McCartney - Flaming Pie Paul McCartney
Flaming Pie

The interviews, VH-1 overkill and general hype have died down. McCartney's Flaming Pie has been out a few weeks, and now that the dust has settled, one question must be answered was it really worth the bullhorn arrival notice?

Mmmm, sometimes. There are some great tracks on Flaming Pie. There always are on a McCartney disc, and with Jeff Lynne, George Martin and Ringo Starr onboard, some sweet pop singles are bound to materialize. But there are some darned tedious sonic strolls as well.

Pluses first:

One of the ex-Beatle's strongest releases in years, "The World Tonight" lives up sonically to its "I go back so far/I'm in front of me" lyric; this is both one of McCartney's most modern sounding rock hits, while at the same time showing off some very classic, Abbey Road era guitar leads.

The album opener, "The Song We Were Singing" yields to a marching tempo that also recalls more Beatlesque days, and "Young Boy" has a big hook, many voiced chorus that hearkens back a couple decades for its McCartney songbook counterparts.

There are a couple of sugary ballads that recall McCartney's White Album work: "Little Willow" is a guitar and piano hymn that is as quiet and moving as it simple. "Beautiful Night," a previously unrecorded McCartney ballad written in 1986, features Ringo on drums, a full orchestra and McCartney in his best crooner regalia singing of "castles in the sky." It's perfect.

There are some less successful, but passable offerings: "Calico Skies" and "Somedays" are contemplative acoustic guitar numbers, the former with a travelling troubadour feel. The album closes with "Great Day," another song dredged up from McCartney's past, but this handclapping, acoustic guitar noodler doesn't have nearly the charm of "Beautiful Night."

The Flaming losers?

The title track, despite a classic pounding piano backdrop is, well, just plain dumb: "shooting stars from a purple sky/I don't care how I do it/I'm the man on the flaming pie."

"Heaven on a Sunday" is a light bit of cloudy contemplation that suffers the sin of innocuousness. "Used To Be Bad," a bluesy jam with Steve Miller doesn't exactly aspire to much besides lick trading between the two rock statesmen. Likewise, "Really Love You," co-written with Ringo is really nothing more than a funky jam riff with McCartney belting some improvised vocals over the top.

Cut a handful of tracks and you have a very strong McCartney album. Leave them in, and it all sounds watered down.


Upsy Daisy Assortment

The only thing better than an album of new XTC songs is an album of old XTC songs. Regrettably, this "greatest hits" by England's shy, eccentric popsters doesn't include any bonus new tracks, but it does offer the band's best loved songs from eight albums, from "Making Plans For Nigel," "Generals & Majors," "Senses Working Overtime" and "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" to "Dear God," "Earn Enough for Us," "The Mayor of Simpleton" and "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead." This is a long overdue compilation of some of pop music's most daringly successful three-minute experiments. Nobody has ever so perfectly encapsulated man's difficulties in believing in a higher power better than "Dear God," or provided as touching and real (and catchy) a portrait of young, broke love as "Earn Enough For Us." Hopefully Upsy Daisy Assortment is just the musical postcard from a soon-to-be-returning XTC, who reportedly have been in negotiations with several record companies to release material they've recorded over the past five years.


Nicky Hollanrd Nicky Holland
Sense and Sensuality

This 11-song venture into pop melodies and classical veneer achieves its most memorable merger on its first track, "Paperchase," a glorious celebration of strings and staccato. Holland's slightly smokey but always smooth vocals sail in bittersweet beauty over a perfectly arranged orchestra. It's a clever wordplay, co-written with XTC's Andy Partridge about refusing to take the excuses of a lover through letters. Holland sings, "Herd the scraps into the bin where they belong/I won't go on another paperchase/I'll trail behind until you tell me face to face/as all of your excuses litter up the place."

Drums and guitars and other such "band" instrument staples come sparingly back into use after this first musical treat, but while all of Holland's tunes are liltingly listenable, none achieve again the power that just her voice and a string section manage on "Paperchase." Fans of Julia Fordham and Alison Moyet will appreciate Holland's voice, and alternative music fans will appreciate her writing partners: She's written songs in the past for Tears For Fears, Jill Sobule, Celine Dion and Tina Turner, and on this album, in addition to Partridge, she co-writes with Lloyd Cole and Bill Bottrell. Old pal Tears For Fears leader Roland Orzabal is credited with the back cover photo. And she includes a quiet piano version of the title track she co-wrote with Cyndi Lauper for Lauper's last album, "Hat Full of Stars."

Much of the album is very low key — piano, strings, and late night, low light ballads. It's relaxing, if not always rivetting.


Justin Hayward
A View From The Hill

The lead singer of The Moody Blues is up to his old tricks on this, his latest solo album. A View From The Hill, his first solo effort since 1991's Keys To The Kingdom is a mellow listen from one of rock's most distinctive voices. Hayward doesn't stray far from the gentle adult contemporary stylings of recent Moody Blues mode on View. He writes of coming to terms with everyday life, dealing with watching someone in the throes of addiction and even about a sniper — but manages to instill all of these potentially depressing subjects with hope.

Hayward will be performing tracks from the album and the Moody Blues catalog on July 20 in the regal comfort of Chicago's House of Blues.