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Review of "Flowers in the Dirt" (Paul McCartney Archive Collection, Deluxe Edition)

The latest installment in Paul McCartney's ongoing Archive Collection project has finally arrived: joining the ranks along with albums like McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, Tug of War, and Venus and Mars, we now have a remastered and "deluxe edition" treatment of Paul's 1989 release, Flowers in the Dirt.

Let me address the giant elephant in the room straight away: I have no idea why this album was chosen as the next addition to the Archive Collection. When this whole project started back in 2010 with a remastered edition of Band on the Run, it made a ton of sense. The entire Beatles catalog had just been remastered a year earlier with fantastic results, so why not give Paul's solo catalog a similar treatment? Open the vaults, blow off the dust, digitize those analog tapes, clean them up, re-mix the individual tracks where necessary, give the whole thing a good polishing, and put them on the market!


Now here we are, seven years later, and while it was wonderful to see the early Wings material get the wax-and-shine treatment, was anyone really clamoring for a remastered version of Pipes of Peace? But "oh well," we thought, "at least it was accompanied by a remastered edition of Tug of War" -- but still, it seems like there were other albums that would have made better candidates.

Amplify that ten times for Flowers in the Dirt. This album came out in the summer of 1989, several years after the advent of Compact Disc technology. We're not talking about an album that has only ever existed on vinyl or eight-track, and gee, wouldn't it be great to finally have it digitized and given a good sonic scrubbing? This album already sounded good. It sounded great, in fact. It's been two years since the last Archive Collection installments were added, and after all the wait, we got this?

Can we please get remastered versions of Red Rose Speedway, Back to the Egg, London Town, and yes, even Wild Life before we go dipping into albums from the 1990s? What's next, "restored" versions of Off the Ground and Flaming Pie, which are, relatively speaking, still fresh off the truck?

Ok, rant over. Flowers in the Dirt may not have made sense as the next release, but here we are, so let's look at what we've got.

The sound is marginally better on these remastered CDs than it was on the originals. I played them back to back to see what differences I could spot, and the only obvious difference was "they made the whole damn thing a lot louder." That's really the only benefit I found with the remastered tracks. They're louder, they're maybe mixed with everything panned just slightly closer to center, and somewhere in there everything sounds a bit more "present" in the final mix.

Just don't expect to have any revelations like, "oh wow, listen to that acoustic guitar, they really made that more prominent," or, "I didn't even know there was a piano part there before!" It's the same Flowers in the Dirt you remember, just louder. It's still a good album. Hot damn, is this a good album.

The added bonus tracks, featured on two extra discs, are two different demo versions (an original demo and a 1988 demo) of nine separate songs. And, as bonus downloadable content, for some reason, you can also get approximately 15,724 different re-mixes of "Ou Est Le Soleil." 

I know maybe two other people on the planet who have even heard "Ou Est Le Soleil," and neither of them has ever expressed to me the sentiment that "what the human race is really missing, in the grand scheme of things, is an easily accessible version of the Friday Night Baked-Down Cuban Special 8.75" Rub a Dub Get Down in the Club Dance House Party Triple Scoop Low-Fat No Whip Re-mix of 'Ou Est Le Soleil.'"

Still, the other demos are fun, if you're into that sort of thing -- not everyone is, of course, but some people enjoy listening to the raw, unfinished versions of songs. In that case, you'll love hearing au naturel versions of "Tommy's Coming Home", "Twenty Fine Fingers", "You Want Her Too", "That Day Is Done", and of course, "My Brave Face", among others.

The DVD includes the full Put it There documentary, so you get to listen to Paul talk about writing the songs, working with Elvis Costello, and the trepidation/relief he felt about embracing his Beatle past, interspersed with full clips of Paul, Linda, and the band rehearsing the songs. There are a few other, shorter, behind-the-scenes videos that show Paul and Elvis working in the studio, Paul interacting with the producers, the making of the "This One" video, and Paul doing this to get just the right percussion sound for "Put it There":

That right there was worth the price of admission.

Finally, the DVD contains ten -- count 'em, ten -- music videos, including two versions each of "My Brave Face" and "This One", plus "Figure of Eight", "Put it There", and -- why the hell not? -- "Ou Est Le Soleil." I'm telling you, this entire reissue was just an excuse to inflict this weird little dance tune on an unsuspecting public.

In addition to all of this, you get several books/booklets, including a 112-page essay about the album (with plenty of interview material from Paul), a 32-page notebook of Paul's original hand-written lyrics, and several pictures, including this:

Again, worth the price of admission.

The final verdict? This wasn't the album we wanted, necessarily, but here it is, and was a really good album to start with, so it's hard to imagine a scenario where the remaster is a stinker. These are great tunes, the sound is better (if only marginally) than the original, there are some fun DVD features and intriguing demo tracks, and above all else you get more giant, heaping scoops of "Ou Est Le Soleil" than any sane person knows what to do with. 

What's not to love?

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