Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Get Back: Paul McCartney's New

Considering all that he's accomplished in his long career, Paul McCartney's only competitor is himself. On New [Hear Music], his 16th solo album, Macca proves that he can still write the perfect pop song with lyrics and hooks that are irresistible. His volume of work can now be classified as a style, "McCartney" if you like, with compositions that are just sophisticated enough to keep our ears engaged while accessible enough to appeal to listeners of all ages. His style has proven strongly influential, too, as heard on the recent Mojo magazine CD release, Songs in the Key of Paul, that comes with the November 2013 issue. It is a really good mix of old and new songs featuring a variety of old and new artists. The CD features a collection of songs that best represents the "McCartney Sound", rich in vocal harmonies, interesting chord changes and song structures not far removed from Tin Pan Alley or Motown.

New is his first album of original songs in what have been six dynamic years, personally (divorce, re-marriage) and artistically. It's a record that speaks to his past and his present with a creative eye to the future for a 71-year-old who isn't slowing down for anyone. (To learn more about this notion, read Kevin Courrier’s insightful Critics at Large post of last week, A Future Nostalgia: the Crucible of Paul McCartney.) New is an album that sits perfectly within Paul McCartney's comfort zone. The image on the liner notes booklet says it all: a colour profile of McCartney, in performance at the piano, with the glow of the spotlight encircling his face. His blissful expression captured perfectly. Songs about his past like "Early Days," "New," the experimental "Queenie Eye" (based on a street game he played as a kid in Liverpool) and "Appreciate," this record brings all of McCartney's ideas to fruition beautifully. References to all of McCartney's pop music history adorn the record, and I suspect the ironic title is Macca's avant-garde wink to fans of The Fireman project or McCartney II.

But what I think makes this record so fresh to the ear is the collaborative efforts of McCartney and the four producers brought to the recording. Over the years, McCartney has credited the ideas to his collaborations with Youth, for instance. But on this record new comers Paul Epworth (Adele) and Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse) and Giles Martin (son of George Martin) and Ethan Johns, (son of Glyn Johns who just remixed an album by Patty Griffin) all help McCartney succeed. The music is solid because the composer/performer wouldn't have it any other way, but he seems to have given up some control over the results. That attitude is what makes New an exciting commercial release for its variety of sounds all within a pop format. In other words, McCartney has finally been able to balance his interest in the avant-garde with a pop sensibility that is accessible, interesting and entertaining. His vocal performance sounds energetic albeit limited, but that free spirit inspired long ago by Little Richard still peppers McCartney’s phrasing.

On a recent car-trip to Ottawa, I listened to the whole album again and was impressed by McCartney’s commitment to each song. His vocals, although strained, still had an emotional impact on me, especially “Hosanna” and “Early Days.” "Early Days" is based on his formative years with John Lennon, "when we were first starting out." In an interview, McCartney revealed that this record is a mix of different sounds and ideas much like The Beatles’ White Album, where every track "was extremely different from the other." But that record featured four feuding personalities, a reliable producer George Martin and a superb engineer, Geoff Emerick, who walked out of a recording session as this album was being made. It’s an interesting comparison, but not quite what’s happening on New. This is a record that mirrors Paul McCartney the musician 45 years removed from the White Album. Fortunately that distance leaves him hungry to pursue musical ideas and collaborate with the right producer in order to realize them. It’s nice to know that more songs are forthcoming.

– John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra.

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