"Off the Ground"
* * 1/2
There's nothing any self-respecting Beatlemaniac would love more than to announce the artistic renaissance of James Paul McCartney. This isn't it, unfortunately, though he comes closer than he has in years.
He came close on his last studio album, "Flowers in the Dirt," too, scoring points thematically with several songs giving personal angles on hearth and home. This time he scores musically, with a seamless summation of his craft, from the pre-Fab samba of "Hope of Deliverance" to the inventively orchestrated post-Beatleisms of "C'mon People" to the clever melodic twists of "The Lovers That Never Were"--one of two writing collaborations with Elvis Costello.
If only his lyrics had some of those clever twists. McCartney's obsession with environmental and cultural harmony rules the day--noble sentiments indeed, but not good art unless they can be forged into strong statements and/or poetry. Imploring us to "change the way we treat our fellow creatures" is neither.
Only "Hope of Deliverance," with its dark fearfulness giving way to utopian optimism, plunges beneath the surface of McCartney's world-view, and then only in the broadest terms. Beyond that, any insights into McCartney himself must be gleaned from how he takes refuge in craft . . . again. Is it too late to hope for anything more?