Album Review: “Run Devil Run” — Paul McCartney (1999)

Run Devil Run represents Paul McCartney’s second album of (mostly) cover tunes, after 1988’s Снова в СССР. While the latter was released as something of a lark — basically Paul and a bunch of musician friends  noodling around in the studio, recording a bunch of 50s/Broadway/R&B tunes, and releasing the album in the Soviet Union in 1988 as a gesture of goodwill — Run Devil Run started as a more healing affair. The 1999 record was McCartney’s first studio effort after the death of his longtime love and partner Linda, which made the project something of an emotional release for Sir Paul.

From March through May of 1999, McCartney met with a group of musicians in Abbey Road Studios to begin work on the project. And what a group of musicians they were: David Gilmour, Mick Green, Ian Paice, Pete Wingfield, Dave Mattacks, Geraint Watkins… for a project that originated out of a need to have fun and shake out the cobwebs, Paul surrounded himself with talent. Including himself, of course. He’s got a bit of ability too.

So into the studio they went, and by May they recorded over a dozen tracks, including three McCartney original compositions. The covers dominate the record, and they represent strands of rock-and-roll, rockabilly, skiffle, blues, and R&B that formed a lasting impression on McCartney during his formative years. We’re talking Gene Vincent, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Joe Turner, and more.

Your enjoyment of this album will almost entirely rely upon your affection for these tunes. What can be said, however, is that Paul and Co. attack the material with verve, energy, talent, and top-notch musicianship. There’s a laid-back sense of fun and enjoyment that seep through every track. The pure rock energy of She Said Yeah, All Shook Up, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, I Got Stung, and Party can’t be denied. The Doo-Wop beauty of Lonesome Town hits that sweet spot just perfectly; McCartney’s vocal performance here is wonderful.

The love Paul shares for the music of Fats Domino in Coquette is so palpable, it practically invites you to get up and dance. My personal favorite is the only track that was released as a single, No Other Baby, an atmospheric beauty that covers Dickie Bishop’s classic in a way that puts Four Jacks and a Jill to shame. Seriously though, this is a commanding and totally irresistible number.

Of the original songs, let us start with the title track, Paul’s uptempo slice of rock-and-roll glazed with a very recognizable Chuck Berry patina. Run Devil Run is Paul rocking the way he does it best, and it’s great fun. The beauty of McCartney as a singer/songwriter/musician is that he makes this track almost seem like an effortless throwaway… except that it’s anything but. Paul expresses his pain as a widower in Try Not To Cry, in which he tries to come to grips with loss in song. I expected the tune to be more of a somber piece, but it has an uptempo beat and some killer rock hooks. What It Is was written and demo’ed before Linda’s death, a rocking and melodic affirmation of love for his wife. If anything, this winning number makes you nostalgic for that kind of Freewheeling Rockin’ Paul.

Cover albums are a tough review, because you either like the source material or don’t. And even if you like the source material, then you have to gauge how the artist is approaching it: is it direct homage, a new interpretation, a hybrid model, etc. I’m going to toss all that out the window and say that Run Devil Run is just a FUN album, period. Clearly there was a lot of love for the material in that studio, and it shows in the finished product. The original songs are not only of fine quality, they are also a perfect stylistic fit with the cover tunes, making the album an entertaining and cohesive listen throughout. So is Run Devil Run ESSENTIAL McCartney? I would say definitely for fans, and most assuredly for the curious.