“If you’re going to be eccentric, for goodness sake don’t be pretentious about it,” growled Robert Christgau in 1971. He’s right about “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” my vote for worst song ever released by a Beatle, beating impressive competition from a couple George songs because “Uncle Albert” was actually a number one hit and still gets airplay. The other ringer, “The Back Seat of My Car,” takes five-plus minutes, watery guitar, and strings to describe a lover’s lane grope. This isn’t tantric sex — this is staring stoned at a birthmark on Linda’s shoulder while she impatiently calls his name. Worse, it seems to have inspired Eric Carmen’s early solo career.
The rest of Ram is good, although no masterpiece. Paul McCartney never made a solo masterpiece. I wish critics would stop acting like he did or why it matters (we know why it mattered in 1971 but we outgrew flares too). Like I wrote recently, his best solo record consists of however many tracks you can fit in a CD-R or iTunes playlist. Ram isn’t as good as Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Flowers in the Dirt, or even my beloved Press to Play, but it’s not much worse, which is the key to understanding Paul’s solo years. It has one great track whose maneuvering between the ephemeral and the essential is so sly that I’m tempted to overrate its creator: “Eat at Home,” a gnarly, surly, ecstatic ode to cunnilingus that also doubles as an affirmation of domesticity. The guitars — by Hugh McCracken and Paul himself — sound fabulous. Linda’s addled harmonies, as usual, are crucial. The other keeper is “Dear Boy,” in whose Paul falsetto and basic piano chords a rebuke transforms into the gentlest of finger wagging without softening its pain.
The rest have tricks you’ve heard before and will again. “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” boast a lot of yelling to signify Paul’s spontaneity. A sequel to “Another Day” if he’d written about the contours of the rest of his working day, “The Heart of the Country” is concise as “The Back Seat of My Car” is bloated. “Too Many People,” Ram‘s barmiest moment, is a riot. Although it’s supposed to be “about” John and Yoko because we’ve read all the biographies, a stoned-to-the-gills Paul just sounds paranoid, decrying people going underground and reaching for pieces of cake over a magnificent loping bass line. No one in 1971 had the imagination in 1971 to sound this functionally illiterate. “Let Me In,” “I’m Carrying,” and a series of doodles about dragonflies and mud on Red Rose Speedway would follow.