Late last month, the third piece of the Paul McCartney remaster series--a super-deluxe version of 1971's Ram--finally hit stores. The timing, if a little belated, was fitting; by now it seems like Ram is everyone's favorite Paul McCartney record, but that's only because after 40 years we've finally finished reassessing the strange transitional album that made McCartney alone, among the solo Beatles, a critical pariah.
I wasn't around when it was being savaged, so I can neither take credit for enjoying it before it was cool nor hope to understand, first-hand, what made it so unpopular.
But I can guess.
Ram is a weird, gawky hybrid album, coming after the underproduced, seemingly half-finished McCartney and before the precise bombast of Band on the Run, and it partakes equally of both impulses. Songs like "Heart of the Country" seem to want to be improvised and undone, while the album-closing "Back Seat of My Car" is as meticulously produced as any song in his catalogue.
Paul McCartney--at least the Paul McCartney of Ram--doesn't sound like he wants world peace or religious enlightenment or anything else the Beatles, together and separately, seemed to be reaching for at the dawn of the 1970s. (All the Important Things, perhaps, rock journalists thought they were being promised.) He just wants, simultaneously, to live a pastoral life improvising tunes with his wife and to write, second-by-second and chord-change-by-chord-change, complex, loud songs that people will sing along with him in an arena.