Fans of old will have a hard time resisting the pop-rock charm and retro-Beatles (and retro-Wings!) flavor of Paul McCartney's "Flaming Pie."
The album, McCartney's first studio effort since 1993's "Off the Ground," is his most all-around satisfying since "Tug of War" some 15 years ago, and in places brings to mind favorites like "Band on the Run" and his homegrown first solo record way back in 1970.In his introduction to the CD's booklet, Sir Paul (he was, after all, knighted by Queen Elizabeth in March) says work on "The Beatles Anthology" TV special and video project "was very good for me because it reminded me of The Beatles' standards . . . it was a refresher course that set the framework for this album." That framework encompasses just about every McCartney style except those early high harmonies with John Lennon. The recipe for "Flaming Pie" includes rockers, ballads, wordplay, even strings on selected cuts.
Another vital ingredient: collaboration.
Early on McCartney said he liked the working relationships of a band, and so Wings was born. Even during in his so-called '80s "solo" years he sought out songwriting and performing collaborators, not so successfully with 10cc's Eric Stewart, more memorably with Elvis Costello ("Flowers in the Dirt").
This time he's teamed with ELO's Jeff Lynne and pop-bluesmeister Steve Miller, among others.
The partnership with Lynne - one of the most obvious and successful Beatles-wannabees in history - might seem fraught with overkill possibilities, but they work well together. Lynne previously co-produced George Harrison's "Cloud Nine," was a member with him in the Traveling Wilburys and produced the recent Beatles "Anthology" singles "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love."
Eight songs on "Flaming Pie" were written by McCartney and were co-produced by and feature Lynne, often with no one other than the two of them even contributing to the cuts. The tracks include a nostalgic opener, "The Song We Were Singing" (grammar has never been one of Paul's strong points . . .) and the grittier "The World Tonight." Patti LaBelle or Luther Vandross should cover the R&B-based "Souvenir" - though it has a great sound, Paul doesn't quite have the voice to do the song justice. "Little Willow," on the other hand, is a lovely, subdued bit of encouragement. And try listening to the colorfully enigmatic title track without recalling Electric Light Orchestra hits like "Don't Bring Me Down."
The album's booklet presents the lyrics and lineups for the songs, most of them written and recorded at various times between 1991 and 1996. It also has short notes about the songs and a quote from Paul about each of them. Of "Flaming Pie" he writes, for instance, "John joked that the name Beatles came in a vision from a man on a flaming pie, coming unto us . . . you are Beatles with an A. I was riding with my missus, thinking of lyrics, searching for a rhyme with `sky' . . . `bye' . . . `cry' . . . `pie.' The story came back and I thought `Ooo, flaming pie.' "
Miller adds to the mix - and leavens the Lynne dominance. His bluesy guitar underlines the excellent car-song "If You Wanna" (". . . I'll take you for a ride in my Cadillac"), a folk-rocker apt for any decade from the '60s to the '90s. "Young Boy" has an enjoyable Wilbury-like acoustic-strum, as well as a '70s-style electric-guitar lead at its center. "Used To Be Bad," another twist to a dated cliche, is a jamming duet between the two stars.
Also seemingly indispensable to a really good McCartney effort: George Martin, the creative producer of almost all of the Beatles albums, as well as "Tug of War." Martin perfectly orchestrated the pretty "Somedays," a moody and nostalgic descendant of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yesterday," and soft "Beautiful Night." He co-produced another, "Calico Skies."
Wife Linda adds backup vocals here and there, of course, as on the final cut, "Great Day," a throwback to early Wings sound. Their son James gets to show off his guitar skills on the laid-back ballad "Heaven on a Sunday." And Ringo Starr adds percussion on "Beautiful Night" and "Really Love You," on which he snares a writing credit with McCartney, apparently the first such pairing in their history. (There were, of course, shared credits listing all four Beatles.)
All in all, "Flaming Pie" is a delectable entree indeed. For a 55-year-old legend, this McCartney guy has a promising future.