Narayan Sengupta reviews Paul McCartney's "Flaming Pie" album.
June 18, 1997
What do you expect out of an album that combines the talents of Paul McCartney, Steve Miller, George Martin, Ringo Starr, and Jeff Lynne and has garnered some really excellent reviews? The album is named "Flaming Pie" and it's McCartney's first album in about three years. So great advance reviews and a lot of anticipation make me hope for a lot, especially if you're a big McCartney fan. I've listened to the album four times now, and I find little compelling that draws me to put it back in the CD player or make me take the long way home while I'm listening to it except to see if I've missed something. Don't get me wrong. It's a good album, great by anyone else's standards. It's just not superb like so contributions from Paul McCartney's past.
Nonetheless, four tracks stood out from the rest. "The World Tonight", "If You Wanna" are two of them. Both are rockers that would be good filler tracks on other albums or be used in some future multi-disc McCartney "Anthology". It's nice hearing Steve Miller's contributions on the other two, "Young Boy" and "Used to be Bad". Ironically, the one track that sounds the most like Jeff Lynne's work is McCartney's "Young Boy" which features both McCartney's and Miller's vocals and guitars. Oh, and there's a track named "Beautiful Night" which almost kisses greatness, McCartney style, combining what could be three separate musical themes into one. But it's the last fragment that's the best one in this song, and it is too incidental to the song to make this one of his great works.
I couldn't believe that Jeff Lynne was co-producing and co-writing songs. His contributions to George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and the two Traveling Wilbury albums along with his work for himself as a solo artist and with ELO has intrigued me for years. There's always something interesting in his work even if he's never had any monster hits of his own. Yet of the half dozen or so albums that Lynne has produced during the past ten years, this one shows his influence the least. Jeff Lynne has been accused of sounding like John Lennon, of writing music in a similar vein and of blatantly wanting to imitate the Beatles with his group, ELO. Is this why McCartney never gives him one single moment as lead vocalist? And even after reading that former-Beatles producer had George Martin scored one of the tracks, I couldn't find his contributions without re-reading the liner notes.
Where is exuberant energy of "I Saw Her Standing There"? Where is the greatness of "Eleanor Rigby", "Paperback Writer", or "Uncle Albert"? How about the ferociousness of "Helter Skelter" or "Live and Let Die"? Where are rockers like "Get Back" or ballads like "Hey Jude"? Or the simple charm of "Blackbird" or "Yesterday"? Even his later albums that failed in the critical acclaim had great uplifting tracks that made listeners want to backtrack over and over.
This album is the best one I've heard so far this year by any artist. It is consistent and relatively solid throughout. I'm optimistic that it will grow on me because there is very little that McCartney has ever done that hasn't pleased me. But it doesn't merit an "A" rating. The lows are few, perhaps non-existent, but so are the highs. If McCartney hadn't contributed so much greatness to music in the past, I would be impressed by this album. Criticize McCartney for being sappy or sometimes too trite, but in my opinion, he is still the greatest songwriter in the world. Over his long 34 year career, he has done as much as or more than anyone else in the past or the present to introduce new sounds, take music in new directions and to raise the musical bar of excellence. And that's the problem: This new disc just doesn't compare to the apex of his work. "Flaming Pie" is good compared to anyone else, but this is McCartney, and therefore it still deserves no more than a solid B rating.
Set your speakers at their sweet spot and listen to "Meet the Beatles", "Rubber Soul", "Revolver", "Sgt. Peppers", "Abbey Road", "Band on the Run", "Venus and Mars" and "Tug of War". Those are great albums and represent some of the peaks in the Himalayas of creativity for him, the Beatles, the '60s and pop-music in general. These are just some of his albums that are above the bar and easily merit an "A" grade. And if you already have those in your collection, then spend your hard-day's night earned money on "The Beatles" (a.k.a. "The White Album"), "Press to Play" or "Pipes of Peace" and his last one up till now: "Off the Ground". The last few albums may not be as solid or as critically acclaimed as this new one, but at least you'll find yourself playing compelling and interesting tracks over and over. And taking the long way home if any of those is in your car's CD player .