Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Paul McCartney Album (Part 4)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums

Flaming Pie (1997, Capitol)                                                                          

B –                 

This is by no means a bad album, but it also hasn't held up for me all that particularly well over the years. It's an interesting and unified album piece, no doubt, but too often it feels, both in terms of production and the songs themselves, like an extremely self-conscious and deliberate attempt at winning back the favor of music critics with exercises in nostalgia ("The Song We Were Singing"), lo-fi pop, and near-one-man-band experiments vaguely reminiscent of McCartney, and it becomes a bit off-putting after a while just how nakedly desperate Paul seems here to garner good reviews. Mind you, it worked - the album garnered his best reviews in over ten years and received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year - but the album's not likely to find its way back into your CD player all that often, for the simple reason that the hooks aren't quite as addictive and effortless as usual. Even the lead-off single, “The World Tonite,” is surprisingly lackluster. Even though the uptempo songs are disappointing, the ballads are nonetheless fairly strong ("Somedays" and the lullaby "Little Willow" being the truest gems among them), and the album comes to a fascinating and pleasant close with the acoustic throwaway "Great Day," a song dating all the way back to the early '70s that bears heavy shades of the wildly underrated Red Rose Speedway tune "Big Barn Bed." A mildly overrated album, but by no means one to bypass, either - just bear in mind before listening that it works much better as an album piece than as individual songs and you won't be disappointed. 

Run Devil Run (1999, Capitol)                                                                                  

B –

Like Give My Regards to Broad Street, Run Devil Run isn't necessarily a bad album - it's actually quite good when it's on - but it's also a very easy album in McCartney's catalog to accidentally forget about, for the simple reason that it's almost exclusively comprised of covers of early rock'n'-roll songs from the '50s. (McCartney also tosses in three originals in the same mold, "Try Not to Cry" being the strongest in the bunch.)  It's well-played - David Gilmour, in particular, impressively shines throughout - and the material is well-chosen, but the whole concept of a songwriter as prolific and talented as McCartney doing a covers album makes the disc seem like little more than either a stopgap project or exercise in self-indulgence, and you'd consequently be forgiven for overlooking this album if asked to name McCartney's studio albums of the last twenty years.  

Driving Rain (2001, Capitol)                                                                                    

D –

Unlike, say, Wild Life or McCartney II, there's nothing particularly awful or embarrassing on this album (though "She's Given Up Talking" comes fairly close) and it sounds pleasant enough when it's actually on, so why the low rating, you might ask?  Simple: with the sole possible exception of the album's bonus cut, there's just not one single memorable song here. For the first time in his entire solo career, Paul seems here to have completely forgotten how to write hooks, the result of which is that not even the single, the relentlessly snoozeworthy ballad "From a Lover to a Friend" (arguably the most forgettable single of Paul's entire solo career, "Waterfalls" included) will stick in your brain. McCartney II may have had an abundance of embarrassing filler, but it also had a real knockout song in "Coming Up" to save the thing from complete collapse; here, unfortunately, there are no knockouts to be found to compensate for the amount of filler. It's perhaps telling that the only thing that saved this album from falling off the charts right away - and even then, it still remains the worst-selling of all Paul's solo efforts in his homeland - was the hastily-added post-9/11 protest anthem, "Freedom," the lyrics of which nearly everybody agreed were well beneath the man's abilities but was nonetheless still twenty times catchier than anything that had actually been on the original tracklist. This remains Paul's least satisfying solo album. 

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005, Capitol)                                               

A +

A wildly dramatic improvement on its predecessor, Chaos and Creation finds Paul's talents for writing hooks fully intact again while still retaining the pleasantly introspective mood that fueled so much of Driving Rain and Flaming Pie.  Teaming up with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Chaos also finds Paul returning to the largely one-man-band stylings and home-crafted sonics of McCartney and McCartney II to wonderful effect, the album seeming considerably less fussy than any other Paul's released in quite some time.  This, of course, would just be a pleasant footnote if the songs were no stronger than those on Driving Rain or Flaming Pie, but Paul here has brought to the table his most consistent set of songs since Off the Ground.  Every bit as much of an album piece as Band on the Run or Tug of War, Chaos begs to be heard in full, but those wishing to hear just the highlights are advised to check out the excellent album-opener "Fine Line," "Friends to Go," the bitter atmospheric pop of "Riding to Vanity Fair," and the achingly beautiful ballads "Anyway" and "This Never Happened Before."  Sir Paul at his late-career best.

Memory Almost Full (2007, Hear)                                                               


Only slightly inferior to its predecessor, Memory Almost Full sadly tapers off a bit in its second half and closes on a rather unnerving note, the last handful of songs finding Paul either looking back on his life ("That Was Me") and/or contemplating his own mortality ("The End of the Day"), which, for a musical icon so renowned for his sunny brand of pop, just seems strange and too out of character. Nevertheless, McCartney retains the hook-driven songcraft and artistic comeback of its predecessor to great effect here, turning in an almost equally consistent set of songs here. The album also gets off to an absolutely explosive beginning, too, with the 1-2-3-4 punch of "Dance Tonight," the pop brilliance of "Ever Present Past," the infectiously happy "See Your Sunshine" (boasting the prettiest background harmonies we've heard on a McCartney record since "So Bad" over twenty years earlier) and the driving "Only Mama Knows," which finds Paul rocking out with an intensity and fierceness we've not heard from him since "Getting Closer."

Kisses on the Bottom (2012, Hear)                                                               

C +  

The difficulty in assessing Kisses on the Bottom comes from the fact that it’s a standards album, not dissimilar to the kind that Rod Stewart turned out in droves during the ‘00s, and standards albums can be painfully tough to differentiate from each other, and it ultimately comes down less to the song selection than the quality of the performances, and in that regard, this album fares relatively well, McCartney turning in fine renditions (aided by a superb cast of guests that includes Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Joe Walsh, and Diana Krall.)  At the same time, the album, like the covers disc Run Devil Run before it, also has little that really leaps out as an instant classic, and the album is consequently an easy one to absent-mindedly forget about.  It’s certainly a pleasant listen while it’s on, though, and McCartney does contribute two fine originals of his own to the proceedings with the ballads “My Valentine” (featuring Clapton on guitar) and “Only Our Hearts”  (featuring Wonder on harmonica.)

New (2013, Hear)                                                                                           

A -  

While not quite the equal of its two proper studio successors (Chaos and Memory), New is yet another winning late-career solo effort from Sir Paul, variously produced by Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns (best known for his work with Ryan Adams and Kings of Leon), and Giles Martin (son of famed Beatles producer George Martin.)  The songs aren’t quite as immediately hooky as those on Memory but do sink in by the second listen, the best tracks being the title cut, the rocking album opener “Save Me,” and the fun pop of “I Can Bet,” “Queenie Eye,” and “Everybody Out There.”)