Initially I wasn’t entirely sure about how to approach reviewing Sir Paul McCartney’s new album. But I realized recently that I had a little something to perhaps offer to my friends out there in music appreciation land: perspective.
This was prompted by watching an interview with McCartney the other night on a popular talkshow. Somewhat bemused, I got the sense that the host was unfamiliar with some of the artist’s history even though he did seem to try to come across as being a serious fan (of which I’m sure he is, no disrespect).
I’ve been a fan of Paul McCartney’s music for almost literally my entire life — one of the three earliest memories I have is The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, when I was maybe 3 years old! So, there are fanboy details which I take for granted and assume everyone just knows.
Clearly, many people don’t! It has indeed been interesting watching people’s comments on social media. I read one post by someone who was genuinely surprised to learn that McCartney could play all his own instruments…
So before I get to the new album I’ll mention some things about his old albums which form a loose trilogy of sorts when taken together. For example, one underlying function of McCartney’s first solo album (simply titled McCartney) was to begin to blaze a path away from the universe of The Beatles. It was a bold statement at the time which even shocked some fans.
There, McCartney showed the world that he could do pretty much everything from playing the drums and lead guitars to all the vocals and even the production. And he did it with fairly bare-bones equipment – – well, bare bones by Beatle standards! Basic tracks for much of that album were made without a mixing board, he just plugged his microphones right into the back of a Studer four-track multi-track recorder. An unconventional approach for sure, but at the end of the day it accomplished his goal. And while there were some inevitable Beatle-worthy cuts — notably the brilliant instant classic “Maybe I’m Amazed” — much of the album didn’t sound like Beatle Paul McCartney.
Perspective may help the unfamiliar with understanding the shock of that album. Consider that it came out right after The Beatles’ pinnacle that was Abbey Road — still considered to this day by many as one of the best produced albums ever — and right before the super glossy Phil Spector over-produced version of Let It Be. Basically Paul McCartney created the D.I.Y. indie rock album on that first solo album in 1970. It was panned at the time by many critics, but it still became a big hit (#1 US, #2 UK)
Ten years later he put out his McCartney II album which again came at a point where he needed to rethink and reinvent himself, especially after his second band (Wings) had run its course.
While there were some classic Macca melodies — such as the beautiful song “Waterfalls,” the big hit “Coming Up” and the still fresh computer-vibe of “Temporary Secretary” — in general the album didn’t sound like anything that Paul had done in the past. And, yet it somehow fit in and felt right for the times. Despite negative reviews it did make it to #3 on the charts at one point (for five weeks according to the wiki!)
Fast forward to the end of 2020 and the release of McCartney III, it makes sense that Sir Paul might want to do another album like this especially given the circumstances with the current pandemic. I mean, why not?! He had the time, the songs and recording studio at his fingertips.
I haven’t been able to get my hands on a vinyl copy of it yet but I have been listening to McCartney III on two of the high resolution streaming music services at 96 kHz and 24 bit resolution. It is sounding pretty great all things considered as modern Paul McCartney records go — don’t expect to feel a lot of rich analog warmth to it but that doesn’t make it any less listenable… its just a different texture.
In keeping with the tradition of its predecessors, parts of McCartney III sounds like he is working on reinventing himself. Parts of it sound like things he’s been doing on recent albums like Egypt Station.
To that, Sir Paul has been reinventing himself over his last several albums made with his band and other producers. His album called New was a lot of fun and it boasted some different textures and production styles. I reviewed it when it came out and later when it was reissued (click here). I also reviewed his last album Egypt Station twice, once for the CD (click here) and later when the vinyl became available (click here). And if you haven’t heard his collaborations with producer Youth as The Fireman (a project which started in the ‘90s), you might be in for some surprises.
The point is, Macca has always been pushing his musical envelope and reinventing himself!
If you haven’t heard those more recent McCartney albums you should listen as it will put McCartney III into some perspective and continuum. Either way at the end of the day it’s great that we have a new Paul McCartney album to enjoy as we wrap up this quite awful year.
Some of my favorite tracks thus far include the Beatles-meets-Bowie “Seize The Day” with its lovely mashup of descending chord ideas and Mick Ronson-flavored glam guitar hook ala Macca’s “Hello Goodbye” as well as Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things”’ and “All The Young Dudes.” The opening and closing numbers which book end in the album revolve around a quirky King Crimson-esque acoustic guitar riff. I like the nearly nine minute long excursion that is “Deep Deep Feeling.”
There are some good rockers that will be cool to hear once Paul can play out again with his great band. Current McCartney band members Abe Laboriel Jr. and Rusty Anderson add slammin’ drums and rawk guitar (respectively) on “Slidin’.
“Lavatory Lil” is a surprisingly fun one too!
“Kiss of Venus” is a nice acoustic folk piece which starts off with a finger-picked acoustic guitar figure that reminds me of the kind of back porch blues Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen lives and breathes, yet he mixes it up with a nifty Harpsichord solo toward the end.
The album’s initial single “Find My Way” is catchy fun too (again with Harpsichord!)
I have been listening to versions of McCartney III on Tidal (click here) and Qobuz (click here). Both are streaming at 96 kHz, 24-bit resolution and both sound about the same. As modern (likely) digital recordings go, especially one that was self produced during a pandemic lockdown, this sounds really quite good. But the album is a bit raw, a warts ’n all scenario and that is one of the hallmarks of these Macca solo albums. It is what it is.
You can get McCartney III on vinyl, CD, cassette, and even in a special CD songbook package. And of course there are innumerable colored vinyl variants, all of which seem to have sold out so I won’t even bother you with that stuff here. I’ll be sure to do an update for this review as soon as I get my hands on a physical version of McCartney III. But for now, if you like Paul McCartney’s music you’ll probably want to make some time to listen to this new one.
McCartney III is a nice way to end the year.