on September 10, 2005
While all of the Beatles had successful solo careers following the breakup of the band, it was Paul McCartney's career that would prove to be the most successful. With the bar set high, McCartney often found himself trying to measure up from a critical standpoint to what the Beatles had done. In the 1970s, McCartney's band Wings - while not the apple of the critics eyes, continued to sell records. Things would change in the 1980s when McCartney would dissolve Wings. Although McCartney would start the decade out with two successful solo albums in "Tug of War" and "Pipes of Peace". In 1984, things would drastically change - "Give My Regards to Broad Street" would be the soundtrack for a film he would write. That film would prove to be a box office bust and the album would have moderate success. In 1986, things would get worse as his album "Press to Play" was for all practical purposes a flop. As the 1980s would close, McCartney would turn to an unlikely source to try to revive his legendary career - and he would succeed with the 1989 release "Flowers in the Dirt". This would prove that McCartney was back.
Many attribute McCartney's problems in the 80s because he would often have trouble focusing. While McCartney is a great musician, it was obvious that he would often require that "voice of reason" to push him when it came to songwriting or producing. John Lennon and George Martin would fill these roles, but even Martin couldn't stop the train wreck that occurred with "Give My Regards to Broad Street". Following the disaster of "Press to Play", McCartney would start a long songwriting partnership with one of the most unlikely musicians - Elvis Costello. No doubt, Costello is a different artist than McCartney, but he would also provide the stimulus needed to recharge McCartney's creative juices. The duo would begin to write songs for "Flowers of the Dirt" and Costello's album "Spike". Costello would use his real name Declan MacManus to credit the songwriting on four songs included "Flowers in the Dirt". Costello would also participate on three of the four tracks from a musician standpoint - including the duet "You Want Her Too".
At the same time, McCartney brings in a team to help out with the production duties. This team includes longtime Beatles producer George Martin, Elvis Costello, acclaimed producers Chris Hughes and Neil Dorfsman, and former Yes member and producer in his own right Trevor Horn. These producers would work on producing McCartney's efforts on a track by track basis. Combining this approach with his new alliance with Costello would result in some of the freshest material by McCartney since his Beatles days. It found McCartney exploring new avenues as well as revisiting old ones.
Here is a track by track breakdown:
"My Brave Face": This is a McCartney/Costello collaboration and is a very well written song. You can hear sounds of the old McCartney sound as well as the new Costello influence. This is a song that talks about someone putting on a "brave face" after losing a love. (Kind of takes a new spin when McCartney's wife Linda would pass away almost a decade after this song).
"Rough Ride": This song was co-produced with Trevor Horn. It features synthesizers and drum programming as well as trademark Linda McCartney background vocals. Not a bad song - but it's average when you compare it to the remaining tracks.
"You Want her Too": This is the McCartney - Costello duet. Once again, McCartney and Costello bring the best of both worlds. The song opens with an East Indian-influenced melody - going back to the days of the Beatles. McCartney and Costello then trade vocals - and Costello's unique sound really works in the vocal exchange. Great track.
"Distractions": This song has a classic Beatles feel. The Orchestral feel to the song really gives it a good dimension. McCartney's vocals are right on target.
"We Got Married": This song also has a classic Beatles feel, but also you can hear some of the classic McCartney solo sound. No doubt, McCartney's own relationship with his wife played into this song's story. This song features David Gilmour on guitar.
"Put it There": This is McCartney's tribute to Fathers and Sons. I assume this song is a tribute to his own father Jim as well as his own son James.
"Figure of Eight": This song really blew me away. This has a slight Blues influence to it at times. McCartney's vocals a right on the money as well. This is one track where I wouldn't change a thing.
"This Time": Another great sounding song. This one is a very catchy song, but well-written as well.
"Don't Be Careless Love": Another McCartney-Costello collaboration. Once again this is a terrific way of the bridging between McCartney and Costello. There are some terrific harmonies in the chorus.
"That Day is Done": This is the final McCartney-Costello collaboration on this album. Same message as for all of these collaborations as you hear the best of both of these musicians. This song sounds very different than anything McCartney has done before - good stuff.
"How Many People": McCartney's creativity is in high gear as he assembles a reggae influenced track. Paul pulls this off beautifully.
"Motor of Love": I heard almost a (very light) R&B influence at the beginning of this track. Although it's not one of the stronger tracks, I give McCartney credit for trying something new.
"Ou est le Soleil": What a great wrap-up song. McCartney always liked to have fun in his music and this song wraps it up perfectly. The lyrics are basically three lines in French (Where is the Sun?) and has a terrific Euro-Pop beat.
The liner notes contain all of the lyrics as well as songwriting and musician credits. This album proved that McCartney was not washed up in the 1980s. It brings the best of old and new together. Highly recommended.
In the middle of my Beatlemania back in the 80's, I instantly honed in on Paul McCartney, whose videos were on constant rotation on MTV. 1989 saw him releasing his followup to Press To Play, Flowers In The Dirt, a title mentioned in the song "That Day Is Done" but also borrowed from a line in the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen", altering "flowers in the dustbin."
The catchy opening song and first single, "My Brave Face" is one of my favourite songs by him, telling of a man living alone after his loved one has gone, died probably. When I hear some lyrics, "As I pull the sheet back on the bed, I want to go bury my head in your pillow", and "Now that I'm all alone again/I can't stop breaking down again/The simplest things set me off again", I eerily think of Linda McCartney's death died 9 years after this song.
The trials of life in a marriage are recounted in "We Got Married" whose sound is a distant cousin to "Things We Said Today." Dave Gilmour's trademark guitar crunches along as if to affirm the gladness of being together despite hardships. A lyrical triumph, especially this: "I love the things that happen/When we start to discover who we are/And what we're living for/Just because love was all we ever wanted/It was all we ever had." Marriage, says Macca at the end, "It's not just a loving machine/It doesn't work out/If you don't work at it."
One of the standout cuts is the bouncy, sweet acoustic "Put It There" of a tender assurance from a father to son that he's there to help him: "If there's a fight, I'd like to fix it/I hate to see things go so wrong" It's reminiscent of "Blackbird", except sweeter, with string orchestration by George Martin.
"Don't Be Careless Love" is a poignant portrait of a worried man waiting the late hours for his girl, worried she got killed by some mugger, until he goes to bed. In the end, he finds her back in bed, and it's all right
"Figure Of Eight" is something to avoid ending up in. It's an affirmation of loving instead of hating and taking care of one another. An 8 is the infinity symbol on end, but infinity could mean an endless loop one can't get out of.
The upbeat electric guitar number "This One" reveals the downside of waiting for the perfect moment such as being open or affectionate. It's an explanation, an apology, that I found convincing.
The elegiac ballad "That Day Is Done" is of someone who's died and is sung from that person's point of view, with references to a woman in higher circles who's spurned him. I've felt this way during my dark moments: "That day is done, that day is done/You know where I've gone/I won't be coming back/That day is done."
The relaxing reggae-ish beat of "How Many People" is dedicated to environmentalist and Brazilian rain forest advocate Chico Mendes, who was murdered in 1988. This song answers questions philosophers and poets have asked for many ages. "How many people have died?" "How many people never make it through to the other side", "How many people have cried?" It's like his own "Blowin' In The Wind."
"Motor Of Love" is a very languid cousin of "My Love". It's ironic that given his closing remarks in "We Got Married", he sings here "I don't anything from you/Turn on your motor of love." Uh, what about the loving machine?
"Ou Est Le Soleil" is French for "where is the sun?" Accompanied by a backbeat of a programmed drum machine and various instruments, the lyrics go "Ou est le soleil/dans la tete/Travaillez", meaning "Where is the sun/In your head/Go work"
While McCartney writes most of the songs solo, he gets co-writing help from a certain DeClan McManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, who does harmony vocals on "You Want Her Too". The sound, while spright, is more mid-paced, far from the rock theatrics of "Band On The Run" or "Jet". Flowers In The Dirt is a sign of a legendary artist growing finer with age.
The curse of Paul McCartney is the music he created with the Beatles. What every fan seems to forget is that the comparison isn't quite fair. The Beatles albums were created by four individuals two of whom were among the top songwriters of the 60's. It would be more apt to compare Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr's solo albums collectively and compare them to the Beatles legacy.
Living in the past would have been the easy way out for Macca. Instead, he forged ahead and tried to create a new musical identity and sound for himself independent of the Beatles. That's where things get sticky.
Flowers In The Dirt received quite a bit of praise for the songwriting and production when it was first released. In hindsight some of that praise was overwrought. The album has a number of songs that musically equal the best material Macca's done. My Brave Face compares well to Paperback Writer, Elenanor Rigby or any number of Macca's classics. While FITD isn't able to sustain that quality for the length of the CD, it is still fairly consistent. Even on lyrically weak songs like We Got Married, McCartney invests the music with considerable effort and imagination. WGM is a rich musical soup that wouldn't be out of place on a Beatles album. While WGM and a number of other songs could have used Lennon's lyrical wit, one can't find fault with the musical portions of the album. The Elvis Costello-McCartney collaborations work extremely well. That Day Is Done quotes liberally from gospel music (in fact Elvis Costello re-recorded this song with the Fairfield Five to great effect), while You Want Her Too thrives on the lyrical conflict that made McCartney's best work with Lennon soar. Put It There captures the tender emotions so often unexpressed between father and son.
The import has three strong bonus tracks including the minor McCartney-Costello classic Back On My Feet. This terrific song was originally released as the b side of Once Upon A Long Ago and easily outclasses the A side of the original single.
Flying To My Home is a back to basics rocker demonstrating McCartney's imaginative flair as an arranger. Again, this b side (the A Side was My Brave Face) would have been a highlight on any of McCartney's solo albums. FTMH recalls Junior's Farm but with a sharper, more imaginative arrangement.
The Loveliest Thing at first glance appears to be a by the numbers love song. Closer inspection reveals a lyrically interesting and off beat love paen to Linda. It's one of McCartney's more affecting love songs.
The original version of FITD dserved a 3 1/2 star with the inclusion of these strong single b sides this album now deserves a 4 star rating. This album signaled a willlingness on McCartney's part to compete with his past and reclaim it.
on March 28, 1999
I'm about to make a big statement. This is Paul's best solo album ever!! I always felt "Band On The Run" was the best until this gem came out in 1989. Not a bad song on the CD. Personal favorites "MY Brave Face," "Figure Of Eight," "This One" and the simply great "We Got Married."
on July 8, 2005
As for most other classic artists, the 80s were a tough time for Paul McCartney. Starting with McCartney II in 1980 things had only gone downhill for him both artistically and commercially, with the exception of Tug of War and a few hit singles in the early part of the decade. Add to that the fact that he hadn't toured in ten years and you can see why, by the time 1989 rolled around, Paul needed to reassert himself in the public consciousness. He needed a comeback. And a comeback he had indeed, releasing his best album in years and embarking on a record-breaking world tour. The album was 1989's Flowers in the Dirt.
As I've observed elsewhere, Paul has a disposition to benefit from collaboration. Over the past decade he had tried on a number of collaborators - Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Eric Stewart to name a few - but they pale in comparison to his partnership with Elvis Costello which debuted on Flowers in the Dirt. Playing a role similar to John's in Lennon-McCartney, Elvis provided a pessimism and edge to Paul's innate upbeat tunefulness. This is nowhere more apparent than on You Want Her Too, a Getting Better-esque duet that sees a romantic Paul go it head-to-head with a bitter, sneering Costello. And the instantaneous, hook-laden My Brave Face may be THE highlight.
But don't think for a moment that Paul wasn't competent on his own. His collaboration with Elvis not only produced some great tunes but fuelled his individual songwriting fire, inviting him to square with the results of this synergy. Whether in communion or on his own, Flowers in the Dirt features both some of Paul's most accessible and most mature song-craft, particularly in the lyrical department. Supported by the band that would accompany him on his world tour the record is meticulously arranged, with dense layering of guitars and keyboards. So saying, it's admittedly tied to its time - there are a few places where a, well, less "80s" take would have benefited the material favourably. In addition, it also runs out of steam toward the end, closing UNfavourably on the experimental Ou Est le Soleil.
In spite of all complaints however Flowers in the Dirt remains polished, professional, and one of Paul's very best. And quite apart from objective quality, it is very special to me for personal reasons I won't elaborate on here. So Flowers in the Dirt may not be the best or most significant album in Paul's catalogue (though it's definitely up there); but for me it may be his most important.
NOTES FOR THE REMASTERED PAUL MCCARTNEY COLLECTION:
Flowers in the Dirt has the best bonus tracks of any PMcC edition I've yet seen. The McCartney-MacManus Back on My Feet, soaring (pun intended) Flying to My Home, and romantic Loveliest Thing are every bit as good as, even better than, anything on the album proper.
on December 24, 2014
I can't believe I hadn't thought about or listened to this album in years. It is one of Paul's best solo efforts and sounds fresh and alive all these years later - the music practically bursts out at you. every track is a winner and I play them in my head all the time. I can't recommend this album highly enough!
Flowers In The Dirt was a rebirth for Paul McCartney. After tripping through most of the 80's, he came back strong in 1989 with his best album since 82's Tug of War. He also formed a songwriting partnership with Elvis Costello. Though on the surface it may have seemed like an odd paring, but Mr. Costello's acerbic, snarky writing style is similar to another writing partner of his, John Lennon. Their three songs, the single, "My Brave Face", "You Want Her Too" a fabulous duet between the two and "That Day Is Done" are great songs. Mr. McCartney seems to be reinvigorated and the rest of the album is first rate. "Rough Ride" is a good pop song, "We Got Married" (with some good guitar work by David Gilmour) is a powerful song, "Put It There" is a tender song about his late father, "Figure Of Eight" is a keyboard workout (played by ex-Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes) and "How Many People" is a reggae flavored song about world unity. Flowers In The Dirt was his biggest seller in years (although it only peaked at number 21 on the charts) and Mr. McCartney used it as the basis for his first US Tour since 1976.
on June 28, 2012
This CD is not bad, but it's not the best of Paul. There are songs with electronic sound and comes to tire a bit. The best songs are in sequence and are fifth in the octave bands (We Got Married, Put It There, Figure Of Eight and This One), and may even include My Brave Face. The other songs are at best tolerated. More or less!
on February 5, 2002
"Flowers in the Dirt" is a decent album in which McCartney obviously invested great care. While it rarely reaches the lofty heights of McCartney's best work, it rarely hits the lows of some of his other songs. McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello on four songs. The McCartney-Costello songwriting team was a good one, and it is a shame that it didn't last long. Costello (like Lennon) provided some tartness and irony to balance McCartney's sentimentality and earnestness. The main problem with the album is that too many songs drag. They're not low in energy, but some are uninspired.
"My Brave Face" (cowritten with Costello) is a nice rock number with a twist. It's fast and uptempo, like a love song, but its theme is about being left by a lover. It's like the lyrics of a sad ballad put to an upbeat rock song.
"Rough Ride" is fine but nothing exceptional.
"I Know That You Want Her Too" (cowritten with Costello) continues a peculiar McCartney fantasy that also appeared in "The Girl Is Mine." In both songs McCartney is competing for some woman's affection against the other singer, and both singers are equally confident of victory. This song is much more satisfying than the Jackson number, in part because McCartney's sweetness is balanced by Costello's cutting remarks. Indeed, McCartney ends up playing the role of the straight man against Costello's acid humor as McCartney tries to convince Costello of his honorable intentions toward the other woman. Example: McCartney: "My intentions are clear and strong!" Costello: "Yeah, that's not what you said the other night." McCartney: "She makes me go so wrong!" Costello: "So why don't you sit back and enjoy it, stupid?"
Many McCartney albums from the 1980s have at least one beautiful, mostly acoustic number (think "Somebody who Cares" from "Tug of War" and "Footprints" from "Press to Play"), and "Distractions" is that song on this album. This is the sort of exquisite ballad at which McCartney excels, and it is given a tasteful arrangement of strings and woodwinds in the background.
"We Got Married" starts slowly but has a good ending jam in which the normally sentimental-about-love McCartney does a reality check and acknowledges in a repeated refrain, "It's not just a loving machine. Nothing works out if you don't work at it." It's a nice bit of realism from a singer and a musical form that normally promotes the more juvenile fantasies of love-at-first-sight that ends happily ever after.
"Put it There" got some radio play. It's an inoffensive, sweet (perhaps too sweet for some tastes) trifle McCartney wrote for his father that is so lite it practically blows away after hearing it.
"Figure of Eight" is a straight ahead rock number that harkens to some of his work in the 1970s, such as "Junior's Farm" and "Jet."
"This One" is a sincere love song -- nice lyrics, OK music, but stretched out for too long.
"Don't Be Careless Love" (penned with Costello) is a sly number that is one of the best on the album, alternating between a low-key gospel vocal background and rock instrumentation, in which McCartney gives voice to his worst fears about what horrible things could happen to Linda. The only disappointment is that the music keeps building to a climax, but the climax is so short that it seems a bit anti-climactic.
"That Day is Done" (also cowritten with Costello) has a grand musical sound. To me the disappointment is that he used it only for a melodramatic love song when it would have been the perfect vehicle for some type of musical statement about the death of the idealism of the '60s (that day is done, you know). The grandeur of the music demand something more than sentimental, pretend lyrics about being dumped by some lover.
"How Many People" has a reggae accent but is too repetitive for my taste. Its wistful lyrics pining for a better world anticipate those of "Peace in the Neighborhood" on his next studio album, "Off the Ground."
If you think from its title that "Motor of Love" is going to be bawdy, think again -- McCartney doesn't even seem aware of the double entendree. (The "Motor of Love" is definitely not the "clean machine" of "Penny Lane.") The cheesy synthesizer and harmonies as well as a Neanderthal snare-drum almost sink "Motor of Love," but the song's main problem is how it stretches out the thin melody at the end. This song should not have gone on for six-plus minutes. It's too bad, because the song has a strong opening melody (underneath the overproduction) and a brief but neat gospel-tinged middle section.
"Ou Est le Soleil" is like Paul meets Frankie and goes to Hollywood. It's reminiscent of the some of the strange and weak songs from "Press to Play." Like many songs from "Press to Play," it is a musical doodle endlessly repeated and dressed up in fancy techno-clothing. The less said about it, the better.
on May 31, 2004
I was thinking back on albums that, as a whole, had me listening to them over and over when they came out. It just doesn't happen much anymore with popular music.
Paul McCartney's FLOWERS IN THE DIRT came out in 1989 and I really liked the first single, "My Brace Face." After I saw him in concert the following year, I bought the cassette and ended up listening to it through a very difficult year--and it really stuck with me.
(That world tour of his ended up on DVD/video, I think, but it was ruined by some bad choices: "Live and Let Die," a show-stopping pyro-show of explosions and lasers, was cut down to include Vietnam footage--a lame attempt to add relevance to a James Bond theme. Gimme a break.)
I don't know if it was McCartney's collaboration with Elvis Costello or what, but this album was a long way from the "Silly Love Songs" of the 70s (don't take that as a slight: I appreciate "Silly Love Songs" as part of my life's 70s soundtrack). There were dark, mature moments ("That Day is Done") as well as quiet appreciation for things long gone ("Put It There").
FLOWERS IN THE DIRT is a pop album for grown ups and I'm glad I found it when I did.