Monday, January 28, 2013

Solo Beatles: Good stuff from this millenium?






In the "Blue Sway" thread, Commenter J.R. remarked that he hasn't sought out Paul McCartney's work since 1999's Run Devil Run. Then I came across this blog post by Todd Pack, which reprints the "Do Not Never Ever Buy" list reproduced above. (It's from the Laurie's Planet of Sound music store in Chicago.) The list includes "60s/70s Artists CD's from the 80s/90s/2000s" as a category comprehensively to be avoided when buying CDs to resell. (This isn't a list of music the record store clerks snobbishly hate, a la "High Fidelity," but a list of music that virtually never sells and is thus a money-losing proposition.)

I can see the point of this item (for me, Rod Stewart springs immediately to mind), but of course I want to argue that it doesn't apply to all  ex-Beatles' solo work in the 80s and beyond. In particular, I'd argue that there's been some good-to-great ex-Beatles work released in this millenium. Here are a few top picks for post-2000 work; Hey Dullblog readers, chime in with your thoughts.



George Harrison, Brainwashed (released 2002)

My favorite Harrison solo album (yes, even more than All Things Must Pass). The marriage of deep, wryly observed wisdom with inventive, catchy melodies that Harrison achieves here is amazing. "Any Road" rivals Lennon's "Crippled Inside" as a jaunty-sounding song about the perils of leading a shallow life. "P2 Vatican Blues" skewers organized religion without sounding bitter. "Looking for My Life" and "The Rising Sun" are universal songs clearly rooted in Harrison's own experiences of disillusionment and perseverance. And there's not a weak song on the album. George truly went out on a high note with this one.



Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full (released 2007)

Proof, like Ram, that some of McCartney's strongest work emerges from emotionally grueling periods. Coming out of his divorce from Heather Mills, McCartney reckons with his past directly on songs like "Vintage Clothes," "That Was Me," and "Ever Present Past." "Dance Tonight" strikes a note familiar from McCartney's earlier work (let's get together and have a party), but in a newly somber key. (Love that ukelele!) "Only Mama Knows" and "Mr. Bellamy" are story songs a la "Lady Madonna" or "Another Day," but this time the beleaguered protagonists are male. Mr. Bellamy, in particular, just wants people to leave him the hell alone (gee Paul, did you base that on your own experience at all?) And "You Tell Me" is an astonishing response to perceived betrayal, all the more menacing for its understatement.



Ringo Starr, Y Not (released 2010)

For a Ringo album, this is pretty solid (easily his best since 1992's Time Takes Time or 1998's Vertical Man.) "Peace Dream" is a genial salute to Lennon, "Walk With Me" an enjoyable duet with McCartney on spending time with an old friend, and "The Other Side of Liverpool" an autobiographical tune about Ringo's lower-class beginnings. All in all, quite likable.



9 comments:

matt m said...

Nancy, you are spot on about Brainwashed--definitely in the same league as ATMP and Material World. But I can't handle the pitch correction ("autotune") on Memory Almost Full. I'm very sensitive to its use and have a poor opinion of it in general. I just wish Paul could be okay with having a 70-year-old voice, warts and all, but... he's never really handled loss that well.

On a lighter note, I recognize that list as being a Who's Who in Used Record Shops' Fifty-Cent Bins, 2001 ed., or the same artists I'd see on repeat as I searched for CDs I could score that the shop clerks were unfamiliar with and had mistakenly demoted. (Lack of knowledge in Ohio of bands like Throbbing Gristle kept me in amazing music very inexpensively in high school.)

Paradoxically, a few of those artists on that list ended up there because their work was promoted to the wrong demographic and was subsequently purchased and discarded en masse, despite being worthy of consideration. The perennial example--and reason I bring this up--is Tripping Daisy, whose I Am an Elastic Firecracker is in equal measures Beatle psychedelia, angular punk, and abstract weirdness, plus Moog synths and Fugazi's producer, all of which add up to a commercial disaster, but also something at least a few readers of this blog might be interested in. (And, as long as I'm at it, the same goes for Belly/Tanya Donelly, Perry Farrell/Porno for Pyros, and Suede.)

Anonymous said...

Well I hate to be negative about Ringo because he seems so darn harmless. But I listened to his "Y Not?" record and I thought it was dreadful -- some truly cliched lyrics and nothing very interesting musically. I feel guilty just typing that. I think it's great that he continues to perform but I just didn't find much on the album to like.

As for Memory Almost Full, I need to give that another listen. I've heard a lot of people praise the album but personally I far prefer Chaos & Creation and Electric Arguments to Memory Almost Full. There are some great songs on MAF, though: Ever Present Past, Mr. Bellamy, End of the End, and, especially You Tell Me. I also like Dance Tonight. How is it that Paul is able to just toss out these songs like Dance Tonight that sound like it's some old folk-dance tune that's been around forever?

I've never listened to Brainwashed. I confess I'm not a big fan of George's solo work. It all sounds like the same album reproduced over and over again. But I will give Brainwashed a listen.

-- Drew



Michael Gerber said...

Great post, Nancy--what I love about that picture is the big "STING" scrawled in capital letters. :-)

Nancy Carr said...

Matt, fair point about the autotune on some of the "MAF" songs. I guess I hear it in the "one more thing to play with in the studio" context, so it doesn't bother me so much. On "Kisses on the Bottom" he does do the unaltered 70-year-old voice, and has taken some critical dings for it -- but I think it works.

Drew, yeah, "Y Not" sure isn't breaking new ground, but I do find it likable. "Brainwashed," on the other hand, really is great and worth checking out.

And while we're on the topic of record store commentary, here's what Reckless Records in Chicago says online about "Memory Almost Full":

"Say what you will about SIR PAUL, but the man can write a pop song like nobody's business. Take a listen to "You Tell Me" and try & pretend that you're not down with PAUL."

And about "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard":

"Keep in mind that this description was written by someone that thinks Paul McCartney is pretty much a total knob that hasn't done anything worth a damn in a really really long time when I say that this record is surprisingly good. As much as Paul is responsible for some quality songwriting, Nigel Godrich (RADIO- HEAD, BECK) is responsible for somehow lighting a fire under Mr. Macca's ass with his genius production. i should mention the fact that Paul plays almost every- thing you'll hear on this album. This really is an impressive record from a guy who's obviously still got it. I like being proven wrong, really I do..."

Michael, I think you could write a great comic story about the character who wrote "STING" on that list and the events that immediately precipitated that action. Extra points if you work in how K.D. Lang and Melissa Etheridge came to be highlighted, and Joe Satriani written in all caps!

Michael Gerber said...

Nancy, Reckless Records is not far from where Kate and I used to live in Chicago. I have fond memories of it, not least because it's where I sold most of my old vinyl before moving West. (No Sting, or Journey, or Eagles--mostly New Wave stuff like The Smiths and New Order and Front 242 and all the groups I used to listen to at Medusa's, a rather legendary club.

Chicago--and St. Louis, oddly enough--are both hives of Beatle-related activity. Perhaps being away from the NY/LA hype machine means that (good news) they recognize what lasts while (bad news) they're not on the forefront of stuff. Medusa's--and the whole "deep house" thing--being a large exception.

J.R. Clark said...

I might add that the only reason I sought out Run Devil Run was that I was in a drug store in 1999 waiting on a prescription when I heard the familiar voice singing "No Other Baby". That piqued my interest and I got the CD...glad I did.

I just am not particularly interested in the individual Beatles' musical output after the breakup.

Michael Gerber said...

Gotta be honest, @JR, I'm with you. Good, bad, or in-between, solo Beatles is just...a lot less interesting to me. Even when I like it, I don't feel it like I feel even the most forgettable Beatles stuff.

Anonymous said...

I would guess that most people prefer the Beatles albums to their solo work.

That said, I listen to Ram on a regular basis -- far more often than I listen to Beatles records. For me, it's the best solo album by an ex-Beatle and it's better, and more interesting musically, than some of the band's albums.

-- Drew

Nancy Carr said...

Michael, one of the delightful things about the Chicago area is that it still supports a number of great record stores (3 Reckless locations, Dusty Groove, Oak Park Records, Old School Records, Hyde Park Records, etc.). Reckless, with its multiple locations and searchable online inventory, is particularly addictive for me (though I also love my locals, Oak Park and Old School).

I enjoy Reckless' eclecticism and tolerance—the direct opposite of the hipster record store stereotype. At the Loop location within the last few months I've heard, for example, Ghost (the Japanese melodic metal band), Andy Williams, Bob Dylan, and some black metal I couldn't identify. You never know, walking in, what will be playing, and I love that (even when the music of the day isn't my thing).

I get a kick out of their personal, often tongue-in-cheek online annotations, like the McCartney ones I posted. I've never been treated rudely at Reckless (even when I was buying music that could be considered deeply uncool by many).

At their best, record stores can foster a community a bit like HD, where diversity of opinion is tolerated beneath the umbrella of a common enthusiasm. And that seems very Beatlesque to me.