You can never count Paul McCartney out. Recently, I've been getting nervous about writing him off in the wake of Flaming Pie (the first McCartney album I didn't even buy) and his confusing forays into classical music and electronica (neither of which I've heard more than 45 seconds of). I mean, I'd sort of written him off before, like in the early 90s when he seemed to be settling in for a very deep rest on his own laurels I enjoyed Tripping the Live Fantastic as much as any other captive Beatle fan, but I thought the boy's songwriting days were over.
Even Flowers in the Dirt had started to seem kind of tired, and I'd loved that album when it was released. Imagine my surprise when the fellow came out with this EP in advance of the Off the Ground album and it contained one of "those" songs.
By "those," I mean one of the songs you know will take its place in the pantheon of great McCartney songs, not necessarily because of its popularity (meaning "Ebony & Ivory" isn't one of "those" songs) but because of its quality the indefinable characteristic that you'll find in songs like "No More Lonely Nights," "Take it Away," "My Brave Face," and "Hope of Deliverance".
The lead-off single for Off the Ground took most fans by surprise with its simple "Til There Was You" acoustic guitar pattern and samba-lite beat, but most of all it was a rare occasion when Paul seemed to actually create a song that meant something as well as sounded good. And no verses with whistling, "doo-doo-doo" nonsense lyrics, or other mumbo-jumbo just a damn good pop song start to finish. Had VH1 been a bit cooler at the time, it might have been a sizable hit, but even so it remains the most recent reminder that Paul can make it happen when he concentrates.
The rest of the EP is memorable too, though nothing as titanic as the single. "Big Boys Bickering" is a folky accordion-driven social-commentary song in Paul's trademark "fool on the hill" persona, notable for using the phrase "f**king it up" as a principal vocal hook (in fact, it is repeated over and over as an outro no kidding). It shocks me now as then, and I've never been able to figure out whether I like it. I think I do.
"Long Leather Coat" is the "C-side" as in "B-side of the B-side," though it's not terrible (it's better than many of the tracks that made it to Off the Ground, for example). Not very memorable, and sonically a bit too close to Bob Seger's "Tightrope" for comfort. It's the sound of a 50 year old man making rock music, that's the best I can describe it. The EP closes with "Kicked Around No More," a song I always remember as being much better than it is, though it is a good song in reality too. Kind of reminiscent of "With a Little Luck"-era Wings, but a bit more contemporary sounding.
Like most of Paul's output it doesn't sound like anything else that came out the year it was released (in this case, 1992), but if that makes Paul irrelevant to the record buying public, it only enhances his stature as one of the most untouchable artists around.
For all the criticism the guy has gotten over the years for following every trend, I can't think of anything he's ever done that actually sounds trendy. Some sound like he thought they were trendy ("Goodnight Tonight" springs to mind), but they definitely come from a very individual mind.
Too bad the album sucked. "Off the Ground" itself was another great single, but the album was truly weak. We won't speak of "Biker Like an Icon" here, no sir. Then there was Paul is Live okay, now I'm beginning to remember why I started writing him off entirely. Damn nostalgia keeps confusing me.
Review by Wimpempy Tarlisle