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Dont’ Judge Album By Its Title, However Odd

Sun., May 25, 1997

Paul McCartney “Flaming Pie” (Capital)

Paul McCartney has a fine new album out, and I’m sure I speak for millions of American music fans when I say, “Flaming Pie”?

Don’t worry - he hasn’t lost his mind. Back when the Beatles were beginning to become popular, John Lennon wrote that the band’s name came in a vision. Quoth John: “A man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on, you are Beatles with an A.”’

Hence the album title. But as much as words on “Flaming Pie” (Capitol 56500) might hark back to Beatlesque whimsy, the melodies are pure McCartney. In fact, it includes some of the best stuff he’s written in years.

There’s a little bit of everything here, from pungent, minor-key rockers to dreamily tuneful ballads. What the album doesn’t have is the self-conscious ambition that made 1993’s “Off the Ground” seem so labored. Instead, there’s a lightness and serendipity that makes the best songs seem as if they were the work of an instant.

So what comes across in the quiet, acoustic “Calico Skies” isn’t songcraft but honest feeling, as if McCartney had simply written down the first thoughts that came into his head. As such, it seems lovely in a way that has less to do with melody than with emotions. At last, McCartney demonstrates he can play on the listener’s sentiments without becoming cloying or cute.

It would be nice to report that all of “Flaming Pie” is as tasty, but sadly, that’s not the case. Although there’s a similar straight-from-the-heart feel to the lush, jazzy “Heaven on Sunday” and the ruminative, melancholy “Somedays,” other songs seem frighteningly derivative. “Young Boy” comes on like McCartney was trying to out-ELO Jeff Lynne (which is funny, since Lynne co-produced seven other songs on the album), while “The World Tonight” sounds more like Squeeze trying to be Beatlesque than a former Beatle being himself.

Originality isn’t everything, though. There are times when good spirit means as much, and when McCartney trades blues licks with Steve Miller (yes, that Steve Miller) on the utterly pro forma “Used to Be Bad,” the fact that we’ve heard it before won’t stop many of us from wanting to hear it again.

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