So, Paul McCartney, still. Whatever happened to his hopes of becoming a Paperback Writer? Didn’t pan out, apparently.
At age 71, the former Beatle and enduringly cute one is still among rock’s most electrifying live performers. Whether the world needs another solo record from him is another matter, but he’s either irresistible or has earned the right. The least we could do is to take a look: New took him years to write.
And notice is being taken. Naturally, the old-guard-enabling Rolling Stone lavished praise on New. But four stars from rock music’s first bible is just the ante when it comes to weighing in on ancient-white-male legacy acts.
Where Rolling Stone’s automatic awe for New is predictable, a quick Googling of McCartney’s first album of original material since 2007’s Memory Almost Full reveals a quirkier sort of reverence.
The headlines are confusingly positive and positively confused: “The generic genius of Paul McCartney.” “Paul McCartney’s joyfully unnecessary new album.” And “Paul McCartney’s New is better than it needs to be.”
My take? Nothing new with Paul McCartney’s cheerful inconsequentiality. There’s something almost unbearable about the man’s bearability. He makes highly listenable records. He’s a helluva guy. He’s a gifted songwriter. He’s not embarrassing himself. He’s a Beatle. The hair.
But if his music entertains, the albums just don’t seem to matter any more. It’s been that way since 1973’s Band on the Run. And if the undertaker drew a heavy sigh back then, he must be totally frustrated by now.
This album begins with Save Us, a raced-up version of Letting Go (from the 1975 Wings LP Venus and Mars). The lean, buzzing high-tempo rocker would seem to be one of a few tracks directed toward McCartney’s new wife: “You’re my woman. Keep it coming. You’ve got something that could save us, save us.”
There’s an awful lot of enthusiasm to the track on McCartney’s part, but it doesn’t rub off. Four producers were brought in to handle the dozen songs: Paul Epworth (who has worked with Adele), Giles Martin (son of George Martin), Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon and son of Glyn Johns) and Mark Ronson (of Amy Winehouse fame). Save Us, as an opening cut on a project called New, has to be viewed as a disappointment.
We hear production flourishes and modern beats here and there. The disc sounds great. But as often as not, it seems like the team is trying too hard.
Winners include the darkly acoustic Hosanna, which begins and ends with Beatle-y backward tapes. I could imagine Robert Plant or a last-days Johnny Cash covering it. The title-track single skips along Penny Lane, with a heart-bursting McCartney renewed by fresh love. The life-coaching Appreciate is hazy, slinky and a little freaky, with a slow-howling guitar solo to finish it off.
The sweet, gentle Early Days is a defiant recollection of the Beatles’ first days, a prequel, perhaps, to George Harrison’s When We Was Fab. McCartney’s voice is weathered; he remembers a time when the young Liverpudlians would seek out people to “listen to the music that we were writing down at home.”
He’s still searching. Good for him, I suppose. No, really, good for him.
The week in music
Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending Oct. 13: Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz mashed its way to the top of the Nielsen SoundScan chart, ahead of Lorde’s Pure Heroine, Drake’s Nothing Was the Same, Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience and the Glee cast’s EP The Quarterback, a soundtrack to the show’s tribute to Cory Monteith.
Top single: Lorde’s Royals rules the Billboard Hot 100’s top spot for the third consecutive week, while Justin Bieber’s Heartbreaker was the week’s top digital gainer.
Also released this week: The Avett Brothers’s Magpie and the Dandelion, Cults’s Static, Diane Birch’s Speak A Little Louder, Eliza Doolittle’s In Your Hands, Field Study’s Feverland, Harrison Kennedy’s Soulscape, Linda Thompson’s Won’t Be Long Now, Lucius’s Wildewoman, Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt, Sandro Perri’s Spaced Out, Shad’s Flying Colours, The Stanfields’s For King And Country and Tim Hecker’s Virgins.