The Album of the Year was recorded in 1989: The Special Edition demos in McCartney's “Flowers in the Dirt” remaster
review by Kevin Harvey
Let me set it up. I’ve always had a thing for the first three tracks on Beatles For Sale: No Reply, I’m A Loser and Baby’s in Black. There is a dark edge to the three tunes that implied these are the songs Lennon and McCartney will write together twenty years from now, maybe thirty. The dark edge of the future may have been subliminal, but it was there in the album from the day it was released. People who should have known better called it exhaustion, the pooped-out product of being worked to death. They were wrong. The three songs sound at first to pure Lennon; and yet there is something else there and I suspect that something was the product of joint influence; I’m a Loser feels like Lennon wrote it alone, which isn’t the case with the other two. He may indeed have written the core lyrics to all three, but what happens to the recorded songs is a blend of both writers, both singers, both players, that cannot be pinned down. For me, they remain a high point of the Lennon and McCartney collaboration, not the highpoint, but a highpoint. A signpost to a kind of song that never happened.
Until the release of the McCartney-Costello demos, included on the special edition reissue of McCartney’s “Flowers in the Dirt.” Something happened between the two writers - perhaps Costello’s embodying of Lennon’s spirit,
his desire to be Lennon, that magically forced McCartney to be the that guy who worked with Lennon, that guy who was a member of The Beatles, not
the surviving, primary historian of the Beatles, a contributing factor in a magical foursome. Listen to the unpolished recordings, before Paul used
them to make a McCartney album, a very good McCartney album, but an album that was his alone. I loved it when it came out, but I wondered where the Lennon-like influence, spoken of in a dozen interviews, went. Costello had gone missing. Until now. Twenty-eight years later Sir Paul remasters Flowers in the Dirt and adds nine tracks of just he and McManus to the set. And they are I-will-be-played-daily-for-a-long-time wonderful. Don’t even think of filing this one away!
You can hear them working together in a way that makes guessing who wrote what beside the point: Costello’s lyrics - often too many words to a line - feel razor sharp, sophisticated, literate, but as sardonic and concise as Lennon’s addition of “It can’t get much worse” to Paul’s Its Getting Better on Pepper. Each song is a story, a narrative, often reminding me of the stories contained within She’s Leaving Home or the ignored Another Day, the unacknowledged sequel to She’s Leaving Home; turn them on their heads in 1989 and you have Tommy’s Coming Home. (Tell that to Pete Townsend.) So Like Candy is so good it might have been written by Lou Reed and sung by Sinatra. That Day is Done forces me defensively back to the three songs that kick off Beatles for Sale: I don’t care, back to the wall, that day is never done. That very song, these recordings, prove it. It amazes me that this album, just the two of them, wasn’t released; because, in truth, ending many an argument, it elevates both of their reputations. They do more than merely complement each other; they create a third creature by forcing each other to be who they are. For nearly thirty years we were deprived an album by the Neverly Brothers. But Elvis is right when he says it’s okay because it’s here now. I’m greedy. I want another one.
Hell, make it a three-disc set and call it Triplicate. It should take them about a week to become classics.