More Paul McCartney

"CHOBA B CCCP"(1988) by Paul McCartney 
Where McCartney goes back to Hamburg (spiritually) and tries to catch that flame that sparkled and inspired him decades ago. I get a serious feeling that he must have been a bit tired of radio-friendly pop music that industry demanded and chart success being elusive (even for an old cat like himself, who certainly knew highs and lows of the business) so this album was kind of reminder of what he loved about the music in the first place. 

Its all Rock'n'Roll covers and while in all honesty it doesn't bring anything new to them, you can feel McCartney enthusiasm and love for this music. Surely Lennon did it famously before and yes, guys have been playing this kind of music probably way back in Liverpool so these versions are pretty close to originals. You would be pressed hard to find anything remotely unusual or creative about these interpretations - its fine, professional, he sings it like he means it and at the end of the day its just another cover album that probably wouldn't even have been remembered if not for the fact that McCartney did it. From what I can understand it wasn't even meant to be internationally released. If this have been released as true Russian release back in 1960s it would have completely different effect, of course.

"Flowers In The Dirt"(1989) by Paul McCartney 
McCartney's collaboration with ubiquitous Elvis Costello, but I don't really hear Costello in here at all.
Contemporary reviews were very favorable and everybody was praising him, though honestly this is the first time I labored trough McCartney's album (or perhaps the trend started previously with "Press to play") because where earlier music just poured out of him, this time it feels artificial and endlessly polished to the point where there is nothing left from that wonderful spontaneity that was just so right and natural. Besides hit single "My Brave Face" and unexpectedly lovely "Distractions", the rest is one over-long, over-produced collection that seems to drag on forever and never ends. I would probably not even bother with listening the whole album if its not for the fact this is Paul McCartney, so I gave him a proper chance (or two) but I don't hear anything interesting here and it just meanders without focus.

"Tripping The Live Fantastic" (1990)
"Bon Soir, Paris!" greets slightly hoarse and excited McCartney his enthusiastic audience - it was a very successful world tour and it kept the old boy not only busy, but also showered with adulations and awards (Guiness record for largest concert audience, I believe). He might have been perceived as superficial one, but he was darn the most successful of all ex-Beatles. 

Its no so much different from previous live album ("Wings Over America") recorded some fourteen years ago, except that technically and production-wise this time everything is more bombastic and carried away with adrenalin, McCartney sounds seriously hoarser than ever. As back than, its also clear than his solo material seriously pales when compared to glory of totemic 1960s material: no matter how hard he tries to present his newest songs (from "Flowers In The Dirt") nothing really counts until Lennon/McCartney songs come along and than real celebration begins. Yes, he had some truly big hit as solo artist but he also had hard task to always be compared to his younger self - just listen to audience roar as "The Long And Winding Road" begins and you understand that McCartney knows this business. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" actually sounds great in the concept of stadium arena - all blistering guitars and thundering refrains, same for most of classic Beatles repoertoire. I dare anybody not to at least tap the foot upon hearing "Can't Buy Me Love" or "I Saw Her Standing There" - basically its all great fun, but you can easily skip McCartney solo work and just focus on Beatles jukebox. 

"Liverpool Oratorio" (1991)
Contrary to classical music snobs who are always dismissive towards anybody else attempting to even glimpse in their precious sphere (and are highly critical even amongst themselves about merits of classically trained artists) I have no problems with artists crossing over to different genres: its refreshing to hear people doing something outside of the box. Strangely enough, it seems that classical artists doing other music fare much better than the other way around. Everybody takes a risk, classical artists usually being accused of selling out, pop artists getting criticized for being too pretentious. All the hell breaks loose when classical diva Anne Sofie von Otter sings "Money, Money, Money" or Jessye Norman goes Jazz - no matter how much fun they actually had while doing this. 

McCartney obviously took this as a challenge. He is not from this world, he was not classically trained and probably can't even read the notes, which did not prevent him from being the most famous and accomplished Liverpudlian in the whole world. The piece was commissioned and performed widely, despite negative reviews it had sold in huge quantities (nr.1 for weeks on charts) and locals probably love it more than anybody else. But is it any good?

Honestly, it is a gimmick and novelty. Despite monumental talents involved - and its all done with greatest care, production values are classy, with Liverpool Cathedral choir, classical conductor and Kiri Te Kanawa - it is too careful for its own sake, like composer was awed with the idea and took no risks in order to prove he was darn serious. Kind of autobiographical story, it has eight parts with countless short songs (usually shorter than two minutes) that are not particularly memorable and would probably have worked far better as part of say, musical. I couldn't help but thinking the whole time about "Les Miserables" - except that "Les Mis" bursts with brilliant show-stoppers and this one have not even one (by far most interesting moments are actually instrumental ones). Considering that longest piece is violin solo instrumental, perhaps McCartney should have just forget about singers and focus on instrumentals instead. I still like McCartney but here he curiously lacks that legendary golden touch with melodies and apparently he is far more skilled in pop field. Vanity project.

"Unplugged" (1991)
Actually this might easily be the most enjoyable McCartney's album in some time. Ever since 1983. "Pipes of Piece" I felt that he had lost his muse and it was either overcooked & overproduced hitless studio albums, bombastic live recordings or mind-boggling classical pieces so this return to a very simple acoustic form sounds truly like a breath of fresh air. 

For one thing, because he is not a stadium stage, McCartney don't have to shout himself hoarse but can actually sing quite nicely. Because this is a small, intimate concert and not a usual greatest hits recapitulation, he had a freedom to built a repertoire from various corners - his very first song (written when he was 14), The Beatles, Gene Vincent, Bill Withers, Bill Monroe and everything that popped in his head. Free from all usual technical wizardry, most of these songs sound wonderfully sweet when played in acoustic version, its almost like coming home - my heart really bursts every time I hear old 1960s chestnut "San Francisco Bay Blues" which has always been one of my favorite pieces of music (Eric Clapton did it again, next year on his own "Unplugged" album) and this all works so well that it makes you wonder why did he bother with all that other music at all. Everything from McCartney's chatter between songs to music itself is delightful. The most unexpected however is his return to some forgotten songs from a 1970. solo debut - they tend to be overlooked next to greatest hits, but are truly good to hear again. It actually sends you back to that album.

"Off the Ground" (1993)
Unfortunately, lovely, quirky "Unplugged" turned out to be completely unusual little stop in McCartney's now already voluminous solo discography - before you know it, he is back to usual bombastic production and just like "Flowers in the Dirt" (1989) its all shiny cellophane covering not a very substantial product. It sold a truckloads in Germany but it did not set a world on a fire. I remember fluffy, peppy ""Hope of Deliverance" being played on the radio and on closer inspection there are not many songs that actually stand out - to me it sounds like watered-down "Flowers in the Dirt" and that album I had considered uninspired. 

"Get Out Of My Way" and "Biker Like An Icon" are fun moments and "C'mon People" is vintage McCartney copying himself, but nothing seriously stands out. I gave this album so many chances that now after all this time I must admit defeat, even with best intentions I hardly remember anything.

"Paul Is Live" (1993)
Seriously, another live album? It has not been so long since "Unplugged" (1991) and "Tripping The Live Fantastic" (1990), not to mention that other triple LP album back in 1970s so now we are really facing the cornucopia of live recordings that basically cover very much same ground. I can't find any major difference between these recordings (except the fact that "Unplugged" was stripped-down and charming, while others are big stadium bombastic) and as much as I like McCartney, this is really for die hard fans and collectors only. I guess fine if you were there, but the rest of us can live with originals. Ah yes, just as expected, new songs are completely overshadowed by 1960s classics which makes this truly an nostalgia act. "Hope of Deliverance" is exception here, this little cheerful ditty actually sounds like fun when standing next to older songs.

"Flaming Pie" (1997)
It has been 16 years since last McCartney album I truly enjoyed - so no wonder that I seriously started to doubt is it worth following his work, as it just did not appeal to me anymore. Guy has such magnificent back catalogue that it towers above almost everything he did afterwards and great sales, world tours and live albums are basically just an afterthought, the autumn of a long, long career. Four (count: four) mediocre studio albums later, with dabbling into classical music and soundtracks, I started to get tired of my own expectations that he might "return to form" because what does it actually means - artist constantly grows and changes, so what we might like is probably long behind him already. "Flaming Pie" is fortunately return to melodic pop of 1970s and therefore relatively easy-listening, except the fact that it is look back - which means it was all done before, hundreds of times. However, it IS far more enjoyable than anything he had recorded in years so even if he firmly doodles in his comfort zone, it is still a warm, fuzzy and feel-good collection. But to my ears this sounds like Tom Petty.

"Run Devil Run" (1999)
Collection of 1950s Rock covers. 
It actually sounds like a great fun, thundering guitars, pounding pianos and all. Sure, McCartney already recorded the whole album worth of similar material back in 1988 but this one sounds even better - he is energized with the presence of some old colleagues, clearly loves this kind of music and free from pressure of writing original songs, he roars like excited schoolboy who suddenly got a chance to sing and impress everybody. There are few originals but focus is mainly on old chestnuts and believe me, "All Shook Up" is worth the price of the album alone - whatever private sorrows McCartney experienced between four walls, he clearly uses music as life-affirming, healing and self-assuring tool to dust himself up and continue trough this life. Somebody else would sink into depression and mop around, but McCartney cheers himself with irresistible, happy ditties like "Movie Magg" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" which in itself is very interesting and points at artist inner core. Hidden somewhere inside are cracks: "No Other Baby" and "Lonesome Town", impossible to listen without understanding reality behind this album. 

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