Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Paul McCartney - 'Ram'

Rating - 8 on 10, B+.

Macca's solo career gets a lot of scorn thrown at it - and having heard the synth-disco mess of 'McCartney 2', random forgettable pop hits on retro shows on music TV and the disturbingly rudimentary sounds of 'Flaming Pie', I can certainly see why.

On the other hand, he was a Beatle, and a member of one of the most brilliant songwriting teams ever. He's also among the best melody-makers of the rock era and a pretty talented and versatile composer and performer, when he puts his mind to it. Surely his entire career can't be crap - right? After all, even Lennon, who never lost his credibility, released some pretty self-indulgent and tuneless (in a few instances music-less) stinkers, and although Harrison began and (posthumously) ended his career with two great albums, there was a fair amount of filler and faff in between. Ringo Starr was always the most brilliant and productive of the lot, but that was even true back when they was Faboo. So it might be worth at least giving the lad a chance.

McCartney's (look, I'm just calling him 'Paul' from now on, okay, typing his surname is a pain) second solo album is probably a good starting point, anyway. Its predecessor was by all accounts a fairly rushed affair put out between Beatles albums to prove a point or beat Ringo to it or something. This post-Beatles album is the real beginning of a rather lengthy solo career, and a joyous beginning at that. Lyrically the album varies from more-or-less nonsensical psychedelic and absurdist outbursts, proving that Lennon wasn't the only Beatle to have a streak of Lear in him to rather maudlin but heartfelt and goofy paeans to Paul's newfound love and domestic rural life. Musically, it feels like a lot of well-fleshed out demos - realised enough not to seem like mere sketches, but not so slick and finished that they lose an endearingly hand-crafted feel.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey and Monkberry Moon Delight are the two most thoroughly realised pieces of psychedelia here. The first song is just Paul singing away about two odd characters in a more or less extempore fashion, and could fit in with any of his whimsical character portraits on Beatles albums, like Maxwell's Slver Hammer. It's as good too, with nice melodies and changes in the Abbey Road medley vein, something about 'Hands across the water, heads across the sky' that's infernally catchy and opaque at the same time and a trumpet bit that's probably played on a mellotron. Monkberry Moon Delight is another delightfuly loopy excursion, with Paul going on about sitting in his attic with a piano up his nose and who knows what else. It makes no sense whatsoever, but is magnficently melodic and has Paul in prime screamy form, which is put to better use on absurdist songs like this than to convey an overblown sense of emotion. Monkberry is my favourite song on the album, by the way.

Carrying on with funny ditties, but somewhat more modestly-scaled are Smile Away, a merry little rocker with a nicely dirty guitar tone and the hilariously blues-styled 3 Legs. The album opener, Too Many People has the most meaningful and non-sappy lyrics (relatively) here, set to a great upbeat guitar-pop tune with really cool lead breaks at the end. Heart Of The Country and Eat At Home are catchy, humble odes to Paul's love of rural life and domestic bliss, made palatable by the dollop of wry added to all the sugar. More infectious melodies, too. Long-Haired Lady is probably about wife Linda, too, and features her on backing vocals (she does a lot of that on this album, and at this stage in the proceedings her voice is at least engagingly campy, in keeping with the generally light hearted atmosphere) and is a sort of multi-part pop epic. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and Paul still churns out gorgeous melodies and harmonies so it's all acceptable. Ram On is a cod-folksy ditty which might refer to Paul's occasional stage name of Paul Ramon(e). Dear Boy is a vaudeville-piano tune - big surprise, huh - with gently sneering lyrics which some assume are directed at Lennon. Who knows? In The Back Seat Of My Car is a nostalgic take on the teen-love idiom that dominated the Beatles' early fare, and is pretty charming in its own way, with great harmonies and all that.

The bonus tracks on my reissue CD are decent, but not an essential part of the Ram experience. Another Day is a ballad about another Eleanor Rigby-ish lonely person, but she has a job. Oh Woman, Oh Why is a completely disposable rocker with Paul trotting out his screamy vocals in emotional earnest, rarely a pretty experience.

The hand-made and home-crafted charm of the album is furthered by the cover art, a collage of Linda's photographs surrounded by Paul's doodles. The back cover, reproduced here for your benefit, has an amusing visual pun in the form of a pic of beetles buggering.

And there you are. This is a totally non-serious and goofy album, but fun is a worthy musical aim as well, and if you don't think so you'd be better served defragging Thom Yorke's hard disc instead. The great melodies, musical energy and well-crafted vocals on this album make give the fun substance (which is not the same as weight), and while I prefer the stuff John was doing on those latter-era Beatles albums this album helps me realise that Paul's work was no slouch either, trivial as it may have seemed at times. It's a shame the rest of his solo career wasn't always this joyous and inspired. And joyous and inspired isn't that easy to pull off, you know.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Fluffy, charming but not musically trivial enjoyment. Put it on and be prepared to Smile Away.

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