Ok, so I’m excited. For first time, I’m hearing one of Paul McCartney’s finest late period recordings on vinyl: Flaming Pie. The album was primarily a CD release back when it was issued in the late 1990s. The scarce LP pressings — I never remembered actually seeing one back in the day — have gone on to become coveted, sought after among fans and commanding hefty prices on the collector’s marketplace both in the United States and abroad.
This new release is the latest in Paul McCartney’s archive series that includes several different variations for fans. Earlier this week I previewed the five CD boxed set with many outtakes, demos and rarities (click here if you missed it).
Now spread across two 180-gram LPs, this new edition of Flaming Pie was freshly “half speed mastered” at Abbey Road Studios by acclaimed Engineer, Miles Showell. The significance of this album finally appearing in a wider screen format than the 16-bit CD is important because not that many people have really heard just how great this album could sound — myself included!
Given that the album was co-produced by no less than Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra and long time Beatles producer George Martin along with Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie deserved this sort of “handle with care” treatment.
It has always been a good sounding album but I always suspected it might sound better than what I was experiencing on the CD — there is a certain density to some of the productions which often sounded compromised by the CD’s limitations.
I began my listen with the title track. Of all the album’s songs, I felt that “Flaming Pie” was perhaps the most classically Beatle-esque sounding and wanted to hear how that translated on to vinyl. One of the first things I noticed is that I could now hear the sound of the studio space in which Paul and Jeff Lynne were recording. The snare drum snaps much more tightly and resonantly. The cymbals decay more naturally on the new LP (that you can even hear them that clearly is a big plus — at times they often seem to disappear on the CD).
On the Thunderclap Newman-esque piano break, you can feel the heart of the instrument, it sounding more woody and rich rather than the somewhat rinky-dink flavor on the CD.
Perhaps most importantly — and this is across the whole album — gone is that slight harsh digital edge enveloping Macca’s voice on the CD version.
On the opening track “The Song We Were Singing,” the roundness of Sir Paul’s acoustic guitar is much more apparent on the choruses. “Somedays” sounds especially lush and gorgeous with its 14-piece orchestral arrangements by George Martin. Paul’s bass on “Young Boy” jumps out more on the vinyl pressing and the big strumming acoustic guitar layers are a buoyant joy — the song feels a lot more cinematic than the CD version, which feels a bit reigned-in comparatively.
The whole of “Heaven On A Sunday” is beautiful but for me the magic happens at the end of the song when the pulsing harpsichord breakdown begins and this sort of Brian Wilson / SMiLE-esque vibe flows out in the studio. There is a wonderful little moment at that transition point which is easily overlooked on the CD but which now jumps out of the speaker much more clearly: the song title is sung in a hushed two part harmony. It is a special touch that sends a little shudder down the spine. It reminds me of a similar moment XTC crafted about a year later on their Apple Venus Vol. 1 album and the brilliant song “Easter Theater.”
Besides the nice gatefold cover to house the two-disc set, vintage styled, heavy charcoal grey cardboard inner sleeves are included which thankfully are large enough to easily slip the album in and out — someone was paying attention to little important details! The booklet from the CD (and inner sleeve of the original LP) has been reconfigured into a lovely larger 7 & 1/2- by 10-inch form.
Also included is a neat note from Abbey Road Engineer Miles Showell explaining the rationale for spreading out the album across two discs and the benefits of the half speed mastering process. Printed on invitation-grade card-stock, this insert is embossed with Paul’s signature, a special touch fans will appreciate.
For this review I received the special three LP version of Flaming Pie which features a separate bonus disc collecting Paul McCartney’s home cassette demos for the album (included in the CD box set). It is a sweet, simple package designed as a quasi-bootleg with a plain white cover and record label featuring Paul’s fun flying-pie-on-fire graphic (seemingly) rubber-stamped on it. Like the main album, the 180-gram vinyl pressing is excellent. Happily, it sounds far from a bootleg in quality! I have to admit I had wondered whether I “needed” the demos on an LP but now that I’m hearing them this way, I’m enjoying the presentation very much, indeed. It is a nice bonus!
All in all, it has been worth the wait for Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie album to be properly re-released on vinyl. I’m very pleased and suspect you will be as well.