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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 17:43 GMT
Paul McCartney returns to form
Sir Paul McCartney performing at a New York concert in aid of victims of 11 September's terrorist attacks
The album is more about the present than the past
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

Paul McCartney albums seem to turn out better when he adopts a no-frills approach.

His first solo record - the mysteriously-titled McCartney - was the sound of one man and his tape machine. Recorded during the turmoil of The Beatles split, it offered a sense of calm amid the storm, and remains one if his finest achievements outside the Fab Four.

Ten years later he did much the same again with McCartney II - its home-made quality offering a blast of fresh air after the syrupy excesses of late Wings.

As soon as it emerged that new album Driving Rain was recorded on a 16-track tape machine with a minimal backing band - almost a demo by today's high-tech standards - things began to look promising.

Sir Paul McCartney with fianceť Heather Mills
The song Heather is an exuberant track
Sure enough, it is his best album in a long time, with some decent melodies and inventive touches aplenty.

And if it occasionally falls prey to saccharine blandness, then as a rule it shows the kind of musical integrity he seemed to have lost forever around the time he started crooning with frogs.

The gritty guitars and throaty growl of Lonely Road provide a sprightly start, while the anguished melody and walking bassline of From A Lover To A Friend offer the first of several spot-the-Beatles moments.

There is a fleeting glimpse of Mother Nature's Son in the guitar flourish which closes Your Way, while the chorus of Tiny Bubble is a straight lift from Piggies (one of George's, as it happens).

Risks

But the album is more about McCartney's present than his past - and deals frankly with the loss of Linda and his feelings for new love Heather Mills. Your Loving Flame is a fine piano-led ballad, while Heather is an exuberant near-instrumental.

Meanwhile, Paul's son James adds percussion and guitar on two tracks, but it is all too brief to judge whether he is a chip off the old block.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the album is that it finds McCartney taking a few risks again, even if they do not always pay off.

Riding Into Jaipur is atmospheric and drenched in sitars, while the guitar thrash of Rinse The Raindrops starts promisingly before eventually losing its way during an extended jam.

On the grand scale of things Driving Rain ranks somewhere alongside a middling Wings album - pleasant enough without offering more than a hint of the genius of The Beatles.

But there is no doubt that Sir Paul has rediscovered his creative spark, and that alone will be music to the ears of all those who have been willing it to happen - but wondering if it ever would.

Driving Rain is released on 12 November by Parlophone.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Reviews
Driving Rain: Your views
14 Nov 01 | Reviews
Paul McCartney: Press views
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