Paul McCartney • Flaming Pie [3LP, 2CD]

PAUL McCARTNEY’s Archive Series is now ten years old. In 2010 he started releasing deluxe packages of his non-Beatles work with perhaps his greatest post-Fabs album, Band on the Run. Here we are in 2020 and Macca’s reissued Flaming Pie, the 1997 solo outing that was hailed as his best since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which was hailed as his best since… probably Band on the Run. At the time of Flaming Pie’s release we were all glad that he’d put out something that surpassed his previous studio album, 1992’s so-so On the Ground, which wasn’t bad but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Flowers. As his Archive Series has matured, so has the way McCartney and his business associates have packaged the man’s legacy.

This time, the various formats of the campaign include the customary, flagship “deluxe” box set (usually a number of CDs, a DVD or two, and a handful of books, posters and other memorabilia recreations) – in this case, 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, some books and other stuff – followed by a 3LP box set (consisting of the original album spread across two records and a third LP with various demos), a standard 2LP release (just the album tracks), and a 2CD set featuring the original album on disc one and a generously populated (21 tracks) disc of demos, etc.* Because Flaming Pie came out in the mid ’90s and vinyl hadn’t yet begun its comeback, the 14-track, 54-minute album was primarily a CD release, though it came out in limited quantities in the UK and USA on single-record vinyl that was both rare and not of a very high-fidelity nature. (The more time per side of vinyl, the lesser the quality of the audio.) This time it was decided to spread it out over two records – a wise choice – and the half-speed mastering job is amazingly good. The 3LP box set features this 2LP album (in a gatefold cover) along with a single bonus LP (in a standard record cover, and pressed in standard fashion) both housed in a slipcase complete with Japanese-style “OBI” strip. The slipcase’s cover is very minimalist and is quite tasteful, allowing the actual album’s cover to carry the release’s identity as it originally had (albeit with the title written in bright red rather than black, as it is/was on the current 2LP/initial 1LP release). An almost-dozen tracks make up that bonus LP, being “home recordings” and demos of eleven of the album’s 14 tracks. They make up a nice “alt” version of the album.

If you go for the 2CD reissue of Flaming Pie, you’ll get a high-value set with 21 bonus tracks (comprising disc two) that’ll be great for your ears and your wallet. The tracks on the 3LP bonus record are all there, as are more slices of alternative Pie and some of the B-sides that were originally released with the album’s singles (“Young Boy,” “Beautiful Night” and “The World Tonight”). Being that this is a digitally mastered set, you might expect it to sound a little less warm compared to the vinyl and it probably does; I have always had a hard time A/B’ing formats due to having to switch back and forth between them and trying to compensate for the typical difference in volume between CD and vinyl. I think both the 3LP and 2CD sets sound surprisingly good and they both make me want to really savor Flaming Pie today the way I never really did back in ’97. Wanna get into the deluxe edition?

Well, I haven’t yet sprung for that. As it currently costs beyond $200, it’s outside of my budget for now. What I can tell you is that it is clearly a gluttonous serving of Flaming Pie, with: an oven-full (two CDs) of the aforementioned demos and home recordings; a CD with an item called “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featuring McCartney with Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass (what a trio!) and a more-or-less complete episode of Oobu Joobu (a syndicated radio series McCartney hosted in the ’90s); a CD with a tour of, and samples of the instruments Paul keeps at his Hog Hill Mill recording studio (including the mellotron The Beatles made massive use of back in the day); and two DVDs with a documentary of the making of the album (called In the World Tonight), videos for the album’s singles, a few EPKs (electronic press kits) and even an interview with David Frost. AND a bunch of bespoke books and other ingredients to pad out the box and the price of it. Phew! Sure, 200-ish bucks might not seem so much for all of this, but keep in mind: like most baked items, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to enjoy all of this more than once, so you gotta really consider what kind of monetary outlay you’re willing to make for such a rare, probably-to-be-enjoyed-once treat.

And THAT’s where that * asterisk way up above in paragraph two comes in! Because: There is an even grander version of Flaming Pie available, the Collector’s Edition. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, it contains everything in the Deluxe Edition plus the 3LP vinyl set, half a dozen art prints featuring the album cover and other Linda McCartney photos, a Flaming Pie plectrum (what we guitarists in the USA call a pick), even more printed ephemera, and the ability to download the album at 24-bit/96kHz HD resolution. (And probably some other stuff that I was unable to make out from the various editions’ ingredients lists!) This all comes in a box that is “.6 of a metre long by about half of a meter wide” (according to Paul Sinclair in his unboxing video over at my favorite music site, SuperDeluxeEdition) – don’t ask me what it weighs ’cause, not only can I definitely not afford this version, but there’s no weight info anywhere on the web that I can find! Apparently, though, this one’s gonna set you back a good $400+ (not including a highly likely hefty shipping price). If you’re salivating heavily right now, here’s some comfort for ya: it’s probably already sold out by now so if you didn’t already know about it and order it you’re not gonna get a taste of this one any time soon.

Did you wanna hear about the music? Well, as mentioned way back at the start of this review, Flaming Pie was a critically acclaimed release that many considered to be a collection of classic McCartney styles. From the rocking songs like the title track, “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy,” to the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” that he wrote and played with Steve Miller, to the poppy, slightly melancholy sounding “The Song We Were Singing,” and a number of other flavors that you expect from Paul, this one’s got songs to recommend to just about every kind of Macca fan. But, unlike on many of his other releases, nearly all of these songs sound like McCartney in top form. None of it sounds phoned in. So, musically, it’s definitely worth looking into, either for the first time or once again. Now, naturally, I have some minor issues with the release, but this time – you lucky devils! – there’s nothing worth bothering to bitch about. And that means you can go enjoy yourself some Flaming Pie without having to think about me while doing so. That’s my gift to you. Go ahead – have a slice. – Marsh Gooch

4.75/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe [various catalog numbers], 2020)

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