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“Pure McCartney” Reviewed

This is the 44th and final review of Paul McCartney’s solo album releases. There is one more, the recent Egypt Station, which I didn’t much care for, and I may return to it in a couple of years, but for now Pure McCartney, released June 2016,  exactly two months before I began this undertaking, is my final review.

You are supposed to learn stuff when you dip so deeply into an artists backpages, and I guess I did. Among other things, i realized how fashion affected the way you listen to music. Red Rose Speedway is specifically  much better than I remembered, a lot of Wings mid 80s material improves on later hearing. On the other side, there is an inescapable decline in McCartney’s songwriting after Creation and Chaos In The Backyard, back in 2005. Though there have certainly been moments of greatness, the last masterpiece was made by Kanye West, “Four Five Seconds”.

As McCartney retrospectives go, I prefer it to Wingspan from 2005 and I worshipped Wingspan. Though, bizarrely, two of his greatest solo albums,  Flowers in the Dirt and Run Devil Run, are not represented, CHOBA B CCCP is not here but I am guessing that’s because there was no original material on it and the pure represents that McCartney wrote or co-wrote all of it, and Driving Rain isn’t there because it sucks. “With nothing else in mind other than having something fun to listen to in different settings” Pure McCartney doesn’t make internal sense. I can’t see why he followed “Big Barn Bed” with “Another Day” with “Flaming Pie” with  the sublime “Jenny Wren”, there isn’t that “aaaah” moment. On the other hand, any reason to listen to “Jenny Wren” is a good reason. Surprisingly, he pulled SIX SONGS off the nothing special Flaming Pie and only four off At The Speed Of Sound, which is bad and THREE off Venus And Mars, which is shocking. Making up for it are thirteen non-LP tracks, including the awesome frog song “We All STand Together”.

So certainly, go with the astonishing 67 song, four hour plus deluxe version and don’t try to fight, let the melodies engulf you and the a rising tide lifts all boats of songs axiom certainly works here. Lesser songs in his oeuvre seem ride on an accumulated crest of sound, and what that means is McCartney exercises in arrangement, “Silly Love Songs” and “Ebony And Ivory” to mention two, come in without expectations other than ear candy, how voice and instrument work in tandem. “Silly Love Songs” is possibly McCartney’s most hated song, and I myself wrote very recently, November 2016 (here)  that it was  an epic exercise in anemic pop flourishes. It doesn’t sound so bad here, the preening and self-righteous “I look around me and I see it isn’t so” is much less irritating now than it was at the height of punk. Here is the track list:

Disc One
1. “Maybe I’m Amazed” McCartney 3:52
2. “Heart of the Country” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Ram 2:25
3. “Jet” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Band on the Run 4:10
4. “Warm and Beautiful” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Wings at the Speed of Sound 3:14
5. “Listen to What the Man Said” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Venus and Mars 4:03
6. “Dear Boy” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Ram 2:15
7. “Silly Love Songs” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Wings at the Speed of Sound 5:55
8. “The Song We Were Singing” Flaming Pie 3:55
9. “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Ram 4:57
10. “Early Days” New 4:08
11. “Big Barn Bed” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Red Rose Speedway 3:51
12. “Another Day” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Non-album track 3:43
13. “Flaming Pie” Flaming Pie 2:31
14. “Jenny Wren” Chaos and Creation in the Backyard 3:49
15. “Too Many People” Ram 4:12
16. “Let Me Roll It” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Band on the Run 4:51
17. “New” New 2:58

Disc 2
1. “Live and Let Die” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Non-album track 3:15
2. “English Tea” Chaos and Creation in the Backyard 2:14
3. “Mull of Kintyre” Laine, P. McCartney Non-album track 4:46
4. “Save Us” Epworth, P. McCartney New 2:41
5. “My Love” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Red Rose Speedway 4:10
6. “Bip Bop” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Wild Life 4:13
7. “Let ‘Em In” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Wings at the Speed of Sound 5:11
8. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Band on the Run 5:32
9. “Calico Skies” Flaming Pie 2:32
10. “Hi, Hi, Hi” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Non-album track 3:10
11. “Waterfalls” McCartney II 4:46
12. “Band on the Run” Band on the Run 5:14
13. “Appreciate” New 4:30
14. “Sing the Changes” Electric Arguments 3:46
15. “Arrow Through Me” Back to the Egg 3:39
16. “Every Night” McCartney 2:34
17. “Junior’s Farm” L. McCartney, P. McCartney Non-album track 4:23
18. “Mrs. Vandebilt” Band on the Run 4:41

Disc 3
1. “Say Say Say” (with Michael Jackson) (Radio edit) (2015 remix) Jackson, P. McCartney Pipes of Peace 3:57
2. “My Valentine” Kisses on the Bottom 3:16
3. “Pipes of Peace” Pipes of Peace 3:57
4. “The World Tonight” Flaming Pie 4:06
5. “Souvenir” Flaming Pie 3:40
6. “Dance Tonight” Memory Almost Full 2:56
7. “Ebony and Ivory” (with Stevie Wonder) (2015 remix) Tug of War 3:46
8. “Fine Line” Chaos and Creation in the Backyard 3:07
9. “Here Today” (2015 remix) Tug of War 2:29
10. “Press” Press to Play 4:47
11. “Wanderlust” (2015 remix) Tug of War 3:51
12. “Winedark Open Sea” Off the Ground 5:28
13. “Beautiful Night” Flaming Pie 5:08
14. “Girlfriend” London Town 4:43
15. “Queenie Eye” Epworth, P. McCartney New 3:49
16. “We All Stand Together” Non-album track 4:25

Disc 4
1. “Coming Up” McCartney II 3:54
2. “Too Much Rain” Chaos and Creation in the Backyard 3:26
3. “Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun” Press to Play 4:57
4. “Goodnight Tonight” Non-album track 4:22
5. “Baby’s Request” Back to the Egg 2:51
6. “With a Little Luck” (DJ edit) London Town 3:13
7. “Little Willow” Flaming Pie 2:58
8. “Only Mama Knows” Memory Almost Full 4:20
9. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” Laine, P. McCartney London Town 4:36
10. “The Back Seat of My Car” Ram 4:31
11. “No More Lonely Nights” (7″ single version) Give My Regards to Broad Street 4:44
12. “Great Day” Flaming Pie 2:09
13. “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” (Radio edit) L. McCartney, P. McCartney Venus and Mars 3:48
14. “Temporary Secretary” McCartney II 3:16
15. “Hope for the Future” Non-album track 4:09
16. “Junk” McCartney 1:57

As I wrap this exercise in rock criticism up, some thoughts:

1 – Paul can’t write an anthem, all his political songs, with the exception of the gentle and simultaneously angry admonishment of “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” (not available for streaming anywhere apparently, they should have stuck it on Wildlife) all his pop politics are dreadful, but there is a special place in hell for “Freedom” and the very recent “People Want Peace” -people don’t want peace that much.

2 – While McCartney can be a great lyricist (especially his Beatles years), he can also be a flabby, infantile, mess and when he gets on about Lennon and/orhis Beatle history, he is not believable and also not very good.

3 – He is one of the greatest melodists of all time, and listening to Pure McCartney without skipping a song, it becomes similar to the second side of Abbey Road, everything builds and segues, the similarities are different and the differences are similar. McCartney can’t read music and here he is explaining how he writes music:

“If I was to sit down and write a song, now, I’d use my usual method: I’d either sit down with a guitar or at the piano and just look for melodies, chord shapes, musical phrases, some words, a thought just to get started with. And then I just sit with it to work it out, like I’m writing an essay or doing a crossword puzzle. That’s the system I’ve always used, that John [Lennon] and I started with. I’ve really never found a better system and that system is just playing the guitar and looking for something that suggests a melody and perhaps some words if you’re lucky. Then I just fiddle around with that and try and follow the trail, try and follow where it appears to be leading me. And sometimes it leads me down a blind alley so I have to retrace my steps and start again down another road.

“But I’m of the school of the instinctive. I once worked with Allen Ginsberg and Allen always used to say, ‘First thought, best thought.’ And then he would edit everything. But I think the theory is good. ‘First thought, best thought.’ It doesn’t always work, but as a general idea I will try and do that and sometimes I come out with a puzzling set of words that I have no idea what I mean, and yet I’ve got to kind of make sense of it and follow the trail.”

Yes, that sounds about right. I put McCartney up there with Gershwin and Mozart and above just about everybody else. He isn’t very good at classical  music (none is represented here), better at experimental electronics where his natural skill at construction comes in very handy, and best at the three minute pop song and symphonic pop (which he more or less invented).

4 – The best time I’ve ever seen Paul McCartney on stage was the last time I saw Paul McCartney on stage at MSG (here) last year, a nearly three hour extravaganza that ended with Bruce and Paul performing “I Saw Her Standing There” twice, then concluded with “Golden Slumbers”. The first time I saw McCartney was a little late, 1989, and I loved it -it was McCartney. you know? BUT ever the perfectionist the set was rigid and in 2017 he was much better, looser, stronger.

5 – As for Pure McCartney, I love all of it. Songs I don’t love I love here. The momentum and sweep of our greatest melodist working on all cylinders is breathtaking. Four hours of complete genius.

Grade: A+

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