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The Fireman, "Electric Arguments" (ATO) [3 STARS]

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While it's hard to imagine any artist in rock history who's won more praise, prizes or financial rewards for his accomplishments, it's long been a thorn in Sir Paul McCartney's side that his old mate John Lennon was the Beatle acknowledged as "the avant-garde one," while of course Macca was merely "the pop guy." In addition to griping about this in many interviews, McCartney's tried to correct this impression throughout his solo career by dabbling in odd underground side projects--among them "Liverpool Sound Collage" with the Super Furry Animals in 2000 and two discs of ambient electronica under the name the Fireman in 1993 and 1998--in between the steady stream of, you know, mere pop albums (the last of which, "Memory Almost Full," was released last year on Starbucks' now-defunct Hear Music label).

All of these detours have had some engaging moments, but the fact is, none have matched the experimental genius of Lennon at his most far-out--say, "Tomorrow Never Knows" from "Revolver." Yet still Paul keeps trying, and now, on the heels of recent statements that he'd really like to release "Carnival of Light," a legendary "lost" Beatles track from the acid-drenched year of 1967 which preceded John's tape-collage experiments with "Revolution 9" by more than two years, McCartney has reunited with Fireman collaborator Youth, a former member of Killing Joke turned techno DJ, to craft "Electric Arguments," singing for the first time in this guise, and intentionally recording in quick-'n'-dirty punk-rock fashion, writing, playing all the instruments and finishing each of the 13 recordings in its own 24-hour period.

Clearly, McCartney works best when he forces himself to stretch via this kind of challenge: The last time the 66-year-old legend sounded this excited, inspired and energized was on "Run Devil Run" in 1999, when he was just covering some of his most loved '50s rock songs with a bunch of his pals. But the same major flaw that has plagued much of his solo output is still a problem here: The results are wildly inconsistent. There are some great tunes (the furious blues-rock of the opening "Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight" and the lovely freak-folk of "Is This Love?"), some horrible tunes (the slight skiffle ballad "Two Magpies" and the bombastic pop tune "Sing the Changes") and some tunes that fall somewhere in between (most of them on the last third of the disc, where the spacey sounds most resemble the trance-out drones of the earlier Fireman discs).

It's nice to hear McCartney having fun, and it's easier to forgive his failures when he's so obviously trying new things; I'll take this Paul over the "official solo album Paul" any day. But it's hard to resist nothing that Lennon never worried about separating pop John from experimental John--and that's why he'll always be the more avant-garde one.

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12 Comments

Thanks for the insightful and objective review but I think "Electric Arguments" merits 4 stars. John was more avant- garde but MACCA was always more melodic. Brian Wilson reveres him and Dylan told Rolling Stone that MACCA was the only Beatle who he's been in awe of.

Actually you're mistaken. It was Paul who contributed the tape loops to Tommorrow Never Knows. So while it's a "John" song, the most experimental aspects of it must be credited to McCartney. Just like the orchestral freak out of "A Day in the Life" being conceived by Paul, despite most of it being written by John. It's a basic fact that Paul was into the London avant-garde scene in the mid-'60s while Lennon lived a more suburban life with Cynthia. It was only after he met Yoko that John really engaged himself in that area. While Paul can be overbearing when he talks about this, he is telling the truth. I'm surprised that a veteran music critic such as yourself can get such basic history wrong about the Beatles. Oh, and anyone who calls "Sing the Changes" a "horrible tune" I have a hard time relating to.

I agree with Anonymous, what makes you say Sing the Changes is a horrible tune? The only thing I can put it down to is some sort of tall poppy syndrome. If fact, IMO, there is nothing horrible about this CD at all......nothing.

Each track done in a day. What other artist would take that challenge and (again IMO) succeed to such a degree? I seriously can't think of one. But still people have to find something bad to say.

Still, we all have our opinions.

Youth is again back in the Killing Joke fold. He just visited Chicago's House of Blues with them a couple of months back. The band really seemed revitalized and full of energy. The show didn't seem to get much ink, which is a shame. Martin Atkins had a nice synopsis on his blog:

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=126555697&blogID=441770174

Jim, I really think that no matter what McCartney does, even though you gave it 3 stars and on the Buy It Burn It Trash It scale it would be a buy it on Sound Opinions, it will never be perfect. How is Sing The Changes a horrible tune? But what gets me is your disregard for Beatles history. Tommorrow Never Knows is a John song, but the Avant Garde elements came from Paul. It was Paul who did the tape loops and that was his idea. John loved the idea but it came from Paul springing it on John. It was also Paul's idea for the orchestra climax on A Day In The Life. Also, and you have stated this on Sound Opinions the working title of Tommorrow Never Knows was not The Void, that was a myth started by Mal Evans, but if you read Mark Lewenshon's The Beatles Recording Sessions the EMI session logs and on the session tape it is listed and announced as Mark I. As was posted it was not until John met Yoko that he did Avant Garde stuff. Paul never felt his stuff was good enough for release, but John felt that people needed to hear 25 minutes of him and Yoko repeating each others names. Yes you gave this 3 stars but it is your disregard for the facts of The Beatles history that gets me.

Thanks for your response Jim. I see what you mean. I still think as a McCartney album this is one of the best things he did, and I wish he would go down this route more, especially in his classical pieces which have been not that impressive to me. He has guts to do it but Standing Stone sounds like boring mature documentary music. I just get fed up with the myths out there with The Beatles John was this and Paul was a poppy guy. John could be a corny as Paul.

Fair enough Jim, but I would argue that it was George's influence that brought the Indian one chord drone to the Beatles, with songs like Love You To and Within You Without You. So if you argue that part as the most avant garde of the song, perhaps we should give George some credit for influencing John.

First of all, apologies for posting so late. I think, everyone here, including you Jim, has made their points. I especially agree with you Jim that McCartney refuses to weave his avant garde stuff into his main albums. There were some hints of that in Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but abandoned almost entirely in Memory Almost Full.
The apportioning of influences of individual Beatles is a bit of a bum deal, in my opinion. Much like Radiohead now, much of Beatle music was a band creation, even as the chief songwriters had their say. Also trying to quibble about these things would mean quibbling over "which- month-who-listened-to-what-and-decided-to-try-it-out" kind of academic exercise which Ian McDonald has already done.
It should be enough to see Macca trying out stuff when he really has nothing to prove. All his left field stuff resonates more when you think that though the public is satisfied with Paul's stuff, he wants more out of himself. And you must agree that's a commendable. Overall, Electric Arguements seems to be superior to Memory Almost Full.
P.S. Revolution No 9 was in 1968, not more than two years after Carnival of light.

Mr. Jim,
For years I have wanted to respond to your reviews. I wish I had your job, listening to music all day and then rendering your opinion. I find it hard to believe that anyone would take you serious. I have never seen you write about a new Moody Blues album , Jethro Tull or any other band who has been around forever. These bands have been around because the still write good music and perform it well. This garbage that is around today amazes me that these groups even get a recording contract. And yet you glorify these no talent , so called musicians. You won't hear any of that junk on a station that plays the old music ever. We keep hearing the older music becausen there was talent back then. Music died in the middle 80's. There has been nothing but crap since. I have been a lifelong Beatle fan , but even McCartney has put out some crap. Look at his catalogue , how much more can he do?

Jim -
The fact that this album exists should alone give it three stars, and the fact that it doesn't suck should warrant four stars. Don't be so harsh! I'm not sure how aging rock stars can continue to put out music year after year, wait, decade after decade, and not be judged by something seminal they did forty years ago, but maybe the point is, we shouldn't judge them by it. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a moment in time that will never be repeated, eclipsed, surpassed, etc, just as "Revolver" should be mandatory listening to every schoolchild in the western world. "Electric Arguments" may not be destined for classic status anytime soon, but from the music to the artwork, and especially online purchase, it's as good as it gets.

Eddie-
I am not defending Jim here...well maybe I am, even though I did not totally agree with his review here. But in response to you asking why he does not talk about Tull or The Moodies, if you read Jim's writing and follow his writings like alot of us do, you will see he is a big Tull fan and has written about them. Look up his Great Albums list (which needs to come back soon) and you will see Aqualung on his Great Albums list. He also called The Decemberists album The Crane Wife,and i'm paraphrasing, "The Best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses". As far as The Moodies go, I don't think he is a huge fan, but as far as Critics go, he is one of the few that not only champions Punk, but also progressive rock. He is a Yes fan and I found an old CD NOW review (remember that), of ELP's Brain Salad Sugery that Jim did and gave a great review to. Maybe he does not write about the new stuff they do, but he does write about them.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on December 2, 2008 2:57 PM.

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