The beginning of McCartney's later day career renaissance
Bob Dylan in a recent interview has said there's really only one person in music today that to him is absolutely stunning. That person, naturally, is Paul McCartney. ""I'm in awe of McCartney. He's about the only one that I am in awe of. He can do it all. And he's never let up... He's just so damn effortless." (Taken from a Rolling Stone interview from summer 2007).
High praise from someone so iconic as Bob Dylan. The last ten years for both McCartney and Dylan have proven them to be the most interesting artists of their generation currently recording. Over the last decade, both Dylan and McCartney have had a massive resurgence in their careers. While each are following their own idiosyncractic paths, both have proven themselves to have remarkable fertile songwriting during this stage in their careers.
And here's the trick. Both are the best at what they do. Sure, you can't imagine Paul McCartney being able to pull of the effortless aural history lessons in songs Dylan has been doing, each steeped in the American tradition and that "Old, Weird, America" of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Come on, could Paul really write "Nettie Moore", "Ain't Talkin'", "Mississippi", "Things Have Changed," "Tell Ol' Bill", or the masterpiece "Cross the Green Mountain"? But then again, you can't see Dylan writing the effortless melodic pop masterpieces McCartney written in FLAMING PIE, DRIVING RAIN, CHAOS & CREATION IN THE BACKYARD (one of my favorite albums of the 2000s), or MEMORY ALMOST FULL.
When FLAMING PIE hit the stores in 1997, four years separate it from McCartney's previous studio offering, OFF THE GROUND. A lot happened during those four years, namely, The Beatles multi-media project THE ANTHOLOGY. The ANTHOLOGY was a massive undertaking, resulting in three double albums of outtakes, a massive coffee-table book that really is one of the definitive resources for us Beatles nuts, and then the hours long documentary as well. Anything like that may get you thinking McCartney would really be in a reflective mood about mortality and unusually somber. Well, not really (the somber, reflective McCartney would come out in his 2005 masterpiece CHAOS).
Instead, according to the liner notes, the Anthology project would be a refresher course on how to construct a well-made song. And FLAMING PIE is full of such songs. According to Wikipedia, "McCartney sporadically recorded the entire album in a space of two years, working not only with Lynne, but with Steve Miller, George Martin, Ringo Starr and his own son, James McCartney, who plays lead guitar on "Heaven on a Sunday". "Calico Skies" and "Great Day" both hailed from a 1992 session, recorded even before Off the Ground had come out." McCartney recorded the album in the space of two years.
The album is really a return to the basic sensibilities that produced records like MCCARTNEY. The music, while carefully considered, doesn't get bogged down in rather pretentious production styles. It's carefully produced, but the music has much more of a live feel to it. While there are a couple of sore spots (the collobaration with Steve Miller always strikes me as generic 1970s rock), this is an album I find myself returning to again and again. It's that good. "Flaming Pie", the song, is just a basic rock and roll song, and while it's drawn from the Lennon story about the man on the flaming pie telling him in a dream they shall be The Beatles with an A, the song's one of the poorer ones on the record. But the rest is great, whether it's the Beatles send up "Song We Were Singing" (one of Paul's best, and just makes you smile), his refletive ballads, or just gorgeous orchestration. McCartney has always been amazing with melodies, and this record has it in spades.
Buy it. The last ten years have made both Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney extraordinarily more relevant than you could hope for if you followed their careers in the 1980s (especially Dylan). And don't worry. McCartney only gets better from this starting point in his discography. Make sure you pick up his other studio albums post dating this - there just as good, and in some cases (CHAOS), better.
McCartney has proven himself to be truly remarkable, and he has released some of his strongest music of his solo career in 1997-2007. He has proven himself remarkably consistent in the following releases. This is the starting point for his new critical revival, but thank God and thank love this isn't the ending point.