Sunday, April 21, 2024

Paul McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt” Box Set Shines with Elvis Costello Collaborations


Real Paul McCartney fans know which albums are the ‘stars’ of his later catalogue– namely “Flowers in the Dirt,” “Flaming Pie,” “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” and “Memory Almost Full.”

That’s why there’s so much anticipation about Friday’s release of the “Flowers” box set, essentially an album of collaborations with Elvis Costello from the late 80s. You get the remastered album plus two sets of demos featuring McCartney and Costello, as well as a DVD of videos, and downloads! If you get the box, there’s a set of high resolution downloads of everything plus B sides including “Back on My Feet,” a McCartney-Costello rarity.

McCartney’s extraordinary solo career really ranges from saccharine sweet (Silly Love Songs) to incredibly inventive and vital (his Fireman CDs). The first five or six albums — from McCartney and Ram through Band on the Run — have stood the test of the time. Remember the Beatles only lasted seven or eight years. McCartney has kept up a very high average of quality music for forty seven more years. Insane.

Costello came into his life at just the right moment. Costello’s gift for wordplay, for double meanings and sometimes just fun really inspired McCartney. And Paul gave Elvis a sweetness often lacking in his songs, and a structure. Costello didn’t play the part of John Lennon, but he did provide a counterbalance McCartney needed.

The best song on the whole set is “My Brave Face.” It’s sort of a companion to Elvis’s “Veronica,” which he kept for his own album of the time, “Spike.” Still, fans have all the bootlegs of demos of both guys on both songs. They rank at the top of each artists’ canons. That opening couplet “I’ve been hitting the town/ and it didn’t hit back” is pure Costello. But then Paul swoops in. He’s singing Elvis’s crowded lyric, and then adding his own McCartney-isms to it including the melody, the hook and again, the structure. Voila! A classic is born.

A real treat on the Flowers box set is the collaboration demos on “So Like Candy.” A Costello classic that turned up in its official form on his album, here it gets the McCartney treatment. Again, while Costello clearly wrote the main lyric, Paul has crafted a box of — candy– chocolates, I was going to say– that results in a kind of perfect single. It’s sumptuous and filling but there’s a slight bitter aftertaste. Just grand.

The full box set is beautifully packaged, by the way, with loads of Linda McCartney photographs. There are also interviews with the boys. The whole design is terrific.

There’s a cool unofficial website that’s worth reading. I nicked a photo from it. I hope they don’t mind. Very interesting secondary reading.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

Read more

In Other News