Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Paul McCartney 21: Off The Ground

Paul rang in 1993 by announcing a new album and a new world tour with the same band as last time (save the new drummer). As one of the few legends of his generation to be active past the age of 50, we weren’t expecting to be blown away. And that’s a good thing, ‘cos we weren’t. Off The Ground is a pleasant, inoffensive collection with a fairly basic sound not unlike the old Wings albums.
The title track is intended to be a rousing opener, if a little sterile. “Looking For Changes” is the first of many songs here about the environment. (Did you know the McCartneys are a vegetarian family? Well, they’ll remind you just in case you hadn’t heard.) “Hope Of Deliverance” has a lot of driving acoustic guitars with an almost calypso feel, and luckily the album improves from here on. “Mistress And Maid” is a baroque soap opera piece written with Elvis Costello and while, like all of his Elvis songs, is written too high for him to sing, it survives the vocal approach. “I Owe It All To You” is a pretty obvious thank you to Linda, with some tasteful, moody guitar interplay. It never gets as bad as it threatens. Everyone we know absolutely hates “Biker Like An Icon”, mostly because the lyrics are so idiotic, but give us that chorus any day of the week.
“Peace In The Neighbourhood” is in keeping with the midtempo feel of the album, which has really started to flow at this point. “Golden Earth Girl” is a musical and lyrical extension of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Warm And Beautiful”, with real nice use of oboe and clarinet. “The Lovers That Never Were” is another Costello drama, with a pounding ¾ meter. While it’s very similar to “Mistress And Maid”, both of these are better than either “Don’t Be Careless Love” or “You Want Her Too” from Flowers In The Dirt so we’ll keep them. “Get Out Of My Way” is calculated Rock, intended to show off the guitarists, complete with fake ending. It’s okay here, but would wear out its welcome on stage. “Winedark Open Sea” takes us back to the Wings vibe of the earlier tracks with an extended ending that doesn’t get tedious. And we still love the big finale “C’mon People” despite ourselves. There’s a lot of political nonsense in the air here, but the orchestral arrangement by George Martin (especially the “ba-ba BA-ba-ba, BAM!” in the middle) and the mild psychedelic march tempo are a lock. And in true Wings spirit we get a not-so-hidden track, supposedly written in India in 1968, a reminder to be “Cosmically Conscious”. (Well, George wasn’t reminding us, so thanks, Paul.)
Taken on its own, Off The Ground isn’t remarkable, but as the dim luster of Flowers In The Dirt had already faded, this was a huge improvement in comparison. While certainly not close to his best post-Beatles work, it’s an underrated collection that deserved kinder attention. It still does.

Paul McCartney Off The Ground (1993)—

3 comments:

  1. Taking a shot at George in a Paul review? Everyone has choice, Wardo, when to or not to raise their voices.

    It's YOU that decides.

    (you know my name)

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  2. Yeah, I thought about not including that. But George had been pretty quiet of late, leaving the position of "Mystical One" open for Paul.

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  3. This is very different from the last studio album, with none of the big production. But the songs are once again very solid. “Mistress and Maid” is the that doesn’t seem to quite fit in. It sounds like an Elvis production for Squeeze, or maybe Elvis himself. What it really doesn’t sound much like is Paul. Everything else does, but there a few unusual touches – the percussion on the title track, for example; the bossa nova arrangement of “Hope or Deliverance”; and the almost epic "Winedark Open Sea". This was an odd choice for the lead single. I don’t hate “Biker Like an Icon” at all – it’s a fun track. I’m glad that Paul finally learned how to write sincere social commentary without being sappy (“Ebony and Ivory”) or klutzy (“Give Ireland Back to the Irish”). "Looking for Changes" may be the single angriest song he ever wrote. The only side of Paul’s songwriting that’s pretty much missing is his rocker side, except for "Get Out of My Way". The album doesn’t wear out its welcome at all over its 50 minutes. But giving it the same score as “Band on the Run”? Still don’t get that!

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