Flowers In The Dirt

Paul McCartney

In 1989, Paul McCartney collaborated with Elvis Costello on songs that ended up filling a third of the ex-Beatle’s ninth solo release, Flowers In The Dirt. Lightweight hits like “Ebony and Ivory” and “Say Say Say,” plus the misstep of McCartney’s movie Give My Regards To Broad Street had some wondering where he would land post-Wings in the midway point of the 80s. Hiring Hugh Padgham, a popular producer the time, to produce his 1986 album Press To Play, McCartney had a solid offering to compete with Phil Collins and Lionel Ritchie, but it was a poor seller by McCartney’s standards and didn’t even crack the Top 20. So McCartney set out for an “eyeball to eyeball” — as the press called it at the time — writing partnership with none other than Elvis Costello. Gearing up for his first international tour in a nearly a decade at that point, McCartney was pretty enthusiastic at this point. The duo produced some solid offerings, a good amount of which did not even make the initial playlist of Flowers In The Dirt. A recently Deluxe Edition reissue contains 18 bonus audio tracks across two discs, featuring previously unreleased demos.

There is no denying Paul McCartney’s mastery with melody, but beyond “My Brave Face,” co-written with Costello, not much stands out in the grouping until we get to “We Got Married,” with its swishy strummed acoustic and David Gilmour’s heavy power chords. That gets thing speaking. “Put It There” lets McCartney roll around in “Blackbird” territory (with a George Martin string arrangement to boot) in a soft all-too-brief acoustic number with a distinctive bass line. Early on in the writing process Costello suggested McCartney use his famous Beatles-era Hofner bass for this album, which he did with aplomb throughout. “Figure Of Eight” features an echo vocal stained with the flavor of the production of the time, but the love-one-another lyric concept, acoustic plucking and harmonies create a tight little number. What might be the best of the original album, “This One” is a single that made the Top 20 in the UK, 8 in Austria, and the Top 40 in the Netherlands.

Of the extras, there’s the demo “The Lovers That Never Were,” a great McCartney screamer (Costello helps out with harmonies). One wonders where this could have gone with a full production. The bluesy piano-led “That Day Is Done,” is another great one with a gospel feel. Ironic as it is that on the original Flowers In The Dirt we hear so little piano, two of the best demos are piano-led. The 50s flavor of “Twenty Fine Fingers” is fun, breezy and enlists some wonderful harmonies between McCartney and Costello. McCartney decided not to enlist Although Costello was initially going the album’s sole producer, McCartney ended up bringing a number of different producers, thus creating a wide variety of sounds and production across Flowers In The Dirt. Having that many hands on deck can net mixed results. The being said, the 2017 remaster reveals some seriously great tunes on the original album as well as the McCartney and Costello demos. Definitely worthy of closer examination if you packed it away after 1989, or never got it in the first place.

~ Ralph Greco. Jr.

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