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Monday, 31 August 2009

THE MUSIC NEVER REALLY DIED PART TWO

Back in November I posted the first part of a series of articles, entitled The Music Never Really Died - the idea was to look at the solo work of all four Beatles from a fan perspective. That first article looked at Paul McCartney from the split with The Beatles up to the album London Town. And so now, with the issue of the Beatle remasters imminent, seems a good time to pick up with part two.

Wings final album was Back to the Egg - it wasn't intended as a final album for the group but when touring the album later that year, Paul was busted in Japan with a considerable amount of wacky baccy in his luggage. Paul did some jail time and the band fizzled out - apart from one or two tracks Back to the Egg is not a particularly strong album but there are brief flashes of the old genius -Baby's Request drips with echoes of Peppers and Getting Closer does manage to rock. But overall the album is understated like much of Wings material. However the band did produce several classic albums - Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Red Rose Speedway and the excellent Ram. The latter of course credited to Paul and Linda McCartney.

The next decade would see Paul's lost period, in which he flirted (disastrously) with disco, opened himself up for ridicule (The Frog Chorus) and produced one of the most dire rock movies of all time with Give My Regards to Broad Street. But he continued to work and there are many unknown gems on some of the albums from this period. Press to Play is, to my mind, a unknown masterpiece and both Flowers in the Dirt and Flaming Pie are great albums.

Macca's first post Wings album was - McCartney II

It was intended to be a home-grown affair, much like his first solo album McCartney, with Paul playing the majority of the instruments. But where McCartney had a certain earthy charm, was of its time and contained a couple of all time greats - Every Day and Maybe I Amazed. This album was curiously disjointed and has an over reliance on electronic noise. Still Dark Room, Waterfalls and One of these Days are beautiful and the poppy Coming Up was a huge hit. The album also contain the throwaway Temporary Secretary which has become something of a cult hit in recent years in its remastered dance version. As usual the critics were not very kind and even hardcore fans found little of the old Paul McCartney here.

Tug of War followed, two sides of perfectly polished pop but unfortunately lacking any real edge. The title track was brilliant, as was The Pound is Sinking and the heartfelt Lennon tribute, Here Today. But the disco flirtations really don't help and added further fuel for the Macca detractors who claimed he was always wimpy and that it was Lennon who had made the Beatles. But although not my favourite album there are sublime moments, such as the power ballad Wanderlust and the twee, Somebody who Cares. The album also included the embarrassing Ebony and Ivory.

Pipes of Peace follows and although the title track was a pleasing enough mellow pop track, there is little else on the album to please. And McCartney's two songs with Michael Jackson have their fans but was this really the man who had rocked through Helter Skelter and Oh Darling?

Give my regards to Broad Street followed in 1984 and went platinum in the UK and gold in the US. The track listing, made up of old Beatle and Wings classics and one or two new numbers were excellent. There's even a better version of Silly Love Songs on here than the original recording. The film it accompanied may have been a mistake but the album was a return to form with Paul revisiting his Beatle past.

Press to play came in 1986 and went gold in the UK but failed to do much in the US. Even firm Macca fans have trouble with this album but it is a vastly misunderstood masterpiece and almost as inventive as The White Album. McCartney steps out of his comfort zone and gives us a track listing of experimental rock with hardly a glitch. Good Times Coming, Stranglehold, Talk more Talk and Pretty Little Head rock with the best of them. Footsteps and Only Love Remains are super cool epic ballads and Macca goes all punk on Angry.

"What the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do with my life..."

The next studio album was Flowers in the Dirt and boy, was Macca on a roll now. Every track, with the possible exception of We Got Married, are excellent. The collaborations with Elvis Costello, particularly You Want her Too, gave Macca some of the edge he had been missing since his days with Lennon. The album went platinum in the UK and just about everywhere else.

Off the Ground followed and scored another hit worldwide but it had none of the inventiveness of Flowers in the Dirt and tracks like Biker like an Icon are awful. There are some great moments though - the eco rock of Off The Ground and Changes and the awesome ballad Wine Dark Open sea.

Macca didn't give us another studio album until 1987 with the excellent Flaming Pie. Mind you he had been busy over recent years, what with starting touring again and working on the long gestating Beatles Anthology. To promote the album Macca held an online chat which entered the Guiness Book of Record for the most people online in a single chat room at once. It is a uniformly excellent album, sold really well and contains several McCartney classics. Used to be Bad is awesome as is Really Love you.

Run Devil Run followed which was an album of largely rock and roll covers all performed with McCartney's excellent driving rock tones. The new tracks on the album were also recorded to sound like 1958 rock and roll. It's a great party album.

The next studio album, Driving Rain splits fans down the middle. It was recorded quickly with none of the care put into Flaming Pie but it has a raw quality that grows on you. Course Paul's songwriting here is not up to his usual standards and several songs, including the title track are throwaways. It was released to strong reviews but sales were at an all time low - maybe it was the lack of a single to push it. There are some excellent tracks - Macca sounds raw on Lonely Road, a song dealing with his loss of Linda and Rinse the Raindrops is a fine example of Macca's talent - the song changes key several times and McCartney sings with a voice as rough as sandpaper.

Course it was during this period that Macca met and eventually married that one legged bird. That ended in a bitter divorce, leaving Heather hopping mad and Macca retreated to the studio to lick his wounds. The resulting album was his strongest for years.

Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard is the most personal album McCartney has ever recorded - the exceptional Riding to Vanity Fair is a bitter tirade against shallowness and its target seemed to be the errant Heather or, as the press had dubbed her, Lady Mucca. Each track on the album flows into the next and there's not a bad number on this album. Excellent stuff. Each track is a stand out in itself.

Memory Almost Full followed and although it's a great album it doesn't hit the heights of Chaos and Creation. There are references to the past in several songs, That was me, Vintage Clothes and Ever Present Past and there are a couple of the no-nonsense rockers that McCartney does so well - Dance Tonight and Nod your Head. Only Mama Said and Mr Bellamy are stand out tracks and the stark The End of the End sees McCartney questioning his own mortality much as he had done in the Flowers in the Dirt track, That Day is Done.
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Now I haven't mentioned the first two Fireman albums merely because they can not be considered McCartney albums proper but the third Fireman album, Electric Arguments is very much a McCartney album and it's also his best since Band on the Run. The album starts off rocking and continues that way until the final groove and the Fireman pseudonym is redundant here. Where the previous two albums had been experimental electronic doodlings, Electric Arguments is filled with songs with traditional structures. McCartney's reworking of an old blues classic, Light from your Lighthouse is as contagious as swine flu and Highway rocks like it's 1969 again. Acclaim was universal for the album and it is among McCartney's best work.

One day historians will look back on McCartney's entire body of work and evaluate it in the context of itself rather than as an adjunct to the greatest romance of the 20th century. And then and only then will McCartney stop being dismissed as the soppy one and his true worth be realised by the multitudes. It's already common knowledge to those in the know.

To sum up McCartney was never going to top his work in the Beatles - how could he? That was and remains the greatest body of work in rock music history. But where lesser artists would have faded away into obscurity after the Beatles, Macca stayed out in the forefront...he's still there now... and long may he remain so.

4 comments:

Laurie Powers said...

Fantastic post. Learned a lot about McCartney. He was my Beatles crush when I was a kid but then I kind of dismissed him after they broke up. This helped fill in the gaps in my McCartney knowledge.

Richard Prosch said...

I've always been on the McCartney side. "Flowers in the Dirt," "Chaos and Creation," two of my favorite albums of all time with other PM works ("Band on the Run") close on the heels. What do you think of "Veronica," with Elvis Costello?

ARCHAVIST said...

Richard - I liked Veronica very much

John Sinclair said...

When I was in college in the late 70s, McCartney turned up at the student union in a van and asked if he could play.. the bastards said NO!!!!!!!!!! Huh! THEY were not into that kind of bourgeois music, man!
Funnily enough, one of the asswi...- dickbrai.....MORONS had a black eye the next day. Nothing to do with me. Honest guv.

Seen him three times (all three times in the old, long-gone and much lamented Capitol oddly) and he's always been on top form. Didn't go this last weekend because of high ticket prices and I resent paying that much to sit in a field a hundred yards away from him (my criterion for going or not going to concerts hinges on whether or not you'd spend the evening watching the screens rather than the artist).
I actually saw him pushing a pram down the front at Hove a few years ago but left him alone... he just looked so happy... ;)
Great man. Under-apreciated currently. When he finally offs his clogs the tributes will be fulsone and much too late.