Paul McCartney
Choba b CCCP
(Capitol 7976152)

Whether Paul McCartney recorded the album exclusively for the Russian market, or just cranked these out anyway and decided "it was good enough for the Russians" I am not sure, but in any case Paul's "Russian album" remains, improbably, one of my favorite Paul albums, perhaps owing to its looseness and sincerity. McCartney is not a songwriter known for his sincerity, that's for sure. "Yesterday" – now that's heartfelt! So heartbreaking! Brings tears to my eyes! (I am being sarcastic, just in case that were not obvious.) But he always sounds committed and inspired when tearing through his favorite songs from the 50s – even if he does that with greater frequency and less provocation nowadays. Choba B CCCP ("Back in the USSR," since no post 70s Paul album would be complete with some measure of Beatles in-jokiness) is McCartney's only album consisting entirely of covers, and for that reason it is among the more interesting CD's in his discography (London Town, anyone?).

Another thing I like about it is it was released in Paul's very ambiguous post-Give My Regards to Broad Street, pre-Flowers in the Dirt era, which also produced "classics" like "Spies Like Us." I owned Choba as a bootleg when I was in high school, and was somewhat embittered when it got official release, with one additional track no less.

McCartney recorded the album in two days (eleven of the fourteen tracks on the first day, with two slightly different bands. The first line-up features Paul on vocals and bass, backed up by Mick Green on guitar, Chris Whitten on drums, and Mick Gallagher on piano. The second line-up features Paul on vocals and guitar, Nick Garvey on bass and vocals, Henry Spinetti on drums, and Gallagher again on keyboards. Actually, the guitar work on Paul's three tracks is notably better than on Mick Green's tracks, but none of the songs is really a startling musical showpiece.

The songs are rough and ready rock workouts, mainly three-chord wonders like "Twenty Flight Rock," "Ain't That a Shame," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Lucille" – the types of songs that made Paul want to rock the world in the first place. Surprisingly, even given Paul's reliance on songs like these in the ensuing decade since Choba was records, these performances are solidly enjoyable straight through, even "Twenty Flight Rock." Paul seems to be enjoying himself in a way that is only otherwise apparent in oddball releases like Wild Life and McCartney II. It seems that the only time Paul is genuinely inspired is when he's doing something that isn't expected of "Paul McCartney" the superstar. Cutting loose really serves him well.

Highlights are "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Crackin' Up," "I'm Gonna Be a Wheel Someday," "I'm In Love Again," and "Bring it On Home to Me." Less stellar are "Summertime" (given a bluesy rock treatment that doesn't really work; it's a bad song to begin with) and "Midnight Special," which is just okay. The album suffers a bit from being fifty minutes worth of rock classics done with almost no dynamics – the instrumentation only illuminates the cranked-out nature of the album – but it's still an enjoyable album. I can't say I play it very much, but sometimes the mood strikes and nothing but McCartney doing Ellington by way of Eddie Cochran will do (see "Don't Get Around Much Anymore").

If he did another album like this I'm sure that both would end up suffering by comparison, but paired with the Unplugged album, Choba B CCCP stands as a truly vital step in loosening Paul up from his own reputation. Unfortunately for us all, he has since taken this attitude too far and is now the musical equivalent of your grandfather's most obvious "magic" tricks, but at the very least it shows that Paul can always get it together when he really wants to.

Review by Ivan Loverling