New tricks fail old fave
By Allison Rung, Arts Editor
"Driving Rain," Paul McCartney's first original album since 1997's "Flaming Pie," is reminiscent of being home for Thanksgiving dinner. Everything's delicious, but it would have been much better if you hadn't eaten as much at once. "Driving Rain" is certainly not lacking in talent, but, while overzealously trying to achieve multiple genres and sounds, perhaps Sir Paul bit off more than he could chew.

While a consistent theme of finding new love provides some continuity, aggressive attempts at blues, pop and disco all at once make the album too disconnected to be infused with the old McCartney charm. "This album is not what you'd expect from me," he admitted. It seems as if the 60-year-old rock star rushed to experiment with too many sounds at once, mirroring the work of his aging colleague Bob Dylan's recent "Love and Theft."

EMI's marketing strategies serve only to highlight the faults of the album. The record company initially cancelled a morning-show interview with McCartney on England's GMTV because the program's forty-something hosts weren't young enough to evoke the hip image EMI wanted to create. While listening to "Driving Rain," one can sense this struggle to keep up with the times.

The distortion of vocals and guitar in "She's Given Up Talking" are an uneasy attempt to grasp a contemporary sound with a concept that's an innovation of the early 90s. The focus on a trendy sound sucks much of the energy from a potentially good melody and cannot fortify its empty lyrics.

While critics and listeners may find this suitable for the likes of bubblegum pop groups and MTV-happy "modern rock" bands, this is a rather unacceptable move on the part of someone of McCartney's stature. He's the most commercially successful rock composer of all time. He is a Beatle. He has been knighted. There is no reason for such a uniquely talented legend to regress into the desolate climate of modern popular music.

It is also evident within the lyrics that "Driving Rain" is a very personal album-a move which is to be expected considering the emotional strain of remarriage after losing his wife Linda to cancer in 1998. Rather than being deeply introspective, many of the album's tracks are sappy and fail to reach a satisfying conclusion. "Your Loving Flame" burns out quickly with cheap rhymes like "If I don't have you / I'll be feeling blue" and the words of "I Do" are neutral and generic.

"Heather," an almost completely instrumental track, leads a rather enjoyable and progressive melody to complete anticlimax by tacking a few lines of silly lyrics to the end without completing the musical statement. "Riding into Jaipur" has a similar fate, beginning with an enticing dance of tampura (similar to sitar), guitar and African drums, only to be rudely interrupted by a flitty stanza that clashes terribly with its mystical atmosphere.

No advertising tactics or bad lyrics, however, can conceal McCartney's musical knack. If McCartney is out of his stylistic element, he is comfortably at home with his roles of lead vocals and bass guitar, the same roles he played with The Beatles. In songs like "She's Given Up Talking" and "About You," the lack of poignant lyrics is compensated by a well-woven bass and lead guitar combination. His talented three-piece backup band of American musicians serves its purpose as an accompaniment; it's clear that "Driving Rain" is a one-man show.

McCartney's work on the Hofner bass is as strong as ever, but his vocal work is perceptibly not as strong as it was for "Flaming Pie." In "About You" and "From a Lover to a Friend," the high notes are a struggle, and the attempted hard-rock screams at the end of "Rinse the Raindrops" are simply weak. McCartney's matured voice works well for the album's most pleasant track, "Your Way," a sweet folkie tune for which he works the rasp into charisma and sounds much like Rod Stewart.

After almost 40 years of making records, it is quite admirable that McCartney still has the creative hunger for experiment. "Driving Rain" is a decent compilation of his artistic pursuits, but it could have been truly fantastic with more development.

Issue 00, Submitted 2001-11-28 17:21:25