If this morning was all Beatles, this afternoon has been all latter-day Paul McCartney by way of his mammoth Flowers in the Dirt deluxe re-issue.
The set features the original album; a second disc of 10 demos recorded with Elvis Costello; a third disc of 9 of the same demo songs recorded with the nascent Flowers in the Dirt band and produced by Elvis; a fourth disc of b-sides and remixes; and a DVD of videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. (Click on the picture to the left for a rundown of everything included.) The numbered deluxe edition (mine is 4714) also comes with high-res (24/96) downloads and three additional downloads of “cassette demos” with Elvis that could (and probably should) have been placed on the second disc.
It’s a lot to digest, obviously. The original album is now remastered; and, as I listened to it in full for the first time in ages (decades?), I have to say that it has more than held its own. It’s a near tour de force. Buttressed by four songs that were written with Elvis Costello (“My Brave Face,” “You Want Her Too,” “Don’t Be Careless Love” and “That Day Is Done”), the collection stands with the best of his solo/Wings work. “This One” and “We Got Married,” which features a guitar solo by David Gilmour, are both sublime; and “Figure of Eight” has a nice vibe.
I say “near tour de force” because there are a few songs that would’ve worked better as b-sides, such as “How Many People” and “Motor of Love” – and several of the b-sides included on disc four would’ve made the album even better if they’d been included.
One day I may A-B it against the original release to judge the difference in sound quality, but by the time I find the original disc – which is in a box somewhere – others will have beaten me to that punch. For now, though, I can safely say that it sounds great.
Both sets of demos are interesting. The first (disc 2) are just McCartney and Elvis; the performances, all recorded in September and October 1987, are basic sketches (guitar/piano, vocals). The songs are fully formed, just not fleshed out – and it’s quite a joy to hear them. The next batch (disc 3), recorded the following February, are fleshed out thanks to the presence of Hamish Stuart on guitar and Chris Whitten on drums; they’re a blueprint for an alternate Flowers in Dirt. One gets the sense, in listening to them, that they’re less demos and more a road not taken, in other words. The performances are all phenomenal.
The b-sides and remixes are as b-sides and remixes go: some (“Back on My Feet,” “Flying to My Home” and “The First Stone”) would’ve made Flowers in the Dirt a killer set. The others are non-essential, though the Bob Clearmountain mix of “Figure of Eight” is solid. But how many remixed versions of “Ou Est Le Soleil?” does one need to hear? The three bonus songs (“I Don’t Want to Confess,” “Shallow Grave” and “Mistress and Maid”) are well worth the download; as with the original demos on disc 2, they’re just McCartney and Elvis.
I haven’t watched the DVD yet – hey, it’s only 3:30pm as I write! – but even without seeing any of it, I can say that the deluxe set is well worth it for any avid fan.