Flaming Pie (Capitol 56500)
Finally, the album for people who were still waiting for Paul McCartney to make his worst album ever. Flaming Pie makes Pipes of Peace sound like Sgt. Pepper (wait, I'm not sure which of those three albums just received the biggest insult). It's an ironically miserable response to the fans who have long said "Paul should stop worrying about making an album to please the public and just make an album for himself that would be his best album for sure!" Yes, "for sure" is right, but only in Valley Girl parlance.
From the winky Beatles in-joke of the title itself (John Lennon once joked in an interview that he came up with the name "The Beatles" after seeing it in a vision of a flaming pie) to the obsequious liner notes that explain each song as though they are all masterpieces (they aren't), the album is a long exercise in tedious wankery, redeemed only by four good tracks ("Great Day," "Young Boy," "Beautiful Night," and "Little Willow" none of them on the first tier of McCartney's great moments).
In between these songs we get a whole lot of unwelcome bluesy pop bearing the sonic stamp of Jeff Lynne, whose plastic veneer only serves to make the whole affair seem even more unlikable. I'm no Jeff Lynne detractor (I love the Traveling Wilburys albums, for example), but his approach doesn't help these songs, which are devoid of appeal to begin with. McCartney has rarely written so tunelessly (Red Rose Speedway comes very close), and although I can hardly begrudge the man for having fun making a new record, I don't bloody well have to like it. I'm sure he wouldn't like my album either.
Paul states that the album was inspired by working on the Beatles Anthology project, although the retrospect seems to have caused him to look back at all the wrong things the yuckiest example being his renewed collaboration with Steve Miller, with whom he had played 25 years earlier on Miller's song "My Dark Hour" (under the name Paul Ramon). You know perfectly well that putting Steve Miller and Paul McCartney in the same room is only going to result in "blues, man!", which of course is not blues in reality, but the Steve Miller brand of blues that crops up in the truly horrible "Used to Be Bad."
Honestly, I think I'd prefer listening to the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack (though please don't make me test that statement). Easily one of Paul's worst moments, mainly because it's so fucking boring and slick. Hopefully a Jimmy Buffett collaboration is not pending. "If You Wanna" is another low point featuring Miller, although in the man's defense, he appears on "Young Boy" and doesn't destroy it.
The album's lead-off single was "The World Tonight," my nominee for all-time worst McCartney single (I'll even include Linda McCartney in that statement). This one features the notably bad line "I go back so far, I'm in front of me," which Paul actually singles out as being the sort of lyric John would have approved of, like "The movement you need is on your shoulder." Well, I think I can speak for Lennon in saying, "No, that line is shit, Paul, now quit using my name to sell your albums, or I'll haunt your sorry ass." When I first heard this song I was stupefied at its lack of melody and general insipidness, and it was the reason I didn't buy the album. In fact, I only bought it recently for the sole purpose of reviewing it, and thought it remarkable that it was as bad, if not worse, than I thought it would be.
Now, so as not to become too exaggerated in my contempt for the album, I'll point out that its high points are very enjoyable (although the brightest spots on Flaming Pie are approximately as bright as, say, Back to the Egg's mediocre moments). "Young Boy" is a solid acoustic single that sounds like it would have been the best Ringo Starr single ever (ask me about "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" sometime, on that note), but it's a decent song and very enjoyable amid all the crap here. "Beautiful Night" is a holdover from the sessions that followed Press to Play, which never resulted in an album, and is the best of the three singles pulled from the album. It's a nice song in the spirit of "Wanderlust" and "Maybe I'm Amazed."
"Little Willow" is Paul in "Blackbird"/"Bluebird" mode, charming and effective though shallow and transparent. "Great Day," which closes the album, was written around the same time as the McCartney album, and is the best song on the album even though it's the least ambitious. Sounds just like a McCartney track, very similar to "Every Night" and "That Would Be Something." Sadly, it does tend to prove the argument that Paul's songwriting is now a fraction of what it once was.
Other above-average moments: the opener, "The Song We Were Singing," a nostalgic look back at the Beatles heyday that doesn't quite work but doesn't really fail either. "Calico Skies," a "Tug of War" sort of song performed with voice and guitar only (Lynne couldn't ruin this one). "Souvenir" is a song that would sound absolutely awesome if performed by the Artist, sort of a Percy Sledge-meets-Wings slow-burner that may turn out to be the subtlest pleasure on the album. "Somedays," orchestrated by George Martin (who you can perfectly imagine rolling his eyes while furiously cranking out another chart for another middling Paul song), is a decent enough acoustic song, but decidedly in the lower echelons of the McCartney canon.
The rest of the album is pretty much adult contemporary VH1 crapola a la James Taylor ("Heaven on a Sunday") or "rockin'" horseshit ("Flaming Pie," "Really Love You," the latter of which is a total piece of garbage co-written by Paul and Ringo).
I did like that Paul played virtually every instrument on the album, including drums on most of the tracks (I love Paul's drumming, though Ringo's trademark style is very welcome on "Beautiful Night"). Blank stares: Paul's son James makes his recording debut ("Heaven on a Sunday")! Paul plays the same standup bass Bill Black played on "Heartbreak Hotel" ("The Song We Were Singing")! Paul writes a song in under two hours ("Somedays")! Who cares. Not a totally dismissable affair, but I truly hope there are better things to come from than this mess (and hopefully not a remake of "The Mess" from Red Rose Speedway).
Review by Ivan Loverling