The reissue is a missed opportunity.
The Paul McCartney reissue landslide continues with a set of four live releases reissued in a single day. Or at least it sort of is, given that Amoeba Gig is only sort of a reissue and Choba B CCCP is only sort of live. At some point, at least conceivably, says some of the world, we’ll reach McCartney saturation, and dropping four albums and however many discs all at once should suggest we’re pretty much there. “Hey Jude” can only have so many different variations of “Na na na” before it feels like we’ve got it covered. That’s what makes the least likely of these releases, Choba B CCCP intriguing, even if it doesn’t quite reach any highs.
The album, with its Russian title that translates to “Back in the USSR,” came out in 1988 and exclusively in the Soviet Union. McCartney had been struggling artistically. He’d had a couple of good records in 1982 and 1983, but he’d lost direction since then (though, admittedly, a willingness to wander is part of the pleasure of solo McCartney). He settled in to play some of the oldies that he’d always loved. The recording turned out to be a treat, and McCartney put together the 11 best live-in-the-studio tracks for an album, which was eventually expanded when the record later received a worldwide release.
It’s McCartney with all the experimentation removed. He couldn’t be much further from, say, McCartney II, and that may be what he and his fans needed. He picked classic songwriters, and mixed rock ‘n’ roll standards with a few less predictable cuts. The performances, though, are pretty obvious, with the band just going straight ahead on comfortable numbers. McCartney sounds relaxed. He clearly finds joy here, but he doesn’t find intensity. With a great songwriter doing an album of covers, it should feel somehow revelatory. Instead, these cuts sound like a Beatle playing songs we’ve always assumed the Beatles liked.
“Lucille” takes off a little, and “Kansas City” has its necessary bounce. “That’s All Right (Mama)” is a misstep, a forgettable approach to Elvis. “Ain’t That a Shame” just reminds us how good the original was. The performances are solid and professional, but there’s so much missed opportunity here. Rougher versions would have been more welcome. As it is, it’s the sound of McCartney just working something out, and maybe the vision this time was simply to pare everything done to its core.
The album’s weaknesses especially stand out when contrasted with two of the day’s other McCartney releases. Amoeba Gig presents a McCartney who’s more energized. Rather than finding comfort in revisiting the past, the singer sounds excited to be pushing it forward. Wings over America epitomizes the excess of ’70s rock, but there’s something grand about it, and many of the performances are classics. The triple-LP structure of the release announces that the biggest rock star in the world is doing the biggest thing in the world, and the songs carry it. Choba B CCCP is a couple days of structured fun pared down to a single record, worthwhile as a novelty and a casual listen, but far from essential.
The reissue is a missed opportunity. The release contains the 11 tracks from the original release (in case we wanted something to play while standing in line for bread?), but it could have contained the 13 or 14 tracks from the various 1991 versions. Even better, it could have added most or all of the remaining performances from the recording sessions, ideally on a single disc. Doing so would have made it a more valuable addition to the reissue campaign. As it is, it’s hard to get to excited about a shrunken reissue that makes for fun but light entertainment.