Flowers In The Dirt
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Flowers In The Dirt (Special Edition)
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One of the most critically acclaimed albums of the eighties, nominated for both BRIT and Grammy Awards, Flowers In The Dirt saw Paul McCartney team up with Elvis Costello to cowrite a third of the album ('My Brave Face', 'You Want Her Too', 'Don't Be Careless Love' and 'That Day is Done') as well as boasting production credits from producers such as Mitchell Froom, Trevor Horn, David Foster, Steve Lipson, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney himself. Pink Floyd guitar legend David Gilmour makes an appearance on 'We Got Married' and George Martin's string arrangement on 'Put It There' is amongst the many album highlights.
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The accompanying books are nicely done, an enjoyable read as the main book goes and including the welcome nod to several Club Sandwich articles from the time period - but as always, a lot of white space, leaving one to wonder if they were interested in cost savings, if they mightn't have re-formatted it a little. I love the album cover artwork, but could have easily done without an entire book of plates of variations on the same theme.
I'm knocking this two stars because of the decision to make the b-sides to the singles and various unreleased tracks available only as a download. The excuse given by the producers of the set is that people want music digitally now, and that Paul is all about keeping current. This, as excuses go, is idiotic. This set is not going to be purchased by an overwhelming number of millennials addicted to music downloads, it is an "archive" collection of an album honestly only the faithful fanbase really ever took to in the first place. I also dispute the odd notion that the millennial generation never buy CDs anymore. If so, why not have all the discs be digital downloads?
Worse yet, the downloading mechanism has meant I've spent two hours downloading these tracks, and not in any convenient manner, either. If I'm spending over $100 on a release, I shouldn't be buying frustration along with it.
The instructions for downloading:
"Directions for digital download:
A) Please enter the unique code on your card in the 'enter code here' box and click 'Submit'
B) Please select the download button icon next to each item. Hi-Res download from Deluxe Edition: Due to the size of the music files all tracks should be downloaded individually. Attempting to download more than one file at a time could cause your download to fail
C) Once downloaded, save your files to the location on your computer where you keep your music and enjoy!
PLEASE NOTE: Music download will only work on a desktop / laptop computer."
What this has meant in practice is I'm faced with clicking each link for each track to download, and have had to sit here manually downloading each one in turn. This isn't just a two-hour download, it's a two-hour process of me being forced to sit here downloading link, by link, by link.
This is ridiculous. In addition, the webpage for the download keeps blanking out the download list, so I have to reload and re-enter the download code after every couple of downloads. So, one star lost for the download-only option for the b-sides, and one-star for wasting my time and giving an insulting excuse as the reason for me to have to go through this. The b-sides to the singles were the extended part of the original release. They belong in an "Archive Edition" of the album. The demos are welcome, but aren't integral to the release, so if anything was going to be a digital download - it should have been the demos.
I cannot overstate how offensive the offered excuse was, either - marketing doublespeak with no logical relation to reality. It reminds me of the brouhaha over the "McCartney Years" promo video set; When people complained about the cropping of the videos cutting out performance aspects, the response was that it wasn't an archive and needed to be "future-proofed" because people only want widescreen video even if they're losing image in the process, ignoring the stated desires of their paying customers in deference to the hypothetical wishes of a customer base they were never going to have.
So, enjoy the music, enjoy the books, and hunt down the b-sides since many are gems that are stronger than many of the album tracks ("The Loveliest Thing", and the one song that would have made a great single, "Back On My Feet"... insane to have left it off, both the original album and physically in this set.)
Finally, in 1989, as he was putting his new touring band together, Paul finally hit one out of the park with Flowers In The Dirt. I own three editions of this CD - the World Tour Pack box set, featuring the bonus single "Party Party" and lots of tour memorabilia; the 2-CD Japanese import, which features a second disc of CD singles, including the exclusive "P.S. Love Me Do" medley; and the 1993 remastered edition, with 3 bonus tracks. I also own most of the CD and vinyl singles from that era, which I'm keeping, and you should too if you still have them, for reasons listed below in "THE UGLY!" section.
Now, FITD has been reissued as the tenth release in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, which also marks Macca's return to his old stomping grounds, Capitol Records, after a decade with Concord Music/Hear Music. Both labels are distributed by Universal Music Enterprises (UMe).
The good: the remastered original CD has great sound quality. The DVD is also good, with all ten of the album's music videos (albeit in plain old PCM stereo, not 5.1 or DTS sound), plus three studio documentaries, the first with Elvis Costello (a.k.a. Declan MacManus [Mrs. MacManus is the gorgeous Diana Krall, who Paul worked with on his 2012 "standards" album," Kisses On The Bottom and its companion DVD, Live Kisses, for which Elvis/Declan wrote the liner notes]), the second with the band and studio crew, and a third documentary about the making of the Dean Chamberlain version of the "This One" video. Topping off the DVD is the excellent 1989 documentary, Put It There, for the first time on an official DVD.
The bad (actually, not so good): two CDs of Elvis/Paul demos from 1987/88. Both CDs contain the same nine McCartney/MacManus compositions; the first disc containing acoustic renditions, the second full-band versions (some of which, with additional overdubs, were used on the final album). These demos are interesting, but unfortunately, each disc runs about a half hour; both sets of demos could have been issued on one CD. There are also three additional McCartney/MacManus demos, recorded on cassette, which appear in the "Download Only" section (more on that atrocity below). Two of the songs that Paul and Elvis worked on, "Mistress And Maid" and "The Lovers That Never Were," appear on Macca's excellent 1993 follow-up, Off The Ground.
Which leads to: THE UGLY!
Most fans who buy the Archive Collection releases do so to obtain some of Paul's many, many non-LP B-sides, many of which were only issued on 7" or 12" vinyl, or out-of-print CD singles. Unfortunately, the 16 tracks included here (the B-sides "Back On My Feet," "Flying To My Home," "Good Sign," "The First Stone," and "Loveliest Thing," plus the 12" Bob Clearmountain mix of "Figure Of Eight" [superior to the album version], the "This One" Club Lovejoys mix, four mixes of "Ou Est Le Soleil" [7", 12", Tub Dub, and instrumental], and two mixes of "Party Party" [original and club mixes], plus the three cassette demos mentioned above), which would have made a great fifth CD, are only available as DOWNLOADS! Paul, while the Millennial Generation and kids love to download stuff, your mostly older fan base prefers CDs. To make matters worse, you cannot burn these tracks to a CD; the McCartney Web site states that they can only be downloaded to a computer's hard drive. So, if you're like me, and prefer to listen to music the old-fashioned way, on vinyl or CD, not on a computer, you are out of luck.
UPDATE: My new Sony Multi Zone Region Free Blu Ray Player has a USB drive that is capable of playing .WAV files as well as MP3s, so I finally downloaded the FITD files to my thumb drive, and they play just fine. There are also three additional FITD outtakes available on Paul's Web site: demos of "Back On My Feet," "Distractions," and "This One." I also downloaded the single edit of "Take It Away," the short instrumental version of "Say Say Say," an alternate take of "Rock Show," an extended version of "Letting Go," and a song called "Love My Baby" (from the "One Hand Clapping" documentary), which are all available as free downloads on Paul's Web site. A few years ago, I downloaded "Uncle Albert Jam" and Wings' live medley of "Eat At Home" / "Smile Away," which were bonus downloads issued with the 2012 RAM (Deluxe Book Edition), but sadly, these two tracks are no longer available on the site (they may be on YouTube). Though the downloads sound fine, and I am happy to finally have them, there is still no excuse for Paul not to make these tracks available on a physical CD.
And to add insult to injury, there are a number of FITD-era B-sides that are completely missing in action. Leaving aside the three Fats Domino covers ("I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Someday," "Ain't That A Shame," and "I'm In Love Again") from CHOBA B CCCP (Back In The USSR), which was originally issued exclusively in the Evil Empire, but later released worldwide in 1991, here are a list of the missing tracks:
1) "I Wanna Cry," from the "This One" CD/12" single;
2) The alternate take of "Rough Ride," from the "Figure Of Eight" CD-3 (superior to the album version, in my opinion);
3) The 7" edit of "Figure Of Eight," as well as the great remake of "The Long And Winding Road," from the "Figure Of Eight" CD-5;
4) The Wings tracks "Mama's Little Girl" (later issued on the 1993 edition of Wings Wild Life) and "Same Time Next Year" (written for the film of the same name), issued on the "Put It There" CD/12" single;
5) The 28-second environmental "Message" and the aforementioned "P.S. Love Me Do" medley, from the Japanese 2-CD FITD issue.
Paul's manager stated online (search for it) that Macca wanted to keep the set to a 4-disc limit. Then why not put the two sets of Elvis Costello demos on one CD, and save Disc 4 for the B-sides? The "missing" B-sides listed above would have made an excellent fifth disc. The RAM (Deluxe Book Edition) has five discs, so the four-disc limit is not sacrosanct.
The 112-page book is very nice, but do we really need another book of Paul's handwritten lyrics and notes, a photo book of screen shots from the two "This One" videos, which we already have on the DVD, and the late, lovely Linda's FITD photo exhibition, which is nothing more than alternate shots of the album cover artwork. This makes the whole package very expensive.
As a PR gesture to his fan base, Paul should follow the lead of Michael Nesmith's Videoranch Web site and offer a made-to-order custom CD of the "download only" tracks. He probably won't do it, but it would undo a lot of the damage caused by this catastrophe.
Although I love FITD, I can only give this release three stars, because of the download-only tracks, the missing B-sides, and the excessive packaging.