The Fireman – Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (1994)

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Capitol Records tried to drop hints that was, in fact, a record by Paul McCartney.

Press information shipped with the advance CDs had a pull-out reproduction of a tabloid, apparently circa 1964: “‘Beatlemania,'” the headline screamed, “sweeps U.S.” But the enclosed news release goes on and on about “an anonymous duo” known as the Fireman.

No other details given on the stark-red 1994 release, titled “Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest,” but it turned out to be one of the wackiest Beatles solo releases ever.

Nothing, of course, tops John Lennon’s “Two Virgins” — not with THAT cover.

Still, if you like some of Brian Eno’s more uptempo stuff — or if you get Moby at all, this is one you’ll enjoy. At the very least, it goes into the Top Five Very Un-Fab Solo Albums.

McCartney is joined by producer Youth, who is best known as a member of Killing Joke and the Orb.

Sure, there were great reasons to keep it anonymous. Youth (real name: Martin Glover) got to preserve his street cred — and, yeah, McCartney might move some product among the funny-haircut kids.

But, still, it was a wow-inducer. Since the joys of Eno’s first ambient noodlings, many are the eggheads who’ve taken it upon themselves to fire up the synthesizer and get after it. None, it would seem, more surprising than one Sir Paul.

Yet, a brush with his catalog clearly predicts the crisp, dancy stuff on “Strawberries …”: Specifically, there’s “McCartney II,” the 1980 release that marked the official breakup of Wings. It was the second album (that’s what they used to call them, kids) that he’d done all alone.

Where 1970’s “McCartney” — which followed his split with some British supergroup — was strictly down-home acoustic, “II” was a burst of eletrified home-studio messing around. Sometimes it worked (“Summer’s Day Song,” the hit “Coming Up”) and sometimes it didn’t (virtually the rest of “II”).

Same here. There is the same fitful brilliance, matched with swoons into rote techno-razzle with no dazzle. This could have to do with the editing process — or the lack there of. Only one tune is under eight minutes long — and it’s still more than seven and a half.

It was minor hit in England, but of course, fizzled here. Just as well. Paul would go on to drop his dance-floor pretensions, call up his old buddies Ringo Starr and George Harrison — and refashion two old Lennon demo tapes into the last music ever produced under the Beatles’ monicker.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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