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Paul McCartney “Driving Rain” (2001)
Lonely Road/From A Lover To A Friend/She’s Given Up Talking/Driving Rain/I Do/Tiny Bubble/Magic/Your Way/Spinning On An Axis/About You/Heather/Back In The Sunshine Again/Your Loving Flame/Riding Into Jaipur/Rinse The Raindrops
Paul McCartney has finally announced his first 'proper' album since the end of his divorce from Heather Mills and his third marriage to Nancy Shevell, after five years of 'playing' at being other people (the excellent, largely improvised 'Fireman' album 'Electric Arguments' and the terrible, largely over-rehearsed crooner album 'Kisses On The Bottom'): a 'new' album called 'new' (which, inevitably, we fans will end up calling 'old' once he has another one out). Whilst we salivate over the prospect of the first album where Paul sounds like Paul since 2007 (back in the stone age when - shock horror - Alan's Album Archives didn't exist, hoe on Earth did you all cope without us?!), and the thought of finally getting to hear lMcCartney's updated thoughts on life and love after two quite different relationships (explored in part on 'Arguments', but hopefuly expanded on this time around), we thought we'd take you back to an album that came out during a similarly unsettled period in Paul's life. Whilst the circumstances behind the relationships are very different,the similarities between this album and 'Driving Rain' are remarkable (Paul's first 'proper' album post-Linda, following on from an excellent, largely successful classical piece 'Standing Stone' and a mixed collection of rock and roll oldies 'Run Devil Run'). So let's go straight to the eye of the hurricane and go on a drive through the driving rain...
Unusually for one of our reviews, we’re going to start this one by looking at the front cover. There Paul McCartney is in familiar pose, not quite with thumb aloft but with hand waved in acknowledgement of the camera, doing what he always does. But his head is downturned, not looking at us (something we’ve only ever seen once before, on ‘Tug Of War’ in a picture shot soon after Lennon’s death) and the grainy, watch camera that’s taken the picture has distorted his features so that they’re only just recognisable (poor quality even for 2001 if I remember rightly). It’s as if Paul’s atoms have been suddenly re-arranged to demonstrate quite a different side to his personality – or that his world view has changed considerably since his last ‘proper’ album ‘Flaming Pie’ in 1997, the 'old' picture of the world almost unrecognisable now. Of course the world had changed terribly for Paul – Linda’s death in 1998 and the first stirrings of a public fall-out from Paul’s stormy relationship with Heather Mills meant that Macca’s relationship with his audience and his music has changed irrevocably, the end of a marriage that lasted 29 years (with only six days spent apart – all of them due to Macca’s spell in a Tokyo prison in 1980) seemingly changing everything. (While I never really bought the 'Paul is Dead' rumours, note the raised hand, long associated with the rumours as evidenced of a 'death', which was always meant to be a 'clue' on Sgt Peppers, where comic Issy Bon raises his palm clearly above Paul's head - very similar to the cover of 'Driving Rain', only its Paul doing the hand-waving, significant on an album where death hangs so heavy over everything). This is a record where the ground beneath your feet is revealed to be sand, where lifelong dreams turn out to be shadows and where life surely has to be pre-destined, because if the changes are all due to cruel coincidence it doesn’t bear thinking about. Although it’s probably the weakest selling of all the McCartney solo albums to date and seemed to get short shrift from fans and critics, ‘Driving Rain’ is an important album in the McCartney canon and with more humanity and inner emotion than we’ve heard for some time. Whilst far from a masterpiece on the same lines as 'London Town' or 'Ram', it deserved better and certainly improved on the albums immediately before it.
As you can imagine, Linda' s passing changed Paul's life forever. A partnership so strong even the accusations of splitting up the Beatles and the criticism over Linda's role in Wings despite being a non-musician couldn't split them up, Paul looked to Linda as his biggest muse: many of his best songs are about her, their family, their shared love of 1950s rock and roll and teenage rebellion and love of animals, all interests fuelled by Linda (the Beatles-era Paul would never have written a song like 'Wildlife' without her influence and I doubt Paul would ever have written a song like 'My Love' or 'Maybe I'm Amazed' for Jane Asher, close as they were). So much of 'Driving Rain' is about Linda's absence, her presence ghostly flitting through the songs in memories or - as in the first song 'Lonely Road' - her voice reminding Paul of all that he's missing. Even the vocals, polished on every other McCartney solo or Wings album (including the supposedly 'raw' one-take albums like 'Wildlife' and 'Back To The Egg')are left deliberately raw and unfilled, as if Paul has left the songs for Linda to add her usual harmonies on top. Thankfully, instead of trying to play down the feelings of hopelessness and despair McCartney is brave enough to let us listen in as he stumbles around life, lost, howling out his pain at having to walk a 'lonely road' he never thought he'd walk again and letting the mask slip for a 10 minute rant that pleads for 'awakening' so often you fear he's never going to find happiness again. As a result, the best of this album -the emotional half - is the most emotionally resonant McCartney's written since first album 'McCartney'. Indeed there are similarities here: an early love song to Heather Mills begins 'you give me the strength to get out of bed', recalling the depression that hit Paul at the end of the Beatles period in 1970 ('Every Night' especially). As a result, parts of 'Driving Rain' cuts far deeper than anything Macca released in the 1990s, when he was suffering a combination of millionaire auto-pilot and in denial about Linda's suffering, Paul starting his 21st century catalogue with a bang.
That said, ‘Driving Rain’ is only half an album taken up with remorse and yearning. You can split the album up pretty neatly into half songs that were written in memory of Linda and about the loneliness of being left behind and the other half features the first crop of love songs for second wife Heather. There are more 'silly love songs' here than most Macca albums, both ones that are both specific about Pau's second wife (one is even titled 'Heather', Paul's second song with that name) and ones that are more about the healing power of love, something McCartney probably came to recognise all the more after finding himself without a partner for the first time since his teens. Whilst none of these 'love' songs are as distinguished as most of his past classics, some of them are excellent indeed: the traditional, so McCartney-ish ballad 'Your Loving Flame' and the moody, unusual 'From A Lover To A Friend' both being album highlights. 'Awakening' is the theme of the record, even though that phrase isn't used until the last song, with several songs here about picking yourself up after bad times or finding direction in life after being convinced that you'll be lost forever. Some fans have compared this album to 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' but actually its more like 'Double Fantasy' should have been with the rougher edges from 'Milk and Honey' left in; a 'starting over' for the 21st century.
In theory there should be an easy division between these two very different sets of songs (especially as a lot of the 'Linda' songs are stacked at the beginning and the 'Heather' songs at the end) but where this album excels is with the overall half-theme about the yin and yang of life, that bad things have to happen to show how good the good things are. Take for example the blurring of the lines on 'Magic', a song about the eerie coincidence of McCartney seeing both wives across a crowded room and being convinced they were his future partner for life), left so ambiguous you're not sure which lover Macca is singing about from verse to verse. That song also hints at another big album theme: the idea that fate is watching over us and that people in our lives who are meant to be will always appear when we need them. Take 'Tiny Bubble', apparently a love song where a loved one appears to turn into 'mother nature', traditionally a 'Linda' reference ('Golden Earth Girl' being the best fit of many examples) but clearly about Heather here. Paul pauses the song in the middle though, admitting in a glorious middle eight 'I well remember when my soul was free, my heart could sing, my soul could weep...'), uniting the sad and happy elements of the album.
Of course, one of the troubles of being a reviewer is that often you know things the musicians didn't when they were writing their songs - several years or even decades later you know that a relationship, once sung about as healing and helpful, will turn out to be poisonous and difficult. That's especially true of Heather Mills, who nowadays is seen as one of Paul's biggest 'mistakes', causing feuds within family and friends that are still simmering below the surface today. From 2002 onwards, when the press started finding out all sorts of 'titbits' about Heather (her past husbands, her 'gold-digging' credentials, disputes about her charity work and stories about her background) everyone seemed to assume that Paul's marriage to Heather was a mistake - not just because of the rumours but because the age difference was 'impossible' (its probably worth pointing out that Linda was two years Paul's senior - and that Yoko Ono was seven years older than John Lennon) and Heather was less than reverential about her new husband in the public eye. Stories of an incensed McCartney the night before his wedding hurling his engagement ring out of the window after a row (and getting his long suffering assistant Geoff Baker to retrieve it, in the snow) didn’t help the pair’s image in the media either (though it’s worth mentioning that Paul had a row with Linda the night before their wedding that was apparently much worse but never made the papers back then). As a result, everyone around at the time assumed that the relationship was always 'doomed' to failure, that Paul was only on the 'rebound' and that they never ever loved each other for a minute. While Heather got a lot wrong (her way of 'manipulating' the media and then complaining when they manipulated her; greed for money in the pair's divorce settlement the nail in the coffin for many onlookers), I've always felt that she did McCartney as much good as harm. The fact is, Paul has always needed somebody there to 'share' the burden of being a Beatle with him – and more so since becoming famous, rather than less (somebody has to keep a Beatle’s feet on the ground; only Ringo now knows what it was like to be one of the fab four - and Ringo's made himself more and more absent from Paul down the years). Had it not been for Heather Paul was in danger of becoming a recluse (like George) or going off the rails on his own ‘lost weekend’ (like John) and as the Beatles' most visible, approachable figure the thought of Paul becoming a recluse or out-of-control is unthinkable. Paul isn't reaching out wildly for anyone either: you can hear it in most of these album's songs how Heather reminds him of Linda and how her refusal to put him on a pedestal appealed to him rather than put him off. What's more, the relationship seems to be actively pursued by both halves if the songs are anything to go by; no I have no doubt that the love between Paul and Heather was heartfelt, at least for a while (as long as the writing of this album at least). McCartney wouldn't come up with a line like 'No more more worries, no more pain, and that's how its going to be for the rest of my life' if he didn't mean it. 'Your Loving Flame' is proof enough alone that, for Paul at least, Heather was going to be the second and final Mrs McCartney. So what went wrong?
Well, something seems to have really come between the couple about the time of this album's release, when they started doing their media work separately and answering questions about their marriage with a suffering silence rather than gooey-eyed adoration. Nuggets of information came out during the pair's very public divorce in the high courts, Paul alleging that his live asked for more and more money and complained that the offices and mansions he bought her were 'too small'; she in turn alleged that Paul spend too much time off his head on mild drugs (likely) and turned violent on both her and their child Beatrice (unlikely). Heather's plans to make her own vegetarian cookbook, using Linda's old publishers, seems to have struck especially close to home. It was probably simply a case that the qualities that so appealed to the one about the other when seen for a few hours a day drove each other crazy when stuck in the same house together, with different business pressures pulling them apart. Perhaps inevitably, for all Paul's lyrics of finding 'the one' and the idea of Heather as the saviour who showed him the beauty in life again after such a hard time, there are many many hints here that cracks are already beginning to show (noticeably there isn't a single example of a rift between Paul and Linda, although a couple - such as 'With A Little Luck' - are about Paul making up for a row): 'From A Lover To A Friend' is a plea to a friend to become something more, half-afraid that they'll say no; 'If you only knew how much it meant to me, you'd understand, and I'd feel your love was true...' (the opening lines to 'I Do') have no parallels in terms of doubts with any of Paul's songs for Linda; 'Please don't take my heart away' ('Your Way') hints that the relation ship might be becoming one-sided; finally the line 'I read the hidelines and now I swear its true' ('About You') is not what you'd expect from a typical love song.
For a start, the record has the best one-two-three punch of any McCartney/Wings album since ‘Venus and Mars’ 25 years earlier. ‘Lonely Road’ is the song I always play to doubting Thomas’ who call McCartney’s solo work vapid and simple; a howl of pain to rival Lennon’s, it’s one of the toughest, meatiest songs in the Macca canon, out-emotionalising ‘Helter Skelter’ and outrocking even ‘Jet’. ‘From A Lover To A Friend’ is a fascinating elliptical ballad where Macca finally gets the hang of modern production work and turns a slight poem into a tour de force of stream-of-conscious emotions and confusion, pleading with someone – presumably Heather – to ‘let me love again’ whilst acknowledging that the pairing might not be true love but the pain of loneliness speaking (it would have saved Macca a lot of heartbreak if he’d listened to his own lyrics but then I’ve always taken a slightly more positive view of this relationship than most Beatles fans – see below). Then comes ‘She’s Given Up Talking’, a rare unreleased song from McCartney’s past that had never appeared on bootleg, a moody expressive pop song as painted by Dali, pointing at all the sub-conscious turbulence that isn’t in the actually pretty straightforward lyrics. All three songs are minor classics and all three are easily superior to anything on the crowd-pleasing but impossibly empty ‘Flaming Pie’ predecessor (an album perhaps left deliberately empty so that Paul didn’t have to confront Linda’s illness in song and pretty similar all round to Lennon’s equally empty ‘Mind Games’, ‘another record with rock and roll played at different speeds’). Sadly all three of the album’s highlights happen to come at the beginning and nothing else quite captures the same depth, poignancy or sense of adventure.
That’s not to say the album simply gives up or ends up dull, however. I’m pleased to say that ‘Driving Rain’ is one of the strongest AAA albums in terms of chopping up the sound and throwing something new in midway through (we’re back to our beloved middle eights again!) As a result, even the songs that start off as simple, typical McCartney reflections on family life, love and happiness are turned around in the light so we can see the characters in 3D. Take ‘Back In The Sunshine Again’, a lazy song of reflection about being in tune with nature (it’s basically ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ but shared by a couple this time round). Had Macca stuck to the simple (indeed a little too obvious) verse and chorus this would have been another filler song. But in comes that amazing middle eight ‘Life’s too short to spend it lonely...you only throw it away’, the key line of the whole album. In fact, the middle eights - yes we're back to talking about them again! - are especially good on this album, McCartney turning his characters around to make them three-dimensional, with even the soppiest love song sounding all the more powerful because the middle eight makes it clear that the narrator knows what loneliness is like; equally even the nastiest, most depressing track on this album is made all the more powerful by the narrator's memories of how great life used to be. 'Driving Rain', then, has an added depth that other McCartney albums don't have: often McCartney's trouble is that he's so prolific and songs flow so freely from him that he'd rather move onto the next burst of inspiration than add the last 10% that would make his good songs great; here though, by and large, there seems to have been some real thought and structure going on in his work.
As for the ‘love’ songs, ‘Your Loving Flame’ comes closest to being iconic. One of only two songs from this album to be played in concert (alongside the title track), it opens with a Maybe-I’m-Amazed style piano riff that’s both epic and simple and seemingly proof that the Heather Mills relationship wasn't just there for show. 'Magic' is quite a compelling love story with a twist too, Paul bidding goodbye to Linda by wondering what life might have been like if 'magic' hadn't caused them to meet in the first place, defending himself against critics by claiming he felt the same 'magic' meeting Heather. 'Your Way' is early Wings (right down to Rusty Andersen's excellent pastiche of Henry McCullough), so perfectly formed and seemingly obvious you wonder why no one had written this song decades before. 'Back In The Sunshine Again' might be a typical McCartney song from title alone, but the sunshine strikes a careful balance between the rainclouds threatening the skies that's most effective. 'Riding To Jaipur' is a touch of White Album style madness that gets away with things by not trying too hard. And finally 'Rinse The Raindrops' is a dividing song between fans, an ambitious simple riff turned into a ferocious 15 minute jam session that'll please the lovers of Macca's more out-there stuff like 'Loup' 'Morse Moose' and most of McCartney II' and make everyone else run for the hills. Frankly, I'd rather hear McCartney trying than coasting (as he did on the unlistenable 'Flaming Pie' and 'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard'), even though its not a song I go out of my way to hear too many times.
In actual fact the only truly bad thing here is 'Freedom' - and it's a song that doesn't belong here at all anyway. Included too late to make the album packaging the song is officially a 'bonus' track, even though its appeared on every single edition of 'Driving Rain' to date. The song was inspired by 9/11, an event that McCartney was more closely linked to than most when his areoplane was grounded in the wake of 9/11 and a sea of worried passengers had to be kept in touch with what was happening by the pilot radioing the control tower as the drama unfolded. A song with its heart in the right place, and intended from the first as a charity single (in the event the single never did raise money, but McCartney premiered it at a charity night for a New York firefighters benefit concert, its woefully empty, the sound of a man thinking with his head not his heart. Surprisingly many fans really took to this song, which was really just a pale shadow of Richie Havens' plea of the same name (the opener of the 'Woodstock' festival and film) - although it speaks volumes that McCartney dropped the song from his set after too many 'protestors' started using the song in their own campaigns (compare this to Lennon's take on his more reactionary songs which are fair game for all sides to take although they might have got an earful in a few interviews). Annoyingly, given the drama that inspired it and the very real emotion that made McCartney want to do some good, it's a watered protest song that's too vague to hit home; a surprise after the impressive emotional display of past McCartney songs like the under-rated 'Give Ireland Back To The Irish' and the neglected B-side 'Big Boys Bickering'.
One curious thing about this album that no one (as far as I know) seems to have picked up on is the recording deadline. An amazing 14 of this album's 15 songs were recorded within just 12 days - three of them during a single session ('Lonely Road' 'Riding Into Jaipur' and 'About You' on February 16th 2001), a pace that's easily Macca's quickest since 'Wildlife' in 1972 (and that saw only eight tracks recorded in a fortnight). The polished production that's become a McCartney trademark is still there, but there's s nicely grungy feel about the production too that gives you the impression that most of the songs are being played live (pretty amazing given that most of these tracks were effectively played by a 'power trio' of Paul with guitarist Rusty Andersen and drummer Abe Laboriel Jnr, none of whom had played together before (though both men, along with bassist Brian Ray, have sensibly been employed on all Paul's tours to date, giving his music a new youthful spark and energy even early Wings didn't have). Note, though, that Paul sat on all of these songs for a full nine months before releasing them into a climate that was decidedly less friendly towards Heather Mills than when Paul wrote these songs (the one exception is 'Your Loving Flame' taped in June, which is interesting given that it's the most 'sure' and trusting of Paul's songs for Heather ).
So, even without the 'bonus' track, does all this angst make for great art? The answer is yes, but it could still have been so much greater. On the plus side, this is one of McCartney's most consistent records, without the usual 'mistakes' that overshadow so many of his better albums ('Treat Her Gently' on 'Venus and Mars' 'Picasso's Last Words' on 'Band On The Run' etc) and that fact is doubly impressive given that this is also McCartney's longest studio work, running to an impressive 74 minutes (78 if you include 'Freedom', a 'bonus' song added so late in the day the track listing had already gone to the printers before it was recorded). It’s a joy too to hear McCartney so happy again after such a ‘low’ period (not withstanding the nasty turn of events to come later in the McCartney-Mills story), but its frustrating also that the very real grief heard at times across this record (which could have made this another ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono band’ McCartney style) isn't explored as fully as it could have been. There's a real well of emotional grief on this album that, having heard the first three tracks, seems to draw deeper than the well of any previous McCartney album - as a result, however strong and beautiful the following love songs are they sound dangerously undercooked and soppy by comparison. I wouldn't wish that darker period on McCartney for a minute, I love him too much for that, but as a fan of his music it's a shame that the dark spaces that seemed to take us where we'd never been before turn out to be simply shadows once the record ends. Annoyingly, too, the truly heartfelt songs are easily outnumbered by the lesser ‘love’ songs here, leaving a nice mini-album at the start that’s much more interesting than the songs that come after it. As a result, then, ‘Driving Rain’ has always sounded half-cooked, raising your interest and hopes only to dash them again as soon as track four, and to me ‘Driving Rain’ has always been the great album that got away rather than the masterpiece that was. Still, even without the more emotionally involved songs this would still be a fine CD and ‘Driving Rain’ is certainly a lot better than reputation would suggest and well worth looking out for if you're enough of a fan to have got this far through this article. In fact ‘Driving Rain’ used to be easily my favourite of all the McCartney albums released in the 21st century, until ‘Electric Arguments’ went neck-and-neck with it in 2007 – in fact this 2001 work is probably Paul’s best since ‘Flowers In The Dirt’ back in 1989 five albums earlier.
♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫'Lonely Road' is one of the greatest songs of McCartney's collection. As great a goodbye song as anyone could wish for, it starts off by having Paul pretend that he's calm and everything's OK before gradually stripping away the 'front' and revealing a howl of pain at the centre even a primal scream-era Lennon would have been proud of. Linda isn't mentioned by name, but this is as much 'her' song as 'My Love' or 'The Lovely Linda' and Paul seems to be having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that it might be the last he ever sings for her. The second verse has Paul going 'somewhere old' to 'search for my pot of gold', for inspiration that will fill the hole now in his life: this is surely 'Run Devil Run', the album of 50s covers Paul half-heartedly started when Linda was poorly and which she was enthusiastic that he should finish (the sound of a musician playing as loud as he can to block out his thoughts, it features one true gem in the cover of 'No Other Baby', a 'Vipers' cover originally produced by George Martin that is a close cousin of the gritty performance Paul gives in this song). By the third verse he's tackling the ghost of Linda head-on, working on 'Wide Prairie' , his excellent tribute to Linda featuring all her songs released and unreleased, some of them in new performances quite different to the handful released in her lifetime, but even that won't tame the feelings of loss that haunts him ('I hear your music and it's driving me wild, familiar rhtyhms in a different style...'). Fittingly, the music is a sort of musical medley of most McCartney eras, mixing the slightly psychedelic tinge of 'flower power' Beatles, the brittle home-taped feel of 'McCartney' and 'Ram' and the tricky rhythms and second guitar of mid and later period Wings - all the times from when Paul first met Linda to the end of the days when they last sang together. The chorus is especially good, Paul giving up trying to pay tribute to someone he's already sang about so many times and admitting his own inner pain at having to 'walk down that lonely road' for the first time since his teens. Anyone who wondered why Paul should end up with Heather Mills need only hear this song, which makes it clear that any relationship, however confused, is better than none at all. Laboriel's hard-hitting drumming is just what this song needs and Andersen's sea of guitars conjure up just the right sort of out-of-control bedfuddled fog, but its Paul's double-tracked screams on one of the greatest vocals of his life that you remember. The extended ending where Paul half-mocks and half-cries 'I don't wanna...I don't wanna...I don't wanna walk that lonely road', with more grit in his voice than a hundred 'Helter Skelters' and dozens of 'Long Tall Sally's makes 'Lonely Road' one of the greatest McCartney songs of them all, memorable and melodic but cutting deeper than almost any other track in his canon. Linda would have been proud.
'From A Lover To A Friend' is another excellent song, again a song that doesn't mention 'Linda' or 'Heather' anywhere but is clearly the sound of a heartbroken man reaching out for support. Indeed, it's left so ambiguous you're never quite sure who Paul is reaching out for absolution from: his lost love, his present love, himself or all three? For perhaps the first time since 'Maybe I'm Amazed', though, this love song doesn't shy away from offering up Macca's doubts and fears: in an eerie echo of Lennon's 'How?' from 'Imagine' Paul asks 'How can I walk when I can't find a way?', lost in his misery and directionless. Predictably the only thing that seems to give Paul's narrator new hope is love ('love is all you need' after all); his trouble is trying to persuade someone (almost definitely Heather) to be more than just 'friends' and pleading with her to love him as much as he loves her. Even though its difficult now to hear lines like 'now that you've turned out to be someone I can trust, someone I believe...', you can see how much this relationship means to him, the idea that someone 'can tell me you're going to take it all away'. Like 'Lonely Road', 'Lover' is a great song because it starts off as another one of those Macca ballads where he's fully in control and then gradually unwinds bit by bit, the song pitching awkwardly into a minor key as Paul brings out his now older-sounding, vulnerable falsetto for the first time since the 1980s. Amazingly the only 'modern' production addition here is a slightly creepy echo on Paul's voice, but in actual fact this sounds like the most contemporary McCartney recording for some time, a sea of twin pianos, rhodes and guitar meshing together to sound like modern synthesisers (but better). A gorgeous fusion of the old and new, 'From A Lover To A Friend' is another song that really hints at the void in Paul's life after Linda's death and has Paul at his most vulnerable, fragile - and brave. Sadly this song turned out to be one of Paul's worst sellers when it was released as a single (it's a great song but not really 'single' material - 'Lonely Road' or 'Sunshine Again' would have been better choices); do look out for the CD single if you can find it though; two 'new' mixes of the song are added as bonus tracks, which draw out even more of the confusion and emptiness at the heart of the song although neither quite have the power of the original.
'She's Given Up Talking' is an interesting song. Just as 'Flaming Pie' had turned out to be Beatles-heavy after Paul spent so much time working on the 'Anthology' TV, CD and book series, so 'Driving Rain' features an awful lot of 'Wings' styles ('Wingspan', an excellent documentary on the 1970-80 period, was made by Paul's daughter Mary and screened in 1999, along with an Anthology-style book, though thankfully more pictures this time around). 'She's Given Up Talking' is a Wings-era song that strangely seems to be about the only 'lost' McCartney song not to have appeared on bootleg (yet!) That might be because this is yet another personal song, inspired by Heather, Linda's eldest daughter (who can be seen playing with Paul and Ringo in the 'Let It Be' film) and who was officially adopted by Paul when he married Linda in 1969. Unfortunately life can be cruel to the children of famous musicians and step-children doubly so; while one of the reasons Linda contemplated marriage was because Paul seemed to enjoy Heather's company even more than hers, Heather didn't like all the fame and adulation that went with being the child of an ex-Beatle. As a seven year old when Paul and Linda met, used to a completely different way of life as the child of a single parent in America, Heather had at least been used to a 'different' way of life that her half-siblings Mary, Stella and James never experienced. Several less than savoury Beatle tomes have tried to make more out of this story than there really is and isn't worth going into, but suffice to say for the discussion of this song, Heather has had a difficult time and was hopsitalised for a great deal of her twenties due to 'an emotional disorder' (some tabloids go further and claim she was instituionalised).
Paul, naturally, won't talk about it: as far as he's concerned she's family and none of her business (and it won't be brought up by us again either), but this song seems to be the exception. Perhaps reminded of his earlier song 'Heather' after meeting a new 'Heather' and writing his new song 'Heather' (see 'Anthology III', where Paul improvises a song about her on his acoustic while Donovan chips in with suggestions), Paul turns what used to be a funny little ditty about his eldest child (who was terribly shy at school and teased a great deal for her Beatle connections, only to turn loud and boisterous at home, where she felt safe) is revisited as a very edgy, uncomfortable song given all that's taken place in the 'interim' 30 years. The lyrics are very McCartney-style comedy ('She's given up talking, don't say a word, even in the classroom not a dicky bird'), but the execution is hammer horror: Macca's round full bass dominates the sound and its beautifully ugly, unpredictably dominating the sound with a squirt of stomach-churning noise; the Pink Floyd style 'seagull' guitar effects and keyboard make the backdrop sound like an empty alien landscape rather than a school-room and the effects on Macca's vocals make him sound by turns caring, scary, distant and angry. Like the first two songs there's no attempt to soften the blow here: this is another family tragedy, traced back to its roots with Heather a bullied, nervous child at school ('Someone made her angry, someone made her scared') and trying to ask fate why someone Paul is so close to has to suffer. Note the fact that the title character has 'given up' talking: its not that she won't, its not that she can't, its more that no one listens to what she has to say anyway so she might as well not bother. Incidentally, listen out to some 'chat' around 1:45 in which appears to be Paul saying '...and then continue the solo, right into the second verse!' (presumably instructions for Rusty playing one of the greatest solos of his life). Another wonderful song that's both sympathetic and ominous, I'm actually rather pleased this song didn't come out as another jokey Wings B-side and was instead revisited almost as a 'warning' song, another of Paul's most under-rated songs.
Alas 'Driving Rain' itself ushers in a run of songs that aren't bad but clearly aren't up to the standards set at the beginning of the album. '1-2-3-4-5, let's got for a drive!, 6-7-8-9-10, let's go there and back again' might well be the worst lyric of McCartney's life, in fact, even if the idea of 'if you're going through hell, keep going!' theme of the song is rather good and typically Macca ('Go for a drive in the driving rain!) Paul sings once more of his 'open heart' and how much he wants someone to fill it, but actually by comparison to the first three songs on the album his heart's not 'open' at all; this could be any generic pop song about anybody and the only line that hints at the real difficulties in this period is the line about someone (Heather Mills again) 'letting sunshine in the darkest places when I've been going there again'. It's a shame the lyrics aren't better because there's quite a clever pop song melody going on here and a great stinging guitar riff from Rusty and Paul together and another great band performance where you can really hear the joy in Paul's voice, having a whale of a time after recording some of the more intense vocals o the rest of the album. You have to say, though, that as a composition this one of the weakest songs on the album, harking back to the sloppy, filler writing that went on far too often on 'Flaming Pie' (although thankfully not quite that flaming awful).
'I Do' is one of the two most McCartney-like songs on this album, with a similar feel and run of chord changes to such past classics as 'I Will' (note the similar title), 'Girlfriend' and 'So Bad'. Like so many a McCartney song, the melody is so perfectly formed and 'obvious' it sounds like it should have been around for generations, not just 12 years. David Kahne's 'orchestral samples' (not a full orchestra but an 'electronic' one recorded playing individual notes - an idea that 10cc first came up with for 'I'm Not In Love' back in 1975) are an excellent addition too, drawing out the prettiness of the song without descending into schmaltz. Macca's vocal, too, is well thought out, effectively a 'trio' between three of his voices: the 'normal' the 'bass' and the 'falsetto' that's quite effective, as if emphasising how Paul's narrator is going to be there for his loved one at all times, not just when it suits him or her. In actual fact, the song was sung in the lower register throughout tin the demo and changed only at the last minute on recording day - which might explain the accidental pause at about 0:45 when Paul comes in at the wrong place! The lyrics aren't quite up to the tune or the idea, though, and feature at least one clunky mistake that doesn't even scan ('Days go by so quickly when you're having fun, but life is never easy, even in the sun'), although this was always one of those songs that was going to work best simple and derivative anyway. Note, though, the one-sidedness of this song again, as if Paul is pleading with 'her' to feel the same way as 'him' ('If you only knew how much it meant to me, you'd understand and I would feel your love was true'...) I'm especially fond of the pretty ending, which ends unexpectedly on an unresolved chord, leaving a sort of 'question' effect hovering in mid-air (again, not unlike the one on 'I Will'), as if leaving the 'answer' to Heather to fill in. On most other McCartney albums from the period 'I Do' would be one of the best songs, but somehow it's quiet understated charms seem to be a bit overwhelmed compared to the songs that surround it here.
'Your Way' is the other terribly McCartney song, as if the acoustic riff from 'Bip Bop' is now being played on the same instruments as 'Band On The Run' with a dose of 'Country Hams' era pedal steel. Effortlessly catchy, 'Your Way' doesn't have the depth of the better songs on the album, but it too is not without its good points. Like 'Magic', it's another song that could be about either Linda or Heather - or both. Confusingly, Paul's also claimed in interviews that this is two sides to the same personality singing to themselves "like a man and a woman" (that would explain a second use of his bass and falsetto singing to each other - would this part normally have been sung by Linda?) Listen out too for a reference to 'Venus soaring on her way to Mars', the first time Paul returns to the 'space' theme of that record (which, according to some people if not the McCartneys themselves, was about Paul and Linda anyway). Really, though, this is just another of those McCartney pop creations that sound like they've been around forever, not as memorable or as pioneering as the rest of the album but still written and played with more care than usual for this period.
'Spinning On An Axis' is the first of two co-writes with son James, the then-24-year-old and his dad noticing a meteorological phenomenon outside the window that meant that the Earth looked as if it was moving rather than the sun. Like many a Beatles song ('Rain' 'Good Day Sunshine') 'Axis' uses the weather as a metaphor for life - this time around the certainty that, even though the 'day' will end, the sun will always rise again. Notably, though, there's an uncertainty and edginess on this track that wouldn't have appeared on, say, 'Flaming Pie', the narrator watching the sun set 'with some sorrow', knowing that a chapter of his life is over if not the whole book. Strangely, James only ends up playing percussion on the song, despite being a fine guitarist himself in this period and who more than likely came up with the distinctive four-note riff at the heart of this song (he played lead on 'Heaven On A Sunday' from 'Flaming Pie' and the forthcoming 'Back In The Sunshine Again'). Unusual and quirky, even for this album, the middle verses are the closest to rap or hip-hop that McCartney has yet come and may be the one leftover from early plans to make 'Driving Rain' a 'dance' album (Paul moved into this field for the first two 'Fireman' albums, deciding to make them 'underground' style rather than as a mainstream album with his name on them). Again, it's a joy to hear McCartney stretch himself on a genre he's never used before, but the song isn't quite up to the standard of some others on this album and the clunky rhymes of 'sorrow' and 'tomorrow' under all the good work of the other words to this expressive song.
'About You' is a simpler rock and roll song, played with a muscly electric guitar riff that's not dissimilar to the ringing tone Paul used on his 'McCartney' album ('Oo You' and 'Momma Miss America' particularly). Fittingly, this song is a return to the 'theme' of that album, of the hopelessness and despair at the end of the Beatles and how only Linda's belief in him helped Paul get out of bed and away from his depression at all. It's as if, after Linda's passing, he has no focus again and is remembering the bad times, as well as paying tribute again to Heather's belief in him now he's facing a second 'mid-life crisis'. 'You give me the power to get out of bed, when in the morning I'm feeling dead' could have been a line from 'Every Night' in fact. While the 'McCartney' songs were largely peaceful, reflective songs about deep and heavy subjects, however, this is a song that's actually quite simple and direct, played with a turbulent and angry feel that makes this song sound more like 'closure' than 'awakening'. There's a sense, too, that Paul isn't so sure about the second saviour in his life - the snarl with which he sings 'they said it about you' (the newspapers perhaps?) is hardly evidence of love. Paul may also have been listening to the Lindisfarne song of the same name (part of the 'Sleepless Nights' album of 1983) which is similarly ambiguous about whether the narrator wants to love or strangle the object of his desires. Paul's gritty vocal and harmonies are a delight and the electric squawl will delight fans who revel in Paul's noisier side, but this isn't one of the album's better songs.
'Heather' is a fun song, one which is instrumental for a whole 2:30 of its 3:30 running time, as Paul finds a fun piano phrase (like a slowed-down 'Lady Madonna') and extends it into a jam session, the rest of the band magically falling into place. Indeed the band have so much fun with it its almost a shame when the vocals cut in as the one short verse is terribly twee and not one of McCartney's best ('I will dance to a runciple tune with the Queen of my heart', indeed!) Still, the music alone does a good job at conjuring up the new life and energy Heather has given Paul at such a dark time in his life and the line about holding himself away on some uninhabited planet 'for a year and a day', avoiding the outside world, is quite sweet. The piano lick is one of Paul's best in fact and really deserves a better 'song' to go with it - but then that's love for you! Not quite strong enough to match up to the better songs here (and less universal, Paul unusually slipping the name of his beloved into song for the first time since 'The Lovely Linda' in 1970), this is nevertheless the best jam session on a McCartney album since 'More Moose' in 1978 and its still a delight to hear him obviously having such a great time on one of the album's more uptempo numbers. The song does have quite a fun postscript too: Heather heard an early draft of the song and asked which Beatles or Wings album it came from as he really liked it; Paul rather sheepishly replied that it was a new song written for her!
'Back In The Sunshine Again' is also clearly about Heather - uncomfortably so, given what we know is about to happen ('We're leaving behind all our worries and strife, and that's the way it's going to be for the rest of my life!') The lazy bluesy feel of this song is really effective, especially co-writer James McCartney's very Claptonesque guitar-work and the song has a good-time Summery feel that makes it stand out on this highly turbulent album. That said, the greatest moment of the song is still the harshest and most unexpected section, an unsettling shift to another key on a middle eight tug-of-war that's the key moment of the whole album ('Life's too short to spend it lonely - you only throw it away' but then immediately followed by the counter-argument 'listen to your voice of reason, call it a day!') Paul's narrator may well be 'back in the sunshine' and enjoying life for now (always a key Beatles image of hope and optimism and being in the right place at the right time, from Paul's own 'Good Day Sunshine' to John's 'Sun King' and George's 'Here Comes The Sun'), but the hint is that the sun might only be temporary and about to depart behind a scudding cloud. Even the fact that we get a straight repeat of the first half of the song doesn't negate the effect either: this is a man who knows that his time of happiness might be running short and is determined to make the most of it. Is this song in fact a combination of two very different songs, added together to give both of them a bit more substance? If so, then its much more successful and fitting here than on other strung-together McCartney songs like 'The Pound Is Sinking/Hear Me Lover' 'Winter Rose/Love Awake' 'After The Ball/Million Miles' and 'Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun'. Overall 'Back In The Sunshine Again' is another of the album highlights, a cleverly constructed song well played by the whole band and that offers a very convincing glimpse into Paul's soul.
'Your Loving Flame' is even better, a McCartney ballad that's only a fraction shy of joining Paul's illustrious successes like 'Yesterday' and 'My Love' (plus lesser known songs like 'Through Our Love' 'Winter Rose' and 'Only Love Remains' that are better still!) 'Maybe I'm Amazed' , another past classic, was clearly in Macca's mind when he sat down to write this song(another of his compositions closely associated with Linda, it even asks the question 'what would I be without you?', a thought which must have been wandering through his poor befuddled brain). The stately opening chords clearly mirror that song but are once again merely a front for some very real and turbulent emotions. Written some time before most of the other songs on this record (and his earliest song written exclusively about Heather), but recorded long after (in June, the only track not part of the February sessions), is this in fact a re-recording of a song that McCartney knew was special (and, perhaps, with the uncertainty of the rest of the album removed - this is the one song during Paul's time with Heather that actively comes out and says how unconditionally in love he is, although even then note the ominous line 'help me discover what it is you're thinking of...'). Like the best McCartney songs its one that's both heartfelt and autobiographical and universal and even with the dozens of 'silly love songs' he's written down the years few can compete with this song's simple line 'when we kiss nothing feels the same, I could spend eternity inside your loving flame'. The song also has a terrific build-up (again a la 'Maybe I'm Amazed') and really feels like a powerful and weighty song by the end. The one factor that lets this song down is the awful sixth-form college poetry in the middle ('What am I to do if I don't have you? I'd be feeling blue, just sitting here without you') , which is awful even for a writer lazy and uninspired enough to come up with the likes of 'Beautiful Night' and 'Young Boy'. That's a real shame because this section aside 'Your Loving Flame' is a really passionate, lovely song that deserved to have become a standard - not least because it was written on a piano in New York's Carlisle Hotel, residence and meeting place for many a famous celebrity before Paul (indeed, a rumour went round that it was the very piano Cole Porter requested during his many stays there!) Shockingly this song was passed over as a single instead of the equally lovely but far less commercial 'From A Lover To A Friend' and the hideous 'Freedom' - despite the warm reception the song got as long ago as 1999 (when Paul played it on the Michael Parkinson show with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour adding a lovely guitar part; like many fans I was shocked the song never ended up on the 'Run Devil Run' album the pair worked on together).
'Riding Into Jaipur' is another little curio, basically busked one day while on holiday with Linda in the Maldives; Paul remembered the song while on another holiday with Heather in India and altered the words and melody to reflect their surroundings. The result sounds rather like one of those throwaways the Beatles came up with during their stay in Rishikesh when they'd finally escaped the pressures of recording and touring and were playing merely for themselves. There aren't many lyrics here at all (indeed one Beatles book calls this a 'postcard' set to music rather than a song) and what there are is repetitive and frankly boring on paper. It's fascinating to hear McCartney try so hard to connect with his 'muse' directly, however, without trying to tidy up the result and the sprawling, hypnotic sea of guitar chords is again testament to how naturally musical McCartney is. Paul only had a beat-up 'Martin' guitar with him that was his 'travel' instrument he took with him on his travels and, after several journeys around the globe, it had a very unique sound - fittingly, it even has a slightly Eastern, sitar-like sound (the guitar make is the same one Ray Davies wrote and performed The Kinks' 'See My Friends' with, a single often heralded as the first 'Eastern' influenced song in rock and roll circles). Uniquely Paul even plays his beat-up acoustic on the sessions, crediting it on the album's sleevenotes as a 'Martin 'backpacker' guitar'. Listen out, too, for Rusty Andersen tackling a tambura - I doubt whether George Harrison was paying any attention at all to what his colleague was doing, with the album released only one month before his untimely death, but if he was he'd be proud that his work was still influencing his elder friend all these years on! Really just a pretty doodle (and a close cousin of 'Cosmically Conscious' from 'Off The Ground'), this song could have been worked up into something brilliant but even as it stands its quite an interesting artist's sketch that leaves the listener wondering: what does this all really mean? Is it a happy song? A sad song? Or merely a bit of nonsense dreamt up on holiday?! The song also sounds slightly lost here, against all the 'heavier' material - perhaps Paul should have kept it as a stand-alone B-side? (the song was released as the flipside of 'From A Lover To A Friend' a couple of weeks before the album).
'Rinse The Raindrops' is a song McCartney fans either love or hate. A ten minute jam session turned (barely) into a song, its very similar in feel to the much bootlegged (and now officially released) 'Rode All Night' jam from the 'Ram sessions, Paul simply barking his head off sat random, in it for where the music takes him rather than thinking of giving the song a release. Personally I like it but I don't love it - Macca's done this sort of thing better before ('Helter Skelter', 'even the much-hated 'Mumbo'), but it seems somehow fitting that an album that's revealed so much of the 'inner' McCartney should end as it began, with a scream. The lyrics, short as they are, are also nicely poetic, a simple eulogy for happier times and a very McCartneyesque speech-to-self that times will get better, that 'skies will clear' and that 'I'll be here'. The song even picks up on the half-theme of 'Spinning On An Axis' by claiming that 'birds of paradise' re-awake each morning to sing their songs anew - so why shouldn't he? The key word here - and of the album as a whole - is the last word 'awakening'; this is an artist who knows his life has changed and so his music must as well, half-scared and half-thrilled to embrace the new in his life. The difference is the way that McCartney sings these lines over and over (five times complete), as if fast-forwarding through each stage of grief in turn: denial, anger, frustration, bitterness and finally acceptance. There's even a lively moment around 3 minutes in when Paul drops the tempo and busks on an eerie middle-eight counterpart that sounds not unlike parts of 'Ou Et Le Soliel?', where the band really take off into a great telepathic jam (the sort of thing Wings, for all their strengths, never quite learnt how to do). Laboreil's drumming is particularly great here, thundering round the kit as if trying to banish the demons away by hand (had the Beatles ever gone with Hollies drummer Bobby Elliott as Pete Best's replacement, as they once half-heartedly discussed, they might well have ended up sounding like this). The band really cook up a head of steam for the last section, as the tempo slows down and Macca's vocal gets louder again, but this is an album full of surprises and it ends with another one: the song falls apart, segues into a weedier-sounding version of the song (presumably the demo) and then cross-fades back into the main song again for a particularly wicked McCartney cackle on the word 'awakening'. The song then ends properly. Could it be, then, that the jam session fell apart at the nine minute mark and, unable to staple a proper ending on, Macca and co decided to link the sections with a section of his demo? The only thing that works against this is the stories given by people there at the time who claim that this song was done 'as live', although we do know that Macca had carried at least the words if not the music around with him for quite a few weeks before recording them. Whatever the cause of that rather odd edit, 'Rinse The Raindrops' is a memorable end to a memorable album, one that by turns taunts, mocks, sympathises and cajoles the narrator onto greater things. A lot of fans tend to skip it - and its not exactly a song I go out my way to play often - but 'Raindrops' sounds as if it belongs here (a lot more than other McCartney jam sessions; I'm fond of both 'Morse Moose' and 'Loup' - from 'London Town' and 'Red Rose Speedway' respectively - but those songs don't half stick out on their respective homes). The only shame is that McCartney has to spoil it all with an unbilled unwanted encore in the hideous 'Freedom', a travesty not even the horrors of 9/11 can excuse...
Overall, then, 'Driving Rain' is a powerful album. While it doesn't all match the opening thrilling trio of songs, there are enough special moments to place it firmly in the top-half of all McCartney solo/Wings albums and it's certainly a huge improvement on Paul's recent work, which had gradually become more unfocussed and less autobiographical with every release. We said with our reviews of 'McCartney II' and 'Press To Play' that Paul could never win: the critics hated it if he released 'traditional' albums but then attacked him more for releasing 'experiments' and fans weren't much kinder. For me, personally, McCartney's natural gifts for melody are always at their most exciting when they're being pushed to their limits and when they're tied to very real emotions that add depth and feeling to Paul's work. Both 'Driving Rain' and its close cousin 'Electric Arguments' somehow manage to combine the Paul's experimental side with is natural commercial instincts and honest feelings and both are among his best work - and among the best AAA albums of all from the 21st century so far. The only thing that stops 'Driving Rain' from being in the top two or three McCartney albums is a lack of singalong, hummable, commercial tunes (of which only 'Loving Flame' really comes close), but even so I'd take this album any day over ones like 'Flaming Pie' and 'Chaos and Creation' that do nothing but give us hummable, commercial songs without any substance to go with them. Linda deserved a great tribute album after influencing so many of her husband's greatest works and being so much in the public eye (the world may have laughed at her when she started in Wings, but the mourning the world gave her in 1998 was something to behold, actually out-doing the mourning given to George Harrison on his death in 2001, which shows what 30 years in the public eye can do for your reputation). In actual fact, Linda got four tribute albums: one of her own (the lovingly compiled and patchy but mostly thrilling patchwork quilt 'Wide Prairie') and three very different albums from Paul (the classical 'Garland For Linda', the rock and roll covers 'Run Devil Run' and this album. More focussed than the others, with more heart and a sense of Linda's spirit intact, 'Driving Rain' is easily the best of the three, an album filled not just with mourning and sadness but hope and happiness too; full of 'driving rain' that soddens the heart but never, ever extinguishes that eternal flame of McCartney optimism. Which is exactly what Linda would have wanted and expected for her tribute. Forget the rather absent press and poor sales, 'Driving Rain' is the best McCartney album in years, a thoughtful heartfelt work that simply isn't recognised by most fans but is accepted as a classic by most of the ones who know it. Overall rating - 8/10