Let's face it -- Paul McCartney has always had a flair for writing sturdy, hummable melodies. After all, it was he, of all the Beatles, whose tunes were most often translated into mood music, as the many easy listening renditions of "Yesterday," "You Won't See Me" and "Michelle" testify.
As for his post-Beatles output, well. . . . Put it this way: as anyone who has ever spent an afternoon trying to get "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" out of his head ought to agree, the man's music can be maddeningly catchy.
So it should come as no surprise that the dozen or so songs McCartney has packed into his latest album, "Off the Ground" (Capitol 80362), are tuneful as all get-out. From the lilting, Latin cadences of "Hope of Deliverance" to the haunting, melancholy refrain of "Winedark Open Sea," there's no shortage of melodic allure here.
Pity about the words, though.
Ah, yes, the lyrics. Although much has been written about McCartney's musicianship over the years, precious little has been said about his intellectual acumen. And for good reason. McCartney may be a great player and a charming guy, but verbally gifted he isn't. How else could he have not only written but recorded the line, "In this world in which we live in" (from "Live and Let Die")?
But even by his usual standards, "Off the Ground" is an astonishingly mindless collection. Never mind the new age drivel sprinkled throughout -- nobody could be expected to make sense of material as vacuous as "C'mon People" or "Golden Earth Girl."
"Biker Like an Icon" is a different story, however, and all-too-typical of what's wrong here. Set to an itchy, urgent minor-key melody, it tells of a young girl's erotic obsession with an outlaw biker. Naturally, the affair ends disastrously for the girl, but just what happens is never made clear; instead, McCartney's chorus simply repeats, "She loved her biker like an icon/ Slowly letting precious water slip away."
Excuse me, Paul, but what water? Where did this come from? And what the devil has it got to do with the girl and her biker?
"Golden Earth Girl," a well-meaning attempt at an Earth-goddess idyll, is equally goofy. Admirable as his images are -- the cycle of life, nature in all its glory, etc. -- McCartney seems to have no idea of what he wants to say with the song. So he says nothing, and squanders the chorus on a weak pun about "eggshell finish" and "in excelsis."
This is not a good sign, especially considering that "Off the Ground" is supposed to be McCartney's "protest" album. Granted, it doesn't include "Big Boys Fighting," the infamous f-word song MTV wouldn't play, but it does find him waxing wrathful about animal rights ("Looking for Changes"), male sexism ("Mistress and Maid," co-written with Elvis Costello), and carping critics ("Get Out ofMy Way," in which he rather foolhardily insists, "I don't need anybody to tell me how to be right").
Trouble is, not only isn't McCartney cute when he gets mad, he isn't terribly convincing, either. And while it's no great loss to hear his righteous indignation sputter as he lambastes the Andy Capp-like husband in "Mistress and Maid," his rejoinder to the animal abusers in "Looking for Changes" is distressing ly lame: "And we will all be looking for changes."
Boy, that's telling 'em.
Perhaps the scariest thing about "Off the Ground" is the way it finds McCartney lapsing into bad-imitation Lennonisms. Take, for example, the album-closing song fragment "and remember to be . . . Cosmically Conscious." Yes, it's as every bit as moronic as the title suggests, but that's not the worst of it, for Paul packages his pensee in what can only be described as a cheap imitation of "Give Peace a Chance."
"Off the Ground"? Off his nut is more like it. And no amount of hummable melody can make up for ideas as muddle-headed as the ones he uncorks here. Frankly, it's enough to make you wish you didn't understand English.