Various Artists

Listen to What the Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney

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Covering the songs of Paul McCartney's solo career is a daunting task. Not only is there a certain stigma attached to the material (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not), but there's also the fact that McCartney's buoyant melodies beg to be sung by a powerhouse vocalist; a band with a singer of average range risks masking the elegance of McCartney's best popcraft. In a way, then, it's surprising that Listen to What the Man Said works as well as it does. Modern rock acts sift through nearly two decades of Sir Paul's music, embracing hits and relative obscurities with equal frequency (though it's rather telling that the producers chose to include only two of McCartney's post-1980 numbers). Semisonic gets "Jet" exactly right, capturing all the fuzzy brilliance of the original, while Linus of Hollywood makes "Warm and Beautiful" one long, contented sigh of billowy harmony vocals ricocheting Brian Wilson style across the a cappella arrangement. Even better is Owsley's "Band on the Run," which remains vital while staying relentlessly faithful to McCartney's vision -- not an easy feat considering the jigsaw-like nature of the suite's various parts. To be sure, the disc isn't free of filler. Punk-pop outfit SR-71's take on "My Brave Face" is hopelessly stylized and feels bland and contrived as a result, the overblown psychedelia of the Minus 5's "Dear Friend" brings to mind McCartney's own excesses, and They Might Be Giants' instrumental reworking of "Ram On" ends up surprisingly devoid of life. Perhaps it says something about McCartney's skill as a pop arranger that the best covers here are those that don't experiment too much; either way, Listen to What the Man Said isn't going to go down as a timeless album, but it has enough moments of pop pleasure to be recommended to the more adventurous McCartney fans.

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