Friday, October 23, 2009

Paul McCartney 20: Unplugged and Choba B CCCP

While his live album was stumbling about the charts, Paul did an MTV Unplugged show with new drummer Blair Cunningham (who had been in a later incarnation of the Pretenders with guitarist Robbie McIntosh). Since he knew bootlegs would be immediately circulating, he decided to release the soundtrack of the broadcast version as a limited edition, numbered release worldwide. Subtitled The Official Bootleg, it was an immediate sellout as fanatics tried to get their copies before they couldn’t.
This is a charming performance, with much more of a natural feel throughout than his other live albums. He does a pile of ‘50s country/rockabilly favorites, plus some more Beatle songs he’d ignored for years. The three songs from 1970’s McCartney are actually the newest compositions included. Hamish Stuart sings “Ain’t No Sunshine” while Paul plays the brushes, and while he doesn’t play the piano, he does sit down to play “Blackbird”. Linda stays to one side with her harmonium, offending no one.
Unplugged isn’t easy to find, as most people hoarded their copies and bought extras to keep sealed. It can occasionally be found as a moderately priced import. (The original LP release was manufactured in Spain, of all places.) The packaging is similar to a certain so-called Russian album, which conveniently comes into our story right about here.

Back in 1987, while in the process of finding his musical and commercial feet, Paul began hosting rock ‘n roll jams with invited session guys. Everything was recorded, and he decided to release an album from the sessions. But there was a catch: it would only be available in the Soviet Union in the spirit of glasnost (or something like that). It’s still unknown what those citizens thought of it, as copies were immediately smuggled and bootlegged in the West.
Although it’s not Paul’s fault, Choba B CCCP (translating roughly to “Back In The USSR”) was immediately compared to John’s Rock ‘N Roll album (which wasn’t his best overall performance either). Besides, they even have two songs in common. All the songs are fairly straightforward and faithful, not unlike a wedding band. “Ain’t That A Shame”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Crackin’ Up” all have Paul on guitar, and they’re interesting for not being as routine as the rest. Other standouts include “Summertime” and various Fats Domino covers.
The album was finally released worldwide in the fall of 1991, at the tail end of an incredibly visible period alongside the debut of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio. Despite his name cemented in the title, this foray into classical music doesn’t sound like a typical McCartney work, which was probably the point. Trying to imagine Paulie singing the words doesn’t suggest it could be any better if he did. A commercial if not critical success, parts are pleasant but it’s not exactly essential, unless you really like operatic voices.

Paul McCartney Unplugged—The Official Bootleg (1991)—4
Paul McCartney Choba B CCCP (1991)—3

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