There are a bazillion reasons why a modern day pop music reviewer might decide to get all snarky-hipster when reviewing a new album from the likes of Sir Paul McCartney.
Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, I'm not that kind of a modern day pop music reviewer.
I'll be up front with you: I like Sir Paul's music. I respect him immensely and give the guy slack for an occasional mis-step or hyper-saccharine indulgence now and then. I am a fan from way back, almost literally from the time I was born and have been following his ups and downs for the long haul.
That said, and I'm trying to be a bit objective here, there are many reasons to give Macca's latest release -- simply titled New -- a good listen:
a) He brings in a bunch of different producers which lends the album a certain freshness from cut to cut as a continuous listening experience.
b) We are getting to again hear the members of his fantastic touring band in the studio, particularly monster drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., who is easily the most sympathetic player Sir Paul has worked with since Ringo. This is really important to acknowledge because the rhythm section -- drums and bass -- is the core of any really great rock record. Paul and Abe are that rhythm section and if you've seen them in concert or watched any of the videos of them performing live, you see Paul turning his back on the audience to face Abe on many songs through out the performance as they lock into jam together. There is a strong musical connection there that should not go unnoticed.
c) New is available now on an HDTracks high resolution download that sounds mighty nice (and the basis for this review).
d) Even after just three listens while writing this review it feels like his most consistent rock album since 1997's Flaming Pie.
f) There are no cringe-worthy lyric moments jumping out at me on this album so far after numerous listens. ;-)
Lets talk about the sound of New.
According to details on HDTracks.com, much of this album was recorded at 48 kHz / 24-bit resolution. Some songs were recorded at 44.1/24 resolution. The album was Mastered at 96/24 resolution. Got that? To the layman means that it will ensure (theoretically) less degradation of sound. But as far as I know -- and I say this as a music producer myself currently going through a remastering process of my old band's last CD for an eventual LP reissue -- upmixing to 96/24 isn't going to suddenly double the resolution of the recording. So keep all that in perspective.
That said, resolution wise it gets a bit confusing figuring which track is which without going down a rabbit hole that is beyond the scope of this review. If you feel so inclined and want to try piecing the puzzle together, track details are posted on the HDTracks website and production details are in the very nice PDF "booklet" that comes with the download (including great studio photos, lyrics and personnel details for each song). All that said, there must have been some conscious decision for recording at different levels like this based on instrumentation and the production sound desired. Or not. It might just be a random rock 'n roll thing happening.
Either way, I'm OK with it. Cause... y'know know... at the end of the day, its all about the music. Heck, Tom Petty's brilliant Mojo album on Blu-ray sounds huge and amazing, yet is "only" a 48/24 recording. So, keep that in mind as you listen to this album which -- even with its digital production touches -- sounds remarkably organic and warm even as I cranked up the volume.
"On My Way To Work," for example, features a big strummy, sparkly acoustic guitar throughout most of the tune so having that extra depth from the higher resolution recording may well lend some added air and depth to the final recording. Contrast that with (bonus track) 'Turned Out" which also has a lot of acoustic guitar and a George Harrison-esque slide part on it, yet the feel of the song is overall more compressed and boxy. Final track "Get Me Out of Here" features a bluesy vocal complemented by big sounding acoustic guitar strums, Buddy Holly-flavored harmonies ("Oh Boy") over a rhythm bed of Djembe hand drums and other percussion.
"Looking at Her" blends a very modern drum and vocal sound with intercuts of beautifully fingerpicked acoustic guitar. "Early Days" is a 44/24 track and, you know what? It sounds fine. Paul's in-your-face vocal sounds like he is singing to you from his bedroom in the middle of the night even though it was recorded in several studios (probably on a laptop) and with input from two producers. It works.
"Queenie Eye" is a great little rocker with a nifty Easter Egg (if you will) for Beatlephiles (the line "O. U. T. spells out," refers to "Christmastime is Here Again" from the 1967 Beatles fan club only Christmas record -- the song was eventually released on the Anthology series)
The title track "New" is a fun and very Beatle-esque romp that skateboards through Penny Lane, runs barefoot over Strawberry Fields and jaywalks across Abbey Road. For every Beatle flavored tribute you have ever heard from Jellyfish to The Rutles, no one does McCartney like McCartney himself. He even throws in lovely multi part Brian Wilson like harmonies at the end -- Meet The Beach Boys, indeed!
"Appreciate" cuts up hip-hop inspired alternative rock beats into quirky slices of booty shaking rhythm and melody (I won't be surprised if this becomes a choice for a dance remix). Produced by Giles Martin (Sir George's son, who was the mastermind behind the brilliant Beatles' remixes done for the Cirque Du Soleil show "Love"), this is a kind of glitchy sounding recording -- with neat morphing-before-your-ears production tweaks that might take you from a boxy AM transistor radio sounding drum loop to a full sized live drum kit . Trippy backwards guitar lines and effects zip in and out of your speakers.
Its pretty thrilling that at this stage of the game Paul McCartney is making (dare I say) exciting music. Think about it -- how many of your parent's or grandparent's favorite artists were still putting out compelling and interesting music in their latter years? Sinatra, some might argue (remember the Trilogy album?). Tony Bennett, sure. But other than that, not a whole lot of pop musicians are able to maintain a level of productivity even remotely close to what Sir Paul is pulling off year after year. McCartney has peers in this regard -- Bob Dylan,Van Morrison -- but not many among those who were making records back in the 1960s. Its an elite group. And for their continued presence alone, we should be happy. That McCartney's music is memorable and inspiring is a bonus.
So, thank you Sir Paul for New. And I raise my wine glass in a toast to you for many more years of healthy happy music making to come.
Mark Smotroff 's first 45 RPM single purchased with his own money saved up from allowances and birthdays was "She Loves You" by The Beatles (on the Swan Records label). One of the earliest memories Smotroff has is watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964 -- when he was just three years old -- and he has been a fan ever since. Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.