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Review by Brad Green:
Did you hear Paul McCartney at the September 11 benefit concert? The one he organised himself. The worthy cause prohibits too much criticism, but I really feared he’d lost it. It wasn’t just that the singing was woeful; it was simply astonishing that such immense tragedy could inspire no more from one of the great songwriters of our time than “I will fight for the right to live in freedom” and an equally lame melody. So it’s particularly edifying to find McCartney back to his imaginative best here.

His title track is enveloped in a McCartney specialty: a chord progression that is at once unpredictable, and as snug and familiar as old slippers. The lyric skips a fine rhyme between the playfully silly and the playfully surreal, his own bass lines (one assumes) feature pleasingly and prominently and he croons the sweet melody with all the vitality of a mop-topped young pop star.

Unfortunately, some of the younger pop stars here don’t deliver anything nearly as tasty. Because of his background in rock journalism, and because he’s married to Nancy Wilson (ex-frontwoman of the excellent glam-rock outfit Heart), everyone expects Cameron Crowe-produced soundtracks to be treasure troves of precious pop. Personally, I found the soundtrack to Almost Famous and now this CD to be as inconsistent as many rock critics’ taste and logic.

That Radiohead are the reigning darlings of the pop press speaks volumes. Mostly it says that musical chops are not required to earn that mysterious endowment called “cred”. Here, their Everything In It’s Right Place is, like most of their material, mildly original and mostly boring. Which is at least better than the interminable and insufferable mix-mash of sampled blancmange from the Chemical Brothers – who have been dubbed innovative, but who dabble in formula. Sadly, they are actually outweighed in the mediocrity stakes by the programmed repetitiveness of the aptly named Looper.

R.E.M. – another pet of the press – aren’t heard at their best here, despite being offered in a double dose, and Crowe’s talented wife improves matters, but only moderately, by contributing some airy acoustic guitar ambience. Elevator Heat is a pleasant instrumental, but hardly gets warm and never reaches any great heights.

Instead it’s the old stars who are the lights in the vanilla firmament. Peter Gabriel’s Solisbury Hill is an evergreen masterpiece, an instant ear-grabber and cleverly crafted composition (seven/four time signature and all) in one. On the other hand, Todd Rundgren’s Can We Still Be Friends certainly isn’t profound, and it certainly shouldn’t be; for it’s a successful pop song in the purist sense – a simple sentiment expressed, well, simply.

But it is in echoes of The Beatles – beyond Paul’s contribution – that this odd assortment of the brilliant and the boring does ultimately bounce in the right direction. The Monkees’ Porpoise Song is an ocean of class and originality away from I Am The Walrus (as The Monkees were from The Beatles) but still ripples with sixties psychedelia. Hardly a masterpiece, but brimming with fun. However, Bob Dylan’s Fourth Time Around is the genuine article; a folk-rock triumph – captured here in a stunning live performance – it is as successful a riposte to Norwegian Wood, as McCartney’s title track is to Strawberry Fields.

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TITLE: Vanilla Sky

ID: 325583 014338

Warner Music Group

ARTISTS: R.E.M.; Radiohead; Paul McCartney; Peter Gabriel; Julianna Gianni; The Monkees; Looper; Red House Painters; Josh Rouse; Leftfield/Afrika Bambaataa; Sigur Ros; Jeff Buckley; Todd Rundgren; Bob Dylan; Nancy Wilson; The Chemical Brothers


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