Pizza and Fairy Tales

Paul McCartney
Pizza and Fairy Tales
(Vigotone VT 198/190)

Two discs of mid-80s Paul McCartney? Hot shit, lay it on me!

Assuredly I am in the vast minority of McCartney fans who would be legitimately excited by that prospect, as most Paul diehards would more or less see it as one of those CDs you buy out of obligation (rather than real passion). To expand it out further into the real world, I'd say that the casual fan would think this CD is simply terrible, and a general music fan with no strong feelings about McCartney one way or another would find it virtually unlistenable. Someone who hates Paul McCartney would probably find it to be justification for the cold-blooded murder of Paul's one-legged mistress. For me, though (a dedicated but very specific McCartney fan), this is fabulously interesting stuff. Pizza and Fairy Tales collects thirty-one tracks from Paul's most wayward period, between the release of Pipes of Peace and that of Flowers in the Dirt (roughly 1985-1988). During this time, Paul experimented with technology, worked with new producers and collaborators, and generally made a whole slew of terrifically uncommercial music. The problem is, he didn't know it was uncommercial, and in fact probably thought he was making extremely hip music. Not so, not at all. Yet for me it is truly fascinating to watch someone so enormously talented flail around like a fish out of water.

Keep in mind this was the era when Madonna was at her peak, Duran Duran still kind of ruled, The Cure were still a little scary, and a-ha were taken remotely seriously. Aging rock stars like Steve Winwood were managing to make things happen, so why not the guy who wrote "Eleanor Rigby?" Because the best he could do at this point was "Spies Like Us," that's why not. This 2-CD set is culled mainly from a compilation tape Paul sent out to various producers to try and hook up with someone who could get him on a hip commercial track. It would be a long time coming. His brief partnership with 10cc's Eric Stewart produced the underrated Press to Play (still one of my favorite pet McCartney albums), but beyond that there just didn't seem to be much water in the well. Vigotone (preeminent bootleggers who also brought us the likes of Get Back - the Final Glyn Johns Compilation and Turn Me On Dead Man) have done a smash-up job of documenting this very floaty period in Paul's career – it is truly a missing link that will answer the question "What the hell was Paul doing in the mid/late 80s?"

Not a question most care to ask, true enough. But hell, I was 14 when Press to Play came out, so sue me for having a soft spot for the slick, overproduced and probably misguided music Paul was making at the time. Several cuts from that album are included in rough mix form, including pretty drastically different versions of "Move Over Busker," "Good Times Comin'/Feel the Sun," and "Press." A nice live take of "Only Love Remains" appears (virtually identical to the studio version, but even so, always a welcome song). Some Flowers in the Dirt material crops up in somewhat protozoic form, including a very cool early take of "This One" that has a different structure and none of the 1989 sheen that semi-plagues the official final version. "Beautiful Night" appears in its original form (it was polished off for Flaming Pie) – as with many demo recordings, it's preferable to the final version, even though it's not so "perfect." Many of the tracks have actually been released here and there, like the truly miserable "P.S. Love Me Do" (even the liner notes point out how god-awful that track is), which was a b-side, I think, of "Put it There."

Ok, lest you start getting too excited about this being the most intriguing bootleg of all time, be very aware that the lesser material here really demands a dedicated Paul fan – not a long-suffering Paul addict who can't help but listen, hates it, but would never admit it – you really need to like this period of his music. The outtakes and unreleased songs range from semi-charming ("Yvonne") to baffling ("Love Mix") to hideous ("Atlantic Ocean"). Some of it could be assembled into an apocryphal McCartney III, as the "noodly synth instrumental" quotient is quite high ("Squid," "Christian Pop"). Overall, Vigotone has produced another winner, as with most of their releases, desirable enough just for its slick packaging alone (cool slipcase, well-done liner note booklet).

In an ideal world, someone would subsidize Vigotone to exist as a legitimate label in the vein of Mosaic Records or Rhino Handmade, producing limited-edition runs of these lovingly-assembled compilations. The sound quality and comprehensiveness demonstrate a respect for the fans that a lot of "real" labels never show. It's ridiculous that a CD like this, with such a limited target audience (could more than 10,000 people worldwide want to own it?) should have to be forbidden fruit. It's almost like if pomegranites were considered to be porn – like, what's the point, exactly? The fans should be able to have access to all the interesting corners of their favorite artists' careers, and what's more, people should be able to fuck pomegranites without judgment.

Review by Ivan Loverling