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Paul McCartney’s Neglected Masterpiece

Friday, April 14, 2017

Unlike John Lennon, the chronic oversharer avant la lettre, Paul McCartney has always been guarded about his interior life, rarely using his songs to deliver the gossip about what it’s like being Paul McCartney. For McCartney, the entertainer’s imperative is to entertain, not broadcast his angst. Moreover, he seems to find it necessary to guard, to fence off, his actual self, forever presenting himself to the world as relentlessly afflicted by goofy joy. In the immortal phraseology of a now-defunct music magazine, he is Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft. Yet on his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt, McCartney showed, in the track “Don’t Be Careless Love,” a tormented side. The speaker, noting “the midnight lamp” burning down, resolves to stay up until his love returns home.

He continues:In my dream you’re running nowhere Every step you’ve taken turns to glue Walking down a spiral staircase Falling through, falling through. Later the singer worries about his companion being “chopped into little pieces / by some thugs.” It might be the most haunted, introspective song McCartney has ever written. For the man with everything, only one thing really mattered: Linda, his wife from 1969 until her death in 1998. McCartney used to say that all the love songs he wrote during their relationship were about her, and in this fragile yet sweeping spiritual he told us everything about what she meant to him. 

Fine as it is, though, “Don’t Be Careless Love” isn’t even one of the five best songs on the masterly Flowers in the Dirt, one of the handful of great albums McCartney did after the 1970s (along with 1982’s Tug of War, 1997’s Flaming Pie, and 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard). Flowers has just been rereleased in various formats, including a sumptuous boxed set containing the original, remastered album plus unreleased demos (some of them collaborations with Elvis Costello), gorgeous artwork, and charming facsimiles of handwritten letters to McCartney, including one from his new songwriting partner. “Greetings from dirty old Dublin,” Costello wrote in an undated note reprinted on pink paper. “We are in our last couple weeks here and the place is going upside down with U2 fever.”

By: Kyle Smith

Source: National Review

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