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Paul McCartney / Flowers in the Dirt deluxe edition / SDE review

Paul McCartney / Flowers in the Dirt 4-disc deluxe edition

A beautiful but flawed package that puts Paul McCartney before his fans

Paul McCartney’s new deluxe edition of his 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt is a set full of contradictions…

While the four-disc deluxe set purports to celebrate the 1989 album, in reality its focus is much narrower than that, with a gaze firmly set on McCartney’s songwriting partnership with Elvis Costello. That pairing came to light when Back On My Feet, the first McCartney / McManus composition, graced the B-side of the 1987 non-album single Once Upon A Long Ago (Paul’s last top ten hit in the UK, fact fans).

So while only about a third of the final album consists of this material, ALL of the bonus audio on CD (we’ll get to *those* downloads) is limited to songs co-written with Costello. If you are interested in anything else, for example, an early version of Figure of Eight, or an alternate of We Got Married, then you’re out of luck.

Also, this material with Costello ended up all over the place, not just Flowers in the Dirt. Of the nine bonus tracks – early demos on CD 2 and more developed ‘1988 demos’ on CD 3 – four ended up on Flowers, one on Paul’s subsequent album (Off The Ground), two on Costello’s 1991 album Mighty Like A Rose, and two never made it to finished studio versions at all.

Having decided to focus on Elvis, they’ve still managed to miss the mark. Four other Costello co-writes are part of the notorious ‘download-only’ audio. Three of these are rough and ready ’cassette demos’ (including the ‘other’ McCartney-McManus composition from Off The Ground – Mistress And Maid) and the fourth is the master version of the aforementioned Back On My Feet.

Given that the two bonus CDs together only add up to around 80 minutes of music (in other words there’s effectively a ‘spare’ CD unfilled), it’s ridiculous that this other material wasn’t sequenced into the physical celebration of the songwriting partnership. It seems that Paul and his team were fixated on the running order of CD 2 mirroring that of CD 3, so any song that didn’t exist as both a demo and a more developed ‘1988 band demo’ found that its name wasn’t on the list and it’s not coming in.

One might have thought that Paul would have had a special liking for Back On My Feet, the first song they wrote together, but relegating it to ‘download-only’ suggests otherwise. It was also a song produced by the late Phil Ramone, with whom Paul had recorded a handful of songs in the mid-eighties, none of which would ever appear on a Macca studio album. 1987’s Once Upon A Long Ago was produced by Ramone and ended up being used to promote the All The Best compilation (in the UK) and another Ramone production, The Loveliest Thing turned up on the CD single of Figure Of Eight.

It’s certainly not easy putting archival sets like this together, but neither is it rocket science. Where’s the logic in including a single’s B-side (Back On My Feet) but not its A-side, Once Upon A Long Ago? The extended version of the latter is still unreleased on CD and at least deserved a place at the download-only ‘table’, with the remixes of Ou Est Le Soleil and This One. Perhaps they are ’saving’ it for a Press To Play reissue, but in my view, where the decision is a 50-50 call, be generous, think about the fans and include it as part of this project that is definitely happening not the one that may or may not happen down the line.

Flowers in the Dirt is a veritable jigsaw of an album. Pieced together with many producers over many years. The earliest sessions date from autumn 1984 when Paul recorded We Got Married (and few other tracks that never made the grade) with songwriter/producer David Foster. It’s amazing to consider that this was recorded not only before the entire previous studio album, Press To Play, but also just before the release of the rather good soundtrack album to Paul’s not-so-good film, Give My Regards To Broadstreet.

The video content on the new deluxe edition (promo videos, larking around in the studio, plus hour-long documentary from the era) bears this up, since we see Paul age before our eyes, looking quite boyish with Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson with his short ‘All The Best’ haircut, but filling out a bit by the time of some of the Costello sessions and donning his slightly shaggy ‘Flowers’ mullet.

Let’s put Flowers in the Dirt into perspective by examining Paul’s personal timeline. The mid-eighties were a period of uncertainty for McCartney. During the 1970s it was virtually an-album-a-year for Wings, and having a band on the payroll and touring commitments kept up the momentum. Cue the 1980s, and after Paul’s remarkable commercial assault on the singles charts during 1980-1983 (five number ones in US/UK), the now none-touring Macca seemed to lose focus.

The lukewarm performance of the Pipes of Peace album in America (remarkable in itself given that Say Say Say was number one there for six weeks!) and the failure of the Broadstreet film would have been a concern. Even worse, the hits dried up – dramatically. It was virtually unheard of for Paul to not to enjoy a major hit single (at least top 10) around the time of a new album, but nothing from 1986’s Press To Play hit the top 20 either side of the Atlantic. When Paul released the experimental and atypical Pretty Little Head as the second single from that album in the UK he was ‘rewarded’ by one of his biggest ever flops (it didn’t chart at all).

The commercial failure of Press To Play had an impact. You could argue it was the last attempt at Paul trying to be ‘contemporary’. After this he would look to the past for inspiration. Back to The Beatles, and even before that, to the songs that inspired the Beatles.

Around 86/87 Paul recorded an unreleased song called Return To Pepperland and a fusion of PS I Love You and Love Me Do called… wait for it… PS Love Me Do. The former has some charm (have a listen below) although the latter (which remarkably was issued on the Japanese-only 2CD edition of Flowers in the Dirt) is (along with Freedom) one of the worst things Paul has ever recorded. Also this was the period where Paul recorded CHOBA B CCCP (or the Russian Album) a long-player of rock ’n’ roll oldies.

That’s not to say that Flowers in the Dirt is necessarily retro or backwards looking, but in the SDE interview feature Trevor Horn confirmed that Figure of Eight WAS originally a rock ’n’ roll song and of course there is the fact that Elvis Costello persuaded Paul to dust down his old Beatle, Hofner bass.

As an album, Flowers in the Dirt does tick most of the usual McCartney boxes, so we have the knee-slapping, homespun acoustic ditty (Put It There), the classic ballad (Motor Of Love/Distractions), the c’mon-people-let’s-make-the-world-a-better-place song (How Many People) and some decent ‘pop’ tunes (This One, Rough Ride, My Brave Face). Also, two out of Paul’s last three studio albums had featured duets and Flowers continued that tradition with You Want Her Too (with Elvis Costello).

The problem with the album is that it’s less than the sum of its parts and (like Tug Of War) it’s a little top-heavy. The first six tracks (My Brave Face, Rough Ride, You Want Her Too, Distractions, We Got Married and Put It There) are very good-to-excellent, whilst side two (Figure Of Eight, This One, Don’t Be Careless Love, That Day Is Done, How Many People and Motor Of Love) sees a distinct drop in quality with some averageness creeping in, along with some rather clunky lyrics (“turn on your motor of love” or “I want to see ordinary people, living peacefully”).

What the bonus discs on the new deluxe edition makes abundantly clear is that between them Paul and Elvis had a fabulous set of songs that should become a great nine or 10-track album. Criminally, Twenty Fine Fingers and Tommy’s Coming Home were just left to rot on the shelf and Paul neglected the brilliant So Like Candy leaving Costello to record an inferior version for his Mighty Like A Rose album. Paul left The Lovers That Never Were and Mistress and Maid for his next album (Off The Ground) suggesting that ‘diluting’ the Costello impact was no accident. And there’s the contradiction. The new deluxe edition makes a very big deal of the collaboration, but back in the day, Paul resisted Elvis as a co-producer (Costello’s “instincts were right” Mitchell Froom told SDE) and quite clearly didn’t want an album full of songs co-written with him.

I’m sure to Paul at the time, the 1988 demo version of My Brave Face (which features Elvis singing on it) didn’t sound as commercial as it should have, but to be fair, unlike Costello, Paul was expected to – needed to – have hits! So, much of the charm and quirkiness of that 1988 recording of the song is lost after Mitchell Froom was brought in to effectively make it (and the three other Costello co-writes on the album) sound more ‘modern’.

In the end, the album was a compromise – including just four of the 13 McCartney/MacManus songs available at that point and mixing them with some of Paul’s solo songs. Even then, the power and quality of the Elvis songs were arguably reduced by removing Elvis singing harmonies and getting in Mitchell Froom and Neil Dorfsman in to sprinkle some eighties production magic over them. The 1988 demos disc is all the evidence you need.

And there’s the irony. Flowers in the Dirt is certainly a ‘good’ Paul McCartney album, but this deluxe edition reveals how much better it could have been if Paul had perhaps put ego and commercial concerns to one side and embraced the collaboration with Elvis much more. A full-blown creative partnership over the space of a whole album could have been a classic. The book within the new deluxe edition explores the partnership to a degree, but never properly explains why this didn’t happen. Paul does say “The demos were great but we couldn’t release them as I had a band. And it would have been a little bit radical for me to say to the band, ‘Hey man, it’s just going to be me and Elvis,’ and we’ll write a few more and it’s the McCartney Costello show…”. And when asked why this apparently enjoyable and fruitful song-writing collaboration wasn’t repeated, Macca offers a rather limp “It just really didn’t occur to me”.

A word on the packaging for the deluxe set. With four books, full of special finishes (debossing, pull-out lyric sheets, spot-varnishing etc.) in an outer box, it’s unquestionably great, but over-engineered and too expensive. It’s Bentley Continental packaging for people who had budgeted and saved up for an Audi. Too much money and too much printed material, to be honest. A Linda McCartney exhibition of variations of the Flowers in the Dirt cover art must hold dear memories for Paul, but as a punter I’m paying for this 28-page volume complete with flashy 8-panel fold-out cover. I would say file under Ram‘s ‘A Small Book Of Sheep’ but that at least had some rustic charm.

Likewise, Dean Chamberlain’s video and photographic work with Duran Duran off-shoot Arcadia worked perfectly with that young, posturing art-pop project, but just looks a bit silly with Paul and his craggy band, so I definitely don’t want to be paying for a book of Dean’s photos from the This One video session – but MPL are going to give me one anyway!

The lyric book is good, but there is a sense that just because Paul has all this stuff in his archive doesn’t mean we need to SEE all of it. Like sitting watching projections of someone’s holiday photos, and paying for the privilege. Flowers in the Dirt should have reverted to the original Band on the Run / McCartney II books and left it at that. Not only would it be more affordable, but at £65 each, surely just as profitable.

Finally, the main book in this set, with an essay by Dylan Jones opens with the sentence “Flowers in the Dirt is an exceptional album; not just one of McCartney’s best, but one of the most accomplished albums of the Eighties”. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but in all the conversations I’ve had with music-loving (even Beatle-loving) friends over the years, and in all the ‘best albums of the eighties’ features I’ve read in music magazines in the last quarter of a century, Flowers in the Dirt never gets so much a mention.

Thankfully, the book is largely interviews, with plenty from Paul himself, although he does stray into ‘The Beatles were a great little band’ territory rather regularly, offering rose-tinted and often improbable contributions like [referring to remastering] “I must say when I came to Flowers in the Dirt, I didn’t know if there were any good songs on it”.

The Flowers in the Dirt deluxe easily boasts the best bonus audio of any McCartney archive collection to date, and it looks beautiful. But far too much superfluous printed material, not including all the audio on CD and a prohibitively expensive price-tag, makes this – like the original album – a rather flawed package.

The Flowers in the Dirt reissue is out now.

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Paul McCartney

Flowers in the Dirt - 4-disc deluxe book edition

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Flowers in the Dirt - 2LP Vinyl edition

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Flowers in the Dirt - 2CD edition

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track_listing

flowersinthedirt

Deluxe 3CD+DVD book edition

DISC 1:
1. My Brave Face (2017 Remaster)
2. Rough Ride (2017 Remaster)
3. You Want Her Too (2017 Remaster)
4. Distractions (2017 Remaster)
5. We Got Married (2017 Remaster)
6. Put It There (2017 Remaster)
7. Figure Of Eight (2017 Remaster)
8. This One (2017 Remaster)
9. Don’t Be Careless Love (2017 Remaster)
10. That Day Is Done (2017 Remaster)
11. How Many People (2017 Remaster)
12. Motor Of Love (2017 Remaster)
13. Où Est Le Soleil? (2017 Remaster)

DISC 2: (original Elvis Costello demos)
1. The Lovers That Never Were (Original Demo)
2. Tommy’s Coming Home (Original Demo)
3. Twenty Fine Fingers (Original Demo)
4. So Like Candy (Original Demo)
5. You Want Her Too (Original Demo)
6. That Day Is Done (Original Demo)
7. Don’t Be Careless Love (Original Demo)
8. My Brave Face (Original Demo)
9. Playboy To A Man (Original Demo)

DISC 3:
1. The Lovers That Never Were (1988 Demo)
2. Tommy’s Coming Home (1988 Demo)
3. Twenty Fine Fingers (1988 Demo)
4. So Like Candy (1988 Demo)
5. You Want Her Too (1988 Demo)
6. That Day Is Done (1988 Demo)
7. Don’t Be Careless Love (1988 Demo)
8. My Brave Face (1988 Demo)
9. Playboy To A Man (1988 Demo)

DOWNLOAD ONLY:
Original B-sides, remixes and single edits:
1. Back On My Feet
2. Flying To My Home
3. The First Stone
4. Good Sign
5. This One (Club Lovejoys Mix)
6. Figure Of Eight (12” Bob Clearmountain Mix)
7. Loveliest Thing
8. Où Est Le Soleil? (12” Mix)
9. Où Est Le Soleil? (Tub Dub Mix)
10. Où Est Le Soleil? (7” Mix)
11. Où Est Le Soleil? (Instrumental)
12. Party Party (Original Mix)
13. Party Party (Club Mix)
Cassette demos:
1. I Don’t Want To Confess
2. Shallow Grave
3. Mistress And Maid

DVD

Music Videos:
01. My Brave Face
02. My Brave Face (Version 2)
03. This One (Version 1)
04. This One (Version 2)
05. Figure Of Eight
06. Party Party
07. Où Est Le Soleil?
08. Put It There
09. Distractions
10. We Got Married

Creating Flowers in the Dirt:
01. Paul And Elvis
02. Buds In The Studio
03. The Making Of ‘This One’
(The Dean Chamberlain One)

Put it There:
01. Put It There Documentary

flowers2lp

Flowers in the Dirt / 2LP vinyl

LP 1
1. My Brave Face
2. Rough Ride
3. You Want Her Too
4. Distractions
5. We Got Married
6. Put It There
7. Figure of Eight
8. This One
9. Don’t Be Careless Love
10. That Day Is Done
11. How Many People
12. Motor of Love
13. Où Est Le Soleil?* digital download

LP 2 (Original Elvis Costello demos)
1. The Lovers That Never Were (Original Demo)
2. Tommy’s Coming Home (Original Demo)
3. Twenty Fine Fingers (Original Demo)
4. So Like Candy (Original Demo)
5. You Want Her Too (Original Demo)
6. That Day Is Done (Original Demo)
7. Don’t Be Careless Love (Original Demo)
8. My Brave Face (Original Demo)
9. Playboy To A Man (Original Demo)

flowers2cd

Flowers in the Dirt / 2CD Edition

CD 1
1. My Brave Face
2. Rough Ride
3. You Want Her Too
4. Distractions
5. We Got Married
6. Put It There
7. Figure of Eight
8. This One
9. Don’t Be Careless Love
10. That Day Is Done
11. How Many People
12. Motor of Love
13. Où Est Le Soleil?

CD 2 (Original Elvis Costello demos)
1. The Lovers That Never Were (Original Demo)
2. Tommy’s Coming Home (Original Demo)
3. Twenty Fine Fingers (Original Demo)
4. So Like Candy (Original Demo)
5. You Want Her Too (Original Demo)
6. That Day Is Done (Original Demo)
7. Don’t Be Careless Love (Original Demo)
8. My Brave Face (Original Demo)
9. Playboy To A Man (Original Demo)

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