes - there's quite a bunch of them, but there's also enough quality material to concentrate on it and disregard the filler. 'Lonely Road' is a great song, for instance, with ominous distorted guitars and that dark dark bass accompanying Paul as he gradually winds himself up to hysterical state, culminating in him shouting 'don't wanna, don't wanna walk that lonely road!' at the end. (Don't worry Paul, as of now, you're not lonely any more). 'She Given Up Talking' with its quasi-trip-hop beat is, of course, telling a spooky story about self-isolation in society, but for some reason, the more Paul chants 'she given up talking don't say a word', the more I get a creepy vision of the song actually dedicated to Linda's death, and the song's gloomy guitars, crashing robotic "soulless" drums and occasionally electronically encoded, sorrowful, but also consciously even and unnerving vocals make me shiver. Easily the most depressing composition the master has ever come up with, and quite Pink Floyd-worthy, if you axe me.

Minor highlights include the Flowers In The Dirt-style pop-rocker 'Tiny Bubble' (which would definitely have been recorded in a far more upbeat manner were it written ten years ago); the powerful 'It Must Have Been Magic' with a dramatically strong ELO-ish flavour - has Jeff Lynne been involved here or what?; the Paul and James McCartney collaboration 'Spinning On An Axis', a cute little rocker with enough whoa-whoas on it to satisfy your thirst for Macca falsetto; the charming artsy near-instrumental 'Heather'; and the sitar-heavy 'Riding Into Jaipur', not a particularly impressive song, but still it's kinda nice to hear Paul still trying something psychedelic-style as late as the twenty first century.

What comes out ABSOLUTELY unexpected is the closing epic - the ten-minute long jam 'Rinse The Raindrops'. Sure, McCartney had already entered jam mode once on Flaming Pie, but it was a senseless bore; 'Rinse The Raindrops' is a unique piece in his catalog, a lengthy celebration of confusion, anger, frustration and paranoia. The lead-in mad strumming of one distorted chord is worth the price of admission alone - but the track is entertaining throughout, as Paul keeps repeating the same verse in different tones and under different angles, while the backing band, for once, is allowed to roam mad as long as they do roam mad, while Paul, for the first time in years it seems, really takes to his bass and treats it as a natural wild beast. In a few spots, the song seems almost to fall apart, but every time the band manages to pick it up and then goes forward for another two minutes or so of desperation. It's a wonderful, experimental, brave and actually meaningful way to close the album.

Unless, of course, YOUR copy happens to have 'Freedom' as the last track on it. Thankfully, mine doesn't, so I don't have to deal with one of the most gruesome consequences of the crimes of Osama bin Laden. Now how does that chorus go? 'I will fight/For the right/To live in freedom?'. Ladies and gentlemen, please forget you ever heard the song, and if possible, wipe it from your Driving Rain CD. You might as well put 'Star Spangled Banner' at the end there, or the Hymn of the Soviet Union. Never mind, though; the McCartney of 'Freedom' is a thoroughly different McCartney from the McCartney of 'Rinse The Raindrops', which kinda consoles and comforts me. The only thing I'm worried about is that now, when he's married again, he'll never get another chance to produce something as unique as this. (Not that I'm calling on him to self-isolate himself or anything!)



Year Of Release: 2002
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 8


Best song: no comment.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Hello Goodbye; 2) Jet; 3) All My Loving; 4) Getting Better; 5) Coming Up; 6) Let Me Roll It; 7) Lonely Road; 8) Driving Rain; 9) Your Loving Flame; 10) Blackbird; 11) Every Night; 12) We Can Work It Out; 13) Mother Nature's Son; 14) Vanilla Sky; 15) Carry That Weight; 16) The Fool On The Hill; 17) Here Today; 18) Something.

CD II: 1) Eleanor Rigby; 2) Here There And Everywhere; 3) Band On The Run; 4) Back In The USSR; 5) Maybe I'm Amazed; 6) C Moon; 7) My Love; 8) Can't Buy Me Love; 9) Freedom; 10) Live And Let Die; 11) Let It Be; 12) Hey Jude; 13) The Long And Winding Road; 14) Lady Madonna; 15) I Saw Her Standing There; 16) Yesterday; 17) Sgt Pepper's.../The End.

And once again I'm forced to hand out a ridiculously low rating, not because of the actual quality of the songs (which mostly rank among the greatest ever written), and not because of the actual quality of the performances (which, while probably not among the greatest ever performed, are still fully competent and enjoyable), but because this is yet another goshdarned live album.

At least the practice used to make some sense. But this time around, Paul seems to be making one faux pas after another. Ironically, what was probably one of his most pleasant and inspired tours since the heyday of Wings in the mid-Seventies has been transferred into his ugliest live record so far. First and foremost, there was the ridiculous - in its vainness - decision to shift the songwriting order for all the old Beatles tunes, now credited to "McCartney & Lennon" instead of vice versa. Ridiculous by all accounts: if it was done for the money (although I'm not sure there even exists a rule that says the first guy in line gets the most royalties), well, just how much does the richest musician in the world actually need? And if it was done for "justice", can't there actually be a subtler way to make the public aware that yes, indeed, Paul McCartney and not John Lennon was the main composer for these tunes? And most importantly, isn't every stupid fuckin' asshole dumb enough to spend his paycheck on the sixth live album by Paul McCartney ALREADY AWARE OF THE REAL STATE OF THINGS?

Second. At the very least, on former live albums Paul was careful so as not to replicate the setlist too much. After the sprawl of Tripping, the one-CD Paul Is Live, essentially superfluous, at least tried to concentrate on songs that weren't played on the 1990 tour. But apparently, now that we've had ourselves a whole event-filled decade without a Paul McCartney live album, it was decided that all the previous ones must have been forgotten (although how could they when they're still in print?), and for this current sprawl, also located on two hour-long CDs, all such worries have been put aside. Thus, apart from the small bunch of new songs that couldn't have been available in live versions previously, the number of live tunes that you haven't already heard in at least one, let alone two or three, different versions can be counted on the fingers of one hand. In fact, I think I'll do it right now:

a) 'Hello Goodbye' - now functioning as the show opener, actually, quite a natural and sympathetic choice; b) 'Getting Better' - another obvious choice for a live performance, kinda weird that Paul hadn't thought about using it to kick up the audience's spirits before; c) 'Mother Nature's Son' - good addition to the solo acoustic set; d) 'C Moon' - the live version slightly differs from the original by emphasizing its reggae-ish roots (I think Paul even adlibs 'take me to Jamaica' or something like that in between verses). Apart from that, Paul also sings a little tribute to the recently deceased George ('Something', made out of Paul's singing and rudimentary ukulele playing - truly horrible and amateurish were this not a special occasion, but supposedly the sloppiness was intentional to make it look more spontaneous and heartfelt), and, since it'd be rather impolite to honour George but not John, remembers the latter in 'Here Today'. (We will leave open the question of how this accords with the credits-shifting initiative for now). Which makes it six songs. Okay, let's pretend I have six fingers on my hand and in that case, my assumption stands.

Everything else is predictable to a tee, from single hits to album numbers you all know. Song after song, without even a single bit of banter in between the tunes; same old gimmicks ('you were great and you were great and you and you and you were great and you were all great although I can't really say what makes you any greater than you or you any greater than you but at least you'll go home and spend the rest of your life telling other people that Paul McCartney told you you were great and if Paul McCartney told you you were great then you must have been really fuckin' great so everybody get out of my way' for 'Hey Jude', etc.); same attitude; same energy level. The band is actually different: Paul has once again rotated his cadres, retaining only Paul Wickens, but, as usual, never gives anybody a chance to truly shine. Only guitarist Rusty Anderson tries to somehow establish himself by daring to not always play all the solos note-for-note the way they're supposed to be, but I wouldn't say he actually improves anything that way, if you get my drift.

The few tunes from Driving Rain are also predictable - MTV hits like 'Lonely Road' and emotional ballads like 'Your Loving Flame'; I would have loved to hear him drop something as morose as 'She Given Up Talking' or as weird as 'Rinse The Raindrops' onto the unsuspecting crowd, but alas, in this kind of setting Paul always plays it safe. So safe, in fact, that he dares to make the jingoistic 'Freedom' into one of the show's centerpieces - and there's no escaping it for me now. Add to this the Great Patriotic Shot of The Man waving the stars 'n' stripes in the middle of the booklet (ironically overstrewn with a Detroit News quotation saying 'McCartney's concert drives home his legendary status' - home? HOME? YOUR HOME'S IN LIVERPOOL, YOU GUTLESS RENEGADE!), and for the first time since the worst memories of Press To Play, I feel like indulging the lowest concupiscences of my digestion system. Then again, it's not like I expected otherwise. If Paul McCartney can walk into the Kremlin and have an earnest, serious, idealistic discussion about the evil caused by land mines with President Putin, what is it that can make him less naive and unsuspecting in the face of the American administration? It's not like he ever was an avid news reader in the first place.

You gotta keep in mind - I only listened to this record once. Maybe if I spent a long time comparing it with Macca's other live albums, I could tell you there's a dramatic difference in quality or something. If anything, I should be biased towards this tour, as I had the luck to catch Paul's epochal show in Red Square the following year (where he did not perform 'Freedom' - but gave out two performances of 'Back In The USSR' which totally rocked down the Mausoleum!). But remember, being there is one thing, and witnessing something you weren't involved in yourself is another; thus, do not accuse me of hypocrisy if you happen to read the positively glowing review of the show below and compare it with the positively sour review of the live album.

I do guess I am somewhat wrong about being so furious: after all, Back In The U.S. is essentially little more than an innocent souvenir to all those who did catch his current tour and wanted to have some material memory of it. From that point of view, I suppose it is more or less adequate, just as it is adequate from the point of view of anyone who has never heard the Beatles or Paul live in any other way. If you happen to be a newly converted fan; if, in fact, you're something like 14 years old and accidentally switched to McCartney from Christina Aguilera, go out and grab this, fast. But in my world, as hard as it may be to believe, there can be much better and bigger things than evaluating yet another live album from a person whose main strength, charm, and hypnotic power lies anywhere but in live albums.



Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12

If the magic touch is so much more evident with the piano, let him stick to piano, I say.


Track listing: 1) Fine Line; 2) How Kind Of You; 3) Jenny Wren; 4) At The Mercy; 5) Friends To Go; 6) English Tea; 7) Too Much Rain; 8) Certain Softness; 9) Riding To Vanity Fair; 10) Follow Me; 11) Promise To You Girl; 12) This Never Happened Before; 13) Anyway.

The more I listen to these recent albums, the more I'm convinced that there are two Paul McCartneys on the planet, having little, if anything, to do with each other. There's McCartney the Public Figure, a fairly unconvincing, phoney-looking multi-millionnaire displaying a rare lack of intuition in publicly presenting anti-land-mine petitions to president Putin and pushing a barely-living, miserable-looking imitation of a happy Sixties vibe on life support with the zillionth live broadcast of 'Hey Jude' from some zillionth charity show. That doesn't mean that his concerts aren't a gas - they are, once you really get to the heart of it - but it is true, in my eyes at least, that the more public he gets in his 'elder statesman' persona, the more obnoxious he actually becomes.

All of this, however, has nothing to do with McCartney the Self-Sustained Artist. Well, okay, occasionally the Public Figure gets delusions of grandeur and thinks it can take over the Artist, which may result in a musical turd like 'Freedom', but these days, I'm happy to say, such contaminations are kept to a minimum, and on Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, an album titled by putting together lyrical bits from two of the actual songs, they are downright nonexistent. This is Paul's third seriously personal album in a row, and this time he really means business.

Two technical details are of great importance. First, this is his third attempt at writing and recording an album all by himself, following in the footsteps of the 1970 and 1980 albums. Whoever and whatever inspired this decision, it is clear that if you really wanna go introspective to the max, this is clearly the way to go. I'm not saying that the full band sound was an impediment on Flaming Pie and Driving Rain; on the other hand, those two albums looked like Paul could easily do without a full-fledged rhythm section or an experienced guitarist at his side. It is only logical that third time around, he dismissed the band altogether and switched the vibe from "driving" to silky-soft.

Second, no regular players, but an outside producer: Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame. Now don't worry, all the "McCartney Meets Radiohead" rumours about this album are completely false. Nothing here sounds like Radiohead. However, if you take the connection broadly, in the "adding extra acoustic layers and sound depth" department, you might have something there. Radiohead or no Radiohead, the McCartney-Godrich pairing is a one-of-a-kind combination, and it did produce a one-of-a-kind album. Certainly no other McCartney album has ever sounded quite like this.

If I were to use one word, I would describe C&C as Macca's humming album. Until now, Paul never really made 'atmospherics' a focal point; any moodiness or other emotional impact you might have experienced were for the most part encoded right there, within the melody. This time, something is different. The melodies are there all right: most of them, odd enough, are strictly piano-based, which is probably explained by the fact that, when alone, it's easier for Paul to channel his creativity into keyboard practice rather than guitar. But on top of the melodies, there's always something seriously backgroundish, hooing and whooing (and sometimes, mooing) right into your ear. Might be choirlike vocal harmonies; might be strings; might be some kind of electronic noise or whatever Godrich likes to get rolling out there when he's putting the final touches on Thom Yorke's next chef-d'oeuvre.

At first, this is distracting; the backgrounds seem to clash with the melodies and, honestly speaking, leave me confused. The initial impression is that Paul, for the first time in his life, has made a conscious decision to throw away the fluffy Beatlish (or, as is the case of Flaming Pie, "faux-Beatlish") hooks and release a pop album not-for-the-masses. Something that would firmly describe him as a living, breathing, thinking, feeling human being and not as a pop hook automaton, especially now that he's somehow earned the right to be all this after delivering ten times as many pop hooks as all those trendy indie nerdy hip guys with funny haircuts have in the past two decades. Also his work in the classical music (muzak?) department might have triggered this change.

That did not really disappoint me by itself, but I was a bit concerned about whether Paul would be able to pull it off. After all, this is clearly a new, experimental approach, and not all of his experimentalism had paid off in the past. But the more I listened, the better it got. The hooks were there all along, you just had to unwrap them from their moody wrapping paper, check them for safety and then, with a sigh of relief, wrap them back in the glossy paper again. Yes, they're squishy and they're often tired. But everybody will sound tired upon reaching 62 (and I do mean everybody, Neil Young and Mick Jagger included); the important thing is to turn your being tired to your advantage, and I must say Paul is doing a great job of that on C&C.

And the piano is fine. Odd enough, my least favourite song on the album is the only one that's almost exclusively guitar-dominated, the acoustic balladry of 'Jenny Wren'. It doesn't exactly sound out of place, but it's a very obvious and very predictable piece of uninspired nostalgia. Listen to these chords and you'll hear traces of 'Blackbird', 'Mother Nature's Son', 'Mama's Little Girl', and even, oh sweet Jesus, 'Yesterday' (the little rising pattern at 0:53 into the song and then later). I honestly do not like it when Paul does this. Rehashing yourself is all right when you're, say, Ray Davies - he's done it so many times and from such an early time you'd swear it was included in his original contract with the Muses - but Paul, for me, was always above this, and now he isn't. So maybe it's a good thing he mostly sticks to the piano these days - for some reason, I don't hear as many recycled piano chords on these songs as I do on the album's lone guitar track.

Actually, if you thought the entire album was slow, moody, introspective, and hard to take in one sitting, that's not quite true. Perfectly radio-friendly material on here includes 'Fine Line', a catchy, driving pop single fueled by the kind of madly effective and almost offensively simplistic piano hooks that we all know from the likes of 'Let 'Em In' - and provided with lyrics that may or may not be political but in any case are a huge improvement over 'Freedom'. Considering that none of the other songs have any anthemic feel at all, I would doubt there's any hidden political/social agenda in 'Fine Line': "there is a long way, between chaos and creation if you don't say which one of these you're gonna choose" may be deeply personal as well. After all, it's Paul's creation and Paul's chaos we're here to witness.

Another upbeat pop song is 'Promise To You Girl', which starts out in classic McCartney deceptive fashion and then suddenly becomes the album's catchiest melody, one that is worth the entire Flaming Pie effort if you ask me. Slight, fluffy, silly, and yet bookmarked by a markedly sad 'looking through the backyard of my life/time to sweep the fallen leaves away' statement. A little reminiscent in spirit and structure (but certainly not in the actual melody) to 'You Never Give Me Your Money', if you ask me.

The rest is simply a collection of the most calm, collected, and, if that word really applies, philosophical pieces of music Paul has ever produced. Occasionally he even seems to be writing for the sake of putting the cart before the horse, that is, the lyrics before the music. 'Riding To Vanity Fair', for instance, is a long rumination on the nature of friendship (which most people naturally think is about Paul's relations with John - but wouldn't it be a bit too unsensitive on Paul's part to write lyrics like 'And I was open to friendship / But you didn't seem to have any to spare / When you were riding to Vanity Fair' if he were really addressing that to his old pal's memory? I mean, it'd be okay for the early 70s when the two boys made a hobby of assassinating each other in their songs, but jeez, he's dead now, and...?). Yet the vocal melody is still memorable, and the arrangement - with the strings gradually rising up and down and the lonely chime going tink-tink at the top of each wave, as if some kind of steady "riding" was really involved - is truly hypnotizing. Yes, it's different, but it's good.

Every now and then the music is suspended halfway between "song" and "atmospheric noise", but it all comes off naturally and with purpose. 'How Kind Of You' is probably about Heather but while the lyrics are generic in a 'thank you for the music' kind of way, the mood is sad, if not desperate, with grim minor key piano patterns and mourning-style vocal harmonies (okay, I sort of take my words back - I think the coda to the song would have made a fine piece for Radiohead). 'Follow Me' is awash in strings which are almost in discordance with the vocals, but once you learn to place the vocals in your left ear and the strings in your right, the left ear will happily sing along to the hooks and the right one will acknowledge that some of Paul's "working classical" has actually paid off.

Speaking of favourites, it's really hard to pick one. The easiest way would be to go along with 'Fine Line', but the album's not really about 'Fine Line', and everything else is frustratingly even, with the unhappy exception of 'Jenny Wren' (which, on the other hand, is okay too if you're ecologically minded and have nothing against recycling). Today, at this particular hour and minute, I happen to be most touched with 'Too Much Rain', because of the utter beauty of the 'too much for anyone' chorus. A few hours ago, I was mostly under the impression of 'English Tea', a little exercise in string-quartetting and piano playing that does not sound like 'Yesterday' at all; rather, it's "working classical" again coupled with a newly-found national identity (maybe good old Ray happened to pass by Sir Paul's window on one particular morning). Maybe a great way to get the difference between the 'old' Macca and the new one would be to play that song back-to-back with 'Heart Of The Country' - and draw your conclusions.

Another definite flashback is the 'hidden track' which emerges a minute after the final notes of 'Anyway' (which is, by the way, a pretty touching little thing as well - despite all the accusations about Paul shamelessly stealing the melody from Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready'; it's not the melody that counts as it is the vibe, which is pure Paul and zero Curtis). The flashback in question is just the sort of mumbled-jumbled instrumental, combining interesting and boring ideas, that you had plenty of on Paul's first album as well as during the microscopic 'links' on Wild Life. But if anything, it's yet another deception, because Chaos & Creation, unlike McCartney, is never half-baked - it's a complete, self-sufficient effort where all the songs will easily stand on their own if taken individually. In a way, you could say that third time's the charm, even if Godrich's presence is sort of a cheat.

And if you miss 'Junior's Farm' or 'Beware My Love' - well, go get them! I can't say I'm glad that this album doesn't rock, but it would be the last thing on my mind to condemn it for a lack of energy (which it does lack). After all, it's supposed to be an old man's reflections on love, friendship, loss, rebirth, childhood, and maturation. How else would you go around all these things? Yes, maybe a little more diversity couldn't hurt, and maybe Driving Rain was a bit more sharp and jagged - and certainly much more dark and disturbed - but that was an album of a man on the brink of despair, and this is an album by a man who's somehow found the light again. Could have been a disaster, but, with the help of Godrich and a host of supernatural forces, is, on the contrary, a minor triumph.



Year Of Release: 1977

An essential album to own if you're an amateur, and even more essential if you're a fan. Amateurs will certainly dig it cuz it has all the radio standards - 'Band On The Run' is here, and 'Jet', and 'With A Little Luck', and 'Let 'Em In', and 'My Love', and, last but not least, 'Silly Love Songs'. It even features one pre-Wings track - 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey' from Ram, which makes the album's title look somewhat suspicious. I regret the exclusion of a terrible lot of tracks that really showcase Macca so much more than these excellent, but commercial hits, but what can you do? It's a financial world we're living in... Obviously, it's compilations like that that make people at the worst write off Paul's career as stupid pop crap, and at the best say that 'oh, he writes memorable tunes, but they're shallow and insubstantial'. Go buy Red Rose Speedway and we'll see what's unsubstantial.

Fans will also want to get this record for the multiple hit singles that didn't make it onto the original LP's (some of these are now added as bonus tracks to original releases, but some still aren't available elsewhere). These include his first solid solo effort ('Another Day', so mercilessly thrashed by Lennon in 'How Do You Sleep'); the notorious James Bond half-instrumental ('Live And Let Die'); the raunchy drug anthem 'Hi Hi Hi', banned on radiostations; and the maturest of all, the song that redeems all the lightweight material on here - 1974's 'Junior's Farm', a psycho rocker much in the Band On The Run style. Plus there's yet another Brit anthem of the London Town era - the pseudo-folk chant 'Mull Of Kintyre' with an obsidious but memorable refrain. So, this record really runs the gamut from non-serious pop ditties to clever and significant psycho-rock. Unfortunately, people prefer to concentrate on the first and forget about the second. The great power of Mr Bias, no doubt.



Year Of Release: 1986

A nice, hour-long interview with Paul including extracts from clips and live performances. The banter is mostly useless, even if it does shed some light on Paul's solo career, like his intricating relationships with other band members and stuff. But the musical stuff is for the most part extremely entertaining. Even the footage of Paul recording 'Press' in the studio (the video was probably used as promotional for Press To Play) is interesting, and you know how much I hate that album. The snatches of live Wings' performances are the real highlights ('Wild Life', 'Hi Hi Hi', 'Maybe I'm Amazed' and 'Jet' are terrific, and even the sugary 'My Love' is almost spectacular), plus you'll have a glimpse of how 'cool' (ahem) Paul looks in conventional dress while playing 'Goodnight Tonight', enjoy his solo acoustic performance of 'Peggy Sue', and have some fun at the videos of 'Helen Wheels' and 'Waterfalls'. Footage from the Tug Of War sessions shows us the last period of time when Paul still did look young, because the extracts from the Prince's Gala in 1986, where he gets to perform 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Long Tall Sally', aren't that inspiring. That's when his voice begins to fail him, you know. But, since the majority of the numbers comes from his pre-lousy period, it's still a hell of a video. Look for it cheap.



Year Of Release: 1989

This one's significantly worse: it concentrates on the making of Flowers In The Dirt and, besides the obligatory banter, all you get is footage from the sessions (a lot of it, though). So if you liked the album, you'll probably want to get the video, too. It has one major point: you get a chance to dig down into the peculiarities of Paul's working process, since most of the songs are 'explained' before they are launched. Fans of Elvis Costello will also rob to get this, because he's featured on 'My Brave Face' (even though briefly). The major surprise in the track selection is 'C Moon' (a very old single, actually, it was the B-side to 'Hi Hi Hi'), performed quite well. Paul's band is highly professional, but you know that from the albums already. What else? Nothing.



Year Of Release: 1993

The latest tour. This is the video companion to Paul Is Live, so I'm not gonna discuss it here. Recommended for the hugest fans only, because for me, Paul isn't a really huge attraction live. He does inflame the audience, but somehow it just doesn't get on through the VCR. The most interesting part is the film accompanying the tour: a fifteen-minute collage of various footage (Paul live, Paul at home, Paul's history, and Paul's latest Greenpeace obsession, all set to various Beatles and McCartney solo music). But it's too short and too derivative to be a good target for money-spending. As for the concert itself - you decide. The playing is good, but I don't enjoy looking at the faces of Paul's backup bands. And they do appear there a lot.



May 24th, 2003, Moscow, Red Square. Needless to say, Paul's concert out there was a major historical event in the first place, and a "good time event" in the second. To be honest, he could have easily given that concert ten (if not fifteen) years earlier - apparently, this never happened due to financial and organisational reasons, and we had to wait for the man to turn 60 to see him in person against the St Basil background. But even now, it was the first activity in my life which I had the "honour" of sharing with the President of the Russian Federation. Should I really feel honoured? Errh...

...well, before this turns into a big political discourse, let's switch back to what actually happened. Since this was a major-mega-event, you can imagine ticket prices for the front (seated) rows - I had to satisfy myself with a standing ticket, although I was still much luckier than the majority of those present. Well, at least I could actually see the tiny little Paul in his red T-shirt with the obligatory "no more land mines" on it running around the stage, although most of the time I preferred looking on the big screens anyway. On the other hand, the sound was perfect, easily the best I've heard so far on any concert, be it the huge Rolling Stones show or the tiny Jethro Tull one. Apart from moments where a particularly familiar Beatles song would come on and the crowd started singing along, the voice was perfectly audible, and so was every single instrument.

The show began with Paul's latest invention - sort of a "round-the-world-fancy-dress-ball" with lots and lots and lots of "characters" passing round the stage, presumably to emphasize Paul's worldwide importance - which was extremely colourful and just as excruciatingly boring, but then again, maybe that was the point, because just as I (and everyone around me) felt I could take it no more, out he comes, Hoffner in hand, and rips into 'Hello Goodbye'. The rest is history...

Let's say this: I may rip Paul's live albums to pieces, but a live album and an actual live performance are like two worlds apart. When listening to a live album with a critical ear, you're spotting every mistake, every vocal breakdown, and only waiting for the next one to write something scathing and insulting. And serves the artist right, I guess, because in Paul's case at least, live albums are nothing more than either an extra means to make some money or another PR trick, like the whole "McCartney/Lennon" shenanigan around Back In The US. But when you're actually listening to the very same, or to an absolutely similar, performance that's happening right before you, in the here and now, you don't see mistakes - you could care less about them. What you feel is the energy and the passion and the excitement of the crowd and the massiveness of the sound. And I've felt all that. And it was cool.

Granted, I did feel a wee bit bored towards the end of his lengthy acoustic/solo section. After the first few crowd-rocking pleasers, like 'Jet' and 'All My Loving' and 'Let Me Roll It', had died down, and Paul had proudly announced that "we have come here to rock Red Square!", he put his band to rest, took out the acoustic and started going the 'Blackbird'/'We Can Work It Out' route, which was fine but eventually - for me - became a bit too draggy.

However, when the band returned and they launched into 'Band On The Run', that's where the real ecstasy began. Isn't 'Band On The Run', like, the ultimate arena-rock number? It's just totally crushing, and Paul strained his voice to the max in all the right places. And then, no sooner had the final chords died down that he started 'Back In The USSR', and that, of course, heh heh, was when the lid blew off the kettle. To be frank, the crowd I've been in was extremely cool - nobody pressed and pushed around, everybody was having fun and managed to have it not at the expense of his/her neighbour. If anything, McCartney is great because he attracts great crowds. People of every age imaginable (well, I didn't see any babies, but you gotta understand, it is still not in the Russian tradition to bring babies to huge events), and all of them seemingly nice and friendly and intelligent. Well, almost all of them, but I feel I'm getting off topic again.

The moment of Paul singing 'Back In The USSR' on Red Square (and he did it twice - one more time "by special request", as he said, in the encore!) has, of course, entered history already, but the funny thing is, when I saw little bits of it in news footage later, it seemed so puny and small compared to what I have experienced back there - when you couldn't actually hear the words because 20,000 people were singing along, 20,000 Russian people, many of which probably learned English because of this one guy (well, him and several others)! The inner snob in me, of course, keeps sneering and whispering elitist arrogance into my ear, but this is one of these moments when the inner snob should simply fuck off.

In between songs Paul tried speaking Russian, forced his band to speak Russian, and cracked an occasional pre-rehearsed joke or two. The band was good, but I somehow wish Paul didn't change his colleagues so often - as soon as I adjust to his entourage, he fires it and gets a different set of ugly mugs. The drummer, who must be weighing twice as much as my entire family put together, was pretty cool (although nobody plays the 'The End' drum solo better than Ringo does!), and Rusty Anderson did a great job on guitar; his soloing on 'My Love' and 'Maybe I'm Amazed' was almost immaculate (almost, because these are the songs where you can't change one note in the guitar solo without ruining it).

I even fell under the spell of the final run of crowd-pleasers - even the audience interaction bit on 'Hey Jude' is exciting and involving when you get to witness it (and participate in it) yourself instead of seeing it on tape or hearing it on record. And when Paul finally left the stage after almost three hours of playing, satisfaction was guaranteed for all, I guess.

You could always argue that theoretically, a Paul McCartney show can't be all that great. Come on, even the Beatles themselves weren't the best live band in the world, and this is one fourth part of the Beatles. Come on, he just plays the songs the way they are. Come on, his backing bands are always interchangeable. Come on, the setlist is so painfully predictable it's almost laughable (although he did do 'She's Leaving Home', which even I couldn't have expected!). This is all true - when you're dealing with a McCartney live album. But being present at a McCartney live show transcends all that. It's like hearing the best music in the world - Beatles music - all around you, inside, outside, coming from the stage, spreading all over a huge area from a multitude of speakers, reverberating and coming back onstage being "given back" by thousands of people, all of them beyond themselves of happiness. It's a religious experience with no actual religion involved. And it's definitely real, no matter how old it is. I had my doubts - serious doubts - when I was heading towards the big meeting place. The moment 'Hello Goodbye' started, all the doubts happily jumped out of the window. And it's a day I'll definitely be proud to remember.

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