McCartney Times

Music Review: Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie – The Archive Collection | TMR

Music Review: Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie – The Archive Collection | TMR

Music Review: Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie – The Archive Collection | TMR
August 03
13:11 2020

The newly-issued Flaming Pie: Archive Collection makes it a baker’s dozen entries for the slow-but-steady series. Since 2010, McCartney has taken his time curating the Collection. Universally acknowledged solo career high points like Band on the Run (1973) and RAM (1971) sit right next to extravagant re-packaging of far less-loved albums like Wild Life (1971) and Pipes of Peace (1983). Though the chronology has been haphazard throughout the Collection‘s 11 years (and counting), Flaming Pie as an album is easily strong enough to satiate many fans who’ve been clamoring for London Town and Back to the Egg to receive their long-overdue treatment.

Upon its 1997 release, Pie marked a return to rootsy simplicity for McCartney. One of the most prolific artists of the ‘70s, the gap between his albums began to lengthen after the mid-‘80s, resulting in an overall increase in quality control. But while Flowers in the Dirt (1989) and Off the Ground (1993) seemed to overreach in terms of commercial aspirations, McCartney seemed to have relaxed his chart expectations by the time he baked this Pie. Genre excursions like “Ou est le Soliel” and wannabe anthems like “C’Mon People” (both singles that tanked on Billboard) are nowhere to be heard. With a notable de-emphasis on electronics and his unfussiest production since the early ‘70s, almost everything on Pie could’ve been released in nearly the same form at any point in his career (Beatles years included). The irony is that, while resulting in no hit singles, the album itself was his highest Billboard 200 placing since 1982.

flaming pie deluxe display.jpg After the full-band oriented Off the Ground, McCartney returned to a more self-contained format here, more so than any album since the entirely one-man McCartney II. At its simplest (the George Martin-produced “Calico Skies”—also the album’s finest moment—and “Great Day”) it’s pretty much just him. Most of the other tunes find McCartney multi-tasking on guitars, keys, and drums, with the help of just one additional collaborator—primarily those produced by Jeff Lynne (the bulk of the album), as well as a few featuring Steve Miller on guitar. Not factoring in horns and/or strings overdubs, the largest “band” on Pie is Macca with Lynne and guest drummer Ringo Starr (“Beautiful Night” and “Really Love You”).But what really sets Flaming Pie apart is the somber streak of melancholy that runs through the album. There’s certainly humor and lighter moments laced throughout, notably the title track (inspired by John Lennon’s jokey “origin story” of the Beatles’ name), but the starkly beautiful ballad “Somedays” and the delicate hope-in-spite-of-heartbreak “Little Willow” are among the songs dealing directly with personal tragedy. Even at its most lyrically vapid, McCartney plays it straight. While “If You Wanna” is about as deep as its offhanded title suggests, but it rocks along in no-nonsense fashion. And while there’s nothing here that approaches “Helter Skelter”-level bashing (or say, “Soily,” for a non-Beatles benchmark), the rockers are more convincing than any Macca had released since Снова в СССР (at least, and those were of course all covers).

Take “Used to Be Bad,” a blues rock collab between McCartney and Steve Miller. Often derided as a piece of tame fluff (“Dad rock” I’ve heard, rather derisively), it actual crackles with energy. Though it’s an admittedly poor defense to argue that a song was intended to be meaningless, the fact is that neither Miller nor McCartney has ever intimated that “Used to Be Bad” was meant to plumb the depths of either’s soul. It’s just two old friends rocking out together, not with the intensity of their epic first meeting (“My Dark Hour”) but that doesn’t preclude it from being a slice of air guitar-worthy fun.

The same could probably be said for the Paul/Ringo/Jeff jam of “Really Love You,” co-credited as the first-ever McCartney/Starr composition but in fact just something that evolved from a spontaneous studio jam. “Relentless” is how Ringo described it when he first heard the finished product, but at 5:18 it’s also Pie’s longest track—and arguably its weakest. Cut down to 2:30 it might’ve been excusable (or better yet, shelved altogether in favor of the scintillating outtake “Whole Life,” presented here on a bonus disc in rough-mix form, later rerecorded and issued on a 2003 charity EP 46664). The point being, regardless of how one feels about the presence of these jam-oriented tracks, most of Pie offers introspective reflection—largely uncharacteristic for McCartney at that point in his career (but luckily a harbinger of things to come, as albums like Chaos and Creation in the Backyard would demonstrate). And his vocals are upfront in the mix, largely unadorned of the layered production employed by various co-producers on Dirt and Ground to cover his aging voice.

As for this expanded edition, the listener is granted a fascinating glimpse into McCartney’s songwriting process. The first bonus CD is home demos, the second is studio outtakes. There are no “new” songs here—“C’Mon Down C’Mon Baby” is the only previously unfamiliar title and it’s little more than an apparent improv (and a goofball one, at that). Though these first two bonus discs easily fit on a single CD, there’s a wealth of revelations for those interested in these songs’ evolutionary process. “The Song We Were Singing,” in demo form, includes and entirely dropped passage with lyrics and melody completely absent in the finished version.

“The World Tonight” and “Young Boy” are presented as rough drafts (the latter began as “Poor Boy”). Even by the time “World” was in the studio, Macca had yet to settle on the final lyrics for the chorus. The Rude Studios cassette demo of “Heaven on a Sunday” sounds like it was conceived with the dance floor in mind rather than the laid-back, almost jazz-inflected album cut. “Beautiful Night,” having been initially tried out during Phil Ramone-produced sessions for an aborted follow up to Press to Play, was already well worked out, but it’s neat hearing Ringo announce his plans to bring in his drums early for the studio “run through.”

The four disc, “Flaming Pies,” collects the material previously released on a series of CD singles (mostly unreleased in the U.S., so likely “new” to any fans in the States who didn’t track down the imports). Two of these were recorded as album contenders: another Macca/Ringo/Lynne jam (and arguably better the one on the album), “Looking for You,” and another bluesy track with Steve Miller, “Broomstick.” The rest is grab-bag material culled from different periods (“Love Come Tumbling Down” is also from the Ramone sessions, “Same Love” is Flowers in the Dirt era), dominated by mini Oobu Joobu episodes that each contain a vault track. Oobu Joobu was McCartney’s syndicated radio program that aired in the ‘90s and offered a treasure trove of interviews, previously unheard rehearsal and soundcheck performances, as well as demos and unreleased studio songs.

In all honesty, as someone who did track down each of the six import U.K. singles, it’s disappointing that the “bonus” track nestled within each “Oobu” segment weren’t separated and presented as standalone tracks. The “Oobu” segments run six to nine minutes or so, and the only way one can hear the bonus track on its own (or include it in a playlist) is to manually edit the “Oobu” segment (crossfades at the start and end of most, if not all, the tunes compound this program). Still, there are highlights (“Love Mix” is a buoyant earworm, “Squid” plays like a combo of the acoustic instrumentals on McCartney with the synth-dominated ones on McCartney II) and a couple true curiosities (“Atlantic Ocean” is probably the closest Paul’s ever come to “rapping”). The aforementioned original “Beautiful Night” appears one of these “Oobu Joobu” segments, too—with Billy Joel’s band on loan and a somewhat harder-hitting, heavily-reverbed take on the song.

Speaking of curiosities, the Allen Ginsberg poem-set-to-music “Ballad of the Skeletons” opens disc four. Long among the rarest of McCartney deep cuts (with Ginsberg reading through his poem, Paul handles drums, guitar, organ, and additional percussion, accompanied by a few other musicians), “Skeletons” may now finally emerge from near-total obscurity.

Disc five’s “Flaming Pie at the Mill” is admittedly maybe a bit too much for anyone but the hardest of hardcore fans. Presented as one full hour-long track, it’s an audio “tour” of Paul’s studio, with Paul himself as the guide, telling stories and demoing instruments. This is apparently the unedited material that was later cut down, with the best bits cherry-picked for the mini “Oobu Joobu” segments. It’s worth a listen, but it would’ve ultimately had more repeat-listening value if indexed into shorter “tracks.” Also worth noting, an ecology-themed full disc “Oobu Joobu” was a Best Buy promotional exclusive with Flaming Pie back in ’97. That disc, while not really related to Pie any other tangible way, would’ve made this Archive more comprehensive.

While my digital review copy didn’t include them, the super-deluxe box set includes two DVDs as well. One offers the previously available but long out-of-print In the World Tonight documentary. The second DVD is a compilation of shorter pieces, including numerous music videos (and a “making of” featurette for “Beautiful Night”), some EPK promotional mini-docs, a TV interview, and more. The box set also offers the now-customary wealth of liner notes and photos presented in coffee-table book form (also not available for this review).

flaming pie two disc display rz.jpg Lots of nuts-and-bolts involved in recapping everything included in any given McCartney Archive edition (even an abbreviated digital review edition), but suffice it to say that Flaming Pie is ultimately a top-five album in his canon. It’s so well-deserving of this deluxe treatment that it may attract even less-devoted fans. Understandably, there is a financial consideration most folks face every time a new Archive set pops up. Those fans-on-the-fence may do well to go with the two-disc edition. Some of the earlier series entries have merely offered up the exact contents of the superdeluxe second disc in the budget edition. Here (as with Red Rose Speedway) the second disc in the budget package is a compilation that includes many key tracks from discs two through four. Vinyl editions are available as well.Finally, I can’t help but feel I’m speaking for quite a fans in hoping MPL and UMG make London Town and Back to the Egg the next to receive the superdeluxe treatment, but for the time being Flaming Pie offers a true feast for fans.

flaming pie deluxe cover.jpg

Source: Music Review: Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie – The Archive Collection | TMR

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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