Album Review: “Снова в СССР” — Paul McCartney (1988)

I’m not going to spend too much time discussing Снова в СССР, Paul McCartney’s 1988 album of cover tunes. It’s not even so much because it’s a bad record, or a boring, uninspired collection of mostly 1950s rock standards (with some Duke Ellington and George Gershwin thrown in for good measure). Your enjoyment of his covers will depend mostly upon your enjoyment of the original material… and if that isn’t your bag of snorkel fins, then your mileage will most assuredly vary.

The project originated while Macca was, as always, noodling around in the studio. Say what you want about the man (and, as adoring fans here at Hokeyblog, we often do), but Paul was nothing less than creatively fertile at all times. With a prolific dedication to writing and recording, he found himself at a bit of a crossroads surrounding the commercial disappointment of his 1986 album Press To Play. While endeavoring to create a body of work that evolved the McCartney brand into a more contemporary sound-space, that record failed to find an audience and, for some (or many), failed to convey that feeling of inimitable McCartney pop craftsmanship.

So starting on July 20th, 1987, Paul, with a group of session players, recorded over a dozen tracks of cover tunes for two days… simply for the fun of it. Never meant to be a strong artistic statement nor a tailored response to the Press To Play reaction, Paul decided to indulge himself with a bunch of songs he enjoyed performing. Later that summer he would return to the studio to begin the Flowers In The Dirt demos with Elvis Costello as a “proper” album follow-up, but for those two days McCartney was just gonna blow off some steam and enjoy himself.

The tracks would eventually be released in the USSR as the Снова в СССР album. Feeling entirely in touch with the global zeitgeist and feeling the glasnost love, McCartney received permission from the Soviet government to release the record in what was then the Soviet Union. And why not? The title literally means “Back In The USSR”, and the album was an instant sellout. It became something of a collector’s item outside the USSR, and wouldn’t receive an official release in outside territories and countries until 1991.

Anyway, Снова в СССР is a fairly decent album for what it is — vintage 1950s rock with a sprinkle of 1930s Broadway, 1940s jazz, and traditional blues. The production is stripped-down, raw, and basic. Perhaps a bit thin sounding, but it mostly works. The arrangements are spirited but straightforward. The vocals and musicianship are warm and agreeable, but they serve the music first and foremost; you won’t find any experimentation or diverse interpretation going on here.

That said if you know anything about Beatles history, you can’t help but smile listening to McCartney singing “Twenty Flight Rock”. It helped him land the gig, after all.

Overall it’s a fun if not entirely essential listen. I guarantee you I’d rather listen to this album’s version of “Kansas City” than the one found on Beatles For Sale. Along with the two aforementioned tracks, I also enjoy “Lucille”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, “Aint That A Shame”, “Summertime”, and “Crackin’ Up”, and the rest of the tracks acquit themselves nicely enough. So yes, not essential in the slightest, but certainly enjoyable enough and a pleasant diversion. For the fan that would enjoy listening to Macca blow off a little steam, lose his pesky self-consciousness, and have some fun with someone else’s songs, Снова в СССР is a worthwhile pit-stop on the ongoing trek through Paul McCartney’s vast catalog.

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