Here's the thing about dismissing Paul McCartney as an artist: Don't. Because every time it seems as if he has lost his ability to summon the brilliance he brought to the Beatles, Sir Paul conjures up another charming, inventive album that shows his light still shines. Like Flaming Pie, for instance, a collection of intimate, introspective songs that not only represents a return to form, but also a step toward a compelling new horizon.
Titling his album after one of John Lennon's fairy tales (the name Beatles came from a man on a flaming pie, he wrote once), McCartney obviously has his past on his mind. But if he seems nostalgic in "The Song We Were Singing," he paints a darker picture of mythical status in "The World Tonight," noting, not all that happily: "I go back so far/ I'm in front of me." McCartney (who produced or coproduced all of Pie) sang lead and background vocals. Playing most of the music with help from old friend Steve Miller, coproducer Jeff Lynne and his own 19-year-old son James (who trades guitar licks with Dad on one tune), he jumps easily from rock to folk to blues. But what unifies the album, and makes it so striking, is its pointedly middle-aged perspective. Which is a lot cooler than it sounds because unlike, say, Mick Jagger, McCartney has the guts to confront, and rock out to, the problems of adulthood.
And that, as a man of McCartney's years knows all too well, can be brutal. "No one's out to break your heart/ It only seems that way," he cautions in "Little Willow." And as he once did with the Beatles, McCartney is again weaving music and words into strands of hope. (Capitol)