Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #31:

The wondrous new Beatles-inspired and inspirited Love album, by virtue of George Martin’s production, escapes most charges of a "Hooked-on-the-Beatles-Classics" medley misstep (although I think “While My Orchestra Gently Weeps” would lend itself better to, oh say, a guitar!). The mash-ups and snippets intermingled with some of the Beatles best, both early and late era, for the most part work to great effect. I can see the resourcefully imaginative Martin relishing the idea of this project, perhaps having, in addition to the doubtless serendipitous impulses that cropped up, some of those resultant musical concurrences in mind for years.

Though the segue-heavy Love may conjure up for some Martin’s studio wizardry on Sgt. Pepper or the sweeping clearinghouse second side of Abbey Road, I can’t help but also make kaleidoscopic comparisons, though of a lesser sonic sheen, with Paul McCartney’s second solo album, Ram. The 1971 release is ear candy all the way, sometimes silly love songs for certain as McCartney enjoys the rewards of a happy family life on that Scottish sheep farm deep in the “Heart of the Country” (“Want a horse, I want a sheep / I wanna get me a good night's sleep” -- and with a bouncy confection like this, who would begrudge him that one-time contentment?).

But even though there are no profound lyrical statements being made on Ram, the sheer fun emanating from the grooves is infectious, whether it be found in the tuneful two-minute snippets (“Ram On,” “Dear Boy”) that wouldn’t have been out of place on the ramshackle first solo LP, or discovered amid the mini-suite pop gems such as the hit "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” The more full-bodied and produced rockers, furthermore -- such as “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” -- finds McCartney giving his myriad vocal intonations a helter-skelter work-out.

It is Ram’s exhilarating first and last songs -- “Too Many People” and “Back Seat of my Car” -- that bookend this classy and classic album and most imbue it with the many-moods and extra textures that pre-figure the accessible experimentalism of Love. “People” alternates a punchy pop-rock attack, guitar’s a-blazing, with a wistfully eerie rumination as the lyrics parallel the musical dynamics with a thematic shift from modern-day exasperation to one of romanticism and resignation:

    Too many people preaching practices,
    Don't let 'em tell you what you wanna be.
    Too many people holding back,
    This is crazy, and baby, it's not like me.

    That was your last mistake,
    I find my love awake and waiting to be.
    Now what can be done for you?
    She's waiting for me…

The “She‘s Leaving Home"-style morality tale of “Back Seat” skimps on lyrical substance, but more than makes up for that lack with a more wide-ranging musical adventurousness that wraps up its moments of poignancy in a build-up of orchestral grandeur. Still, it doesn’t lapse into the sappy excess that McCartney fell into down the road with such songs as “My Love” - just as Ram overall retains the kind of singular vision and Beatles-esque inventiveness that later abates from time to time when McCartney tries on some ill-fitting trends such as disco and takes a departure or two in reggae and synth-heavy new wave.

McCartney’s trademark and seemingly effortless pop-rock majesty, as exhibited in abundance on Ram, is his saving grace, however - even in the nooks and crannies of his songs’ hooks and canny resonance and warmth. Show me someone who decries, say, “Silly Love Songs,” and I’ll show you someone who most likely turns up the volume full blast when the song comes on the radio - if only to hear that amazing and melodic bass line.

And "what's wrong with that, I'd like to know?" Smile away, indeed.


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