The Fireman

Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest

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When the mysterious Fireman album came out, it was largely ignored until rumors started floating that somehow Paul McCartney was involved with the project, à la Percy "Thrills" Thrillington's easy listening version of Ram in 1977. Capitol Records finally confirmed the rumors, with the result that a good number of aging Beatles fans bought their very first (and likely only) ambient house record. The thing is, it's a bit disingenuous to say that Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest is a Paul McCartney record in the strictest sense. The album's provenance is in a remix session for the first single from McCartney's Off the Ground album, "Hope of Deliverance." Ever mindful of current chart trends, McCartney invited former Killing Joke bassist and ambient house pioneer Youth to remix the track. In the course of four days in McCartney's studio in October 1992, Youth deconstructed the entire Off the Ground album into samples and created nine different mixes, incorporating material from new recordings by McCartney, old demos, found sound tapes, and even samples of the tracks "Reception" and "The Broadcast" from 1979's Back to the Egg. The performances are by McCartney, true, but it's Youth's sampling and remix skills that created the album. Youth later said that, had he realized at the time that McCartney was going to eventually release all nine tracks as a single album, he would have varied the proceedings a bit more. And that's the one flaw with this album; since all of the tracks have the same source material, they all sound more alike than they might otherwise. The tracks are solid ambient dance material, with beats and wisps of melody swirling around each other without ever quite coalescing into a recognizable tune, but there's a little bit too much sameness about the material for Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest to really hold together as an album the way that, say, the Orb's material does. The much more varied 1998 follow-up, Rushes, would be a far superior release.

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