Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first: If you’re the kind of music fan who would prefer Paul McCartney to just keep belting out Get Back and Band on the Run for the rest of his life, then keep walking - there’s nothing for you here. Likewise, if you don’t think it ever got better than Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, then you’re going to find little to love in this show. If your tastes allow for some exploration, then read on.
Doing and album and/or show of old standards has become almost as much a rock cliché as stint in rehab. Over the years, the quality of such albums has ranged from the sublime (Harry Nilsson’s A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night) to the ridiculous (Robbie Williams’ Swing When You’re Winning). The fact is that any idiot can buy a hat, hire a decent arranger and sing into a microphone once used by Sinatra. So why should we follow Macca down this well-worn path?
Well, there are a few good reasons. Firstly, McCartney is old enough to remember some of these songs when they were current, and to have sung them around the family Joanna so his interest in these tunes has not been confected from a lot of received wisdom. He has also revealed an ongoing fondness for the style since the early days of the Beatles, from covers of ’Til There Was You and A Taste of Honey, through When I’m Sixty Four and Honey Pie to Warm and Beautiful and Baby’s Request with Wings, he’s already done plenty of dabbling in the genre. Thirdly, as one of the people who made Abbey Road “da place,” he has no need for the reflected glory of working at Capitol Studios in Hollywood.
He’s also well aware of how many artists have done this before and has taken pains to set this collection apart from them by choosing lesser known songs and going for quiet, subtle versions of the songs where many before him - including some of the originals – preferred to go for bombast. It’s this approach that makes Kisses on the Bottom and this companion DVD more than just the obligatory standards album.
The film intersperses the songs with interviews discussing the making of the album and the show. On a regular concert film this would be a pain but on this one it works fine. This is mainly because Live Kisses isn’t so much a concert as a live run through of some songs. As always with a McCartney show, he shares a great camaraderie with the band, led by Diana Krall and featuring Joe Walsh sitting in on Eric Clapton’s parts. This is another departure from similar albums, where there could be a bit of a master/servant relationship between singer and players.
What really makes this a unique McCartney performance is that for once, it’s entirely about Paul the singer. Although everyone knows he has one of the greatest voices of the last half-century, that fact has always been parallel to his talents as songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. And with every song, you can tell he’s chosen it because part of it speaks to him. This is not a case of the singer putting on an act. He does present his own interpretations of the songs but never do they deviate from the song’s original meaning. It’s been said that Paul’s voice is not what it used to be. Two points on that topic: Firstly, duh! The man is 70 years old. You should sound as good at that age. Secondly, while his voice is considerably weaker than it was in 1967, it does lend itself very well to his intention of bringing out the vulnerability in the songs. This is not an album he could have made when he was 30.
The arrangements occasionally veer a little too close to hotel lobby music but for the most part, they are tasteful and understated, neither being too reverential to the originals, nor interpreting them within an inch of their lives. The one place it doesn’t quite work is on Bye Bye Blackbird which almost becomes a dirge. They do, however, almost manage to redeem The Glory of Love for me after Beaches pretty well ruined it.
Most of the film is presented in black and white with a slightly harsh contrast that is less 1940s film and more like early 1960s television. It suits the music very well though. One rather annoying aspect is lots of jump cuts early in the piece. In a show like this, a shot should last for at least one bar of music.
There’s no denying this DVD has a pretty limited market. You couldn’t even call it a fans-only release because there will be thousands of fans who will hate him for not making a proper rock album, whatever that means. There will be others who laud it purely for being McCartney with no other reason. This show can only be judged for what it is and McCartney, Diana Krall and producer Tommy LiPuma have managed to create a set that strikes the right balance of familiarity and originality, authenticity and playfulness. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it, but it’s better than you think.
Highlight: More I Cannot Wish You
Feature: * * * *