McCartney of old takes wheel on 'Driving Rain'
Versatility is a quality rarely found in the solo work of super-group veterans like Sting, Phil Collins and Pete Townshend. Paul McCartney, and his latest solo release, "Driving Rain," is the exception to the rule. On the inspired 16-track album, Paul augments his superb bass playing by giving soulful performances on the piano, acoustic and electric guitars and drums in addition to vocals on all of the songs.
The bass introduction on the opening track, "Lonely Road," immediately establishes the former teen heartthrob's undying ability. Rusty Anderson's overdubbed guitar gives the song its rightful solemn tone. The somber message of the tune is reinforced by McCartney's emotional vocals.
Not escaping his Beatle roots, Paul sings "La, la, la" on the second cut, "From a Lover to a Friend." The pop ballad conveys a sense of reflective satisfaction with a relationship. Departing from the singer's pop roots is the album's next song, "She's Given Up Talking." With an acoustic opening by McCartney and a whiny electric line by Anderson, the dark song paints a striking portrait of misunderstood individuality. The essence of the song is preserved in the unity between the lyrics and the instrumentals.
The album's title track offers a more modern pop oriented taste of the talents of McCartney. "So why don't we drive in the rain straight to the eye of the hurricane," Paul sings, confirming his powerful songwriting abilities. The Bono-esque vocals and flowing instrumentals make the tune his ultimate driving song.
The background tambourine and lovey-dovey vocals of "I Do" take us back again to McCartney's days beside John, George and Ringo. However, McCartney's maturity is obvious -- the lyrics possess a powerful meaning and purpose. Orchestral effects serve to heighten the response to well-crafted lyrics.
But the album is not completely flawless. Despite good instrumen-tals, songs like "Tiny Bubble" and "Spinning on an Axis" go nowhere lyrically and show that there are chinks in Sir Paul's armor.
McCartney's optimistic outlook shines through on "Back in the Sunshine Again." The power of emotional lyrics like, "We're leaving behind all our troubles and strife and that's the way it's gonna be the rest of my life," are magnified by well-tuned piano licks. Anderson's playing conjures up comparisons to Rolling Stones guitarist, Mick Taylor.
The ballad, "Your Loving Flame" is the album's pinnacle in terms of lyrical expressions of devotion. "When we kiss, nothing feels the same. I could spend eternity inside your loving flame," McCartney belts out. The song is so beautiful that it deserves comparison to some of the tracks on the Beach Boys' landmark recording, "Pet Sounds."
The most experimental track is easily the Indian and Middle Eastern influenced "Riding Into Jaipur." Abe Labroriel's use of African drum samples gives the song a flavor rarely encountered in contemporary music.
The experimental theme carries over to the 10-minute track, "Rinse the Raindrops." The fast-paced song contains a lengthy funk-rock jam that displays the unity between McCartney and his band mates. The organ and electric piano portions flow like solos by Led Zeppelin virtuoso John Paul Jones on "No Quarter."
Following the Sept. 11th tragedy, McCartney added a live version of "Freedom." The heartfelt song was recorded during V-H1's "Concert for New York." The patriotism aroused by the song is indisputable, but the song also contains elements of musical greatness such as the unified lyrical base and an appropriate guitar solo.
Through his leadership, experience and talent, McCartney unifies his basic four-piece band comprised of Anderson, Laboriel, Gabe Dixon and David Kahne to produce a truly good album. Although this album lacks the greatness and staying power of Beatles classics such as "Revolver" and "Abbey Road," it is nonetheless a testament to the unwavering musical abilities of Mr. McCartney.