25 Years Ago: Paul McCartney Enters the ’90s With ‘Off the Ground’
He's undeniably one of the greatest singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists in rock and roll history, but Paul McCartney's solo albums can be hit-and-miss, to put it diplomatically. Off the Ground, which was released on Feb. 2, 1993, was a case in point, featuring many of the lyrical and melodic elements that are McCartney's strengths, but somehow not quite coming together. The result was an album that was quite simply not among McCartney's best.
Off the Ground was Macca's first studio album of the '90s, and he was coming off the success of 1989's Flowers in the Dirt, on which he'd revitalized his career by collaborating with Elvis Costello and working with multiple producers. For the new record he chose to co-produce with Julian Mendelsohn, cutting the tracks live in the studio with his touring band instead of using studio musicians and piecing tracks together through overdubbing.
That approach should have yielded a rockier, more energetic result, but instead, Off the Ground ended up as a fairly standard-issue McCartney pop album. Much of that owes to some sub-standard songwriting, including the title track "Off the Ground," the cloyingly simple love song "I Owe It All to You" and a predictable plea for world peace and unity titled "C'mon People."
There were several tracks whose more interesting bed tracks and stronger melodies were hampered by weak lyrics from McCartney, including the album's first single "Hope of Deliverance," "Peace in the Neighbourhood" and "Golden Earth Girl." And then there were songs that were just plain bad -- chiefly "Biker Like an Icon," a track so laughably weak that it not only ranks toward the very bottom of any realistic overall assessment of McCartney, it arguably shouldn't have appeared on a major label release from any artist, ever.
Still, the album did have its strengths. Two of the better tracks were leftovers from Flowers in the Dirt: "Mistress and Maid" and "The Lovers That Never Were," both of which were Costello co-writes from that period. The anti-animal testing anthem "Looking for Changes" provided a bit more backbone, as did "Get Out of My Way" -- though the latter featured a shopworn chord progression and arrangement that could have come from virtually any songwriter in rock music history.
"Big Boys Bickering" was a stab at something a little edgier for Macca, with a lyric about how politicians were "f---ing it up for everyone," but it was still hampered by the general mood of uninspired, let's-get-this-thing-over-with malaise that pervaded much of the album.
Critics' reviews for Off the Ground were mixed, with many writers noting the overall lack of energy. "At this juncture, he doesn't seem able to rock with authority, and he under-mines his effort by applying a sugary glaze," Rolling Stone opined, while the Chicago Tribune called the album McCartney's best work in a decade, but then cautioned, "That's not exactly lavish praise, given the paucity of punch in McCartney's recent albums."
In the end, Off the Ground proved more significant as a reason for McCartney to go on tour than it was as an individual musical statement. It fared reasonably well commercially, going gold in the U.S. and in many other countries, but for the average music listener the music from Off the Ground has since been mostly forgotten -- and rightfully so.