Friday, December 6, 2013

Paul McCartney 33: New

For a man oozing with so much creativity, Paul McCartney’s never been praised for his clever album titles. For every Tug Of War, Band On The Run or even McCartney II there’s such cringe-inducers as Back To The Egg, Memory Almost Full and Kisses On The Bottom. And now, this. It’s a good thing that the quality of any McCartney album doesn’t depend solely on its title, or else we’d have to write off New immediately.
Much was made of how this was his first “rock” album in six years, coming as it did on the heels of Kisses. But that ignores the inspiration that went into creating the Fireman album, and the quality of what came out of it. Another antecedent would be Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, which had one young hot producer at the helm; New has four such names, two of them direct progeny of previous, legendary collaborators.
Interestingly, these young producers deliver sounds that hearken back to decades earlier, whether or not McCartney’s lyrics constantly look back. The charms of “Save Us” have to fight an insistent fuzzy guitar part, and even through the drums sound canned, it’s a catchy opener. “Alligator”, with its pleas for someone to “save me” makes a redundant choice to put next, but it’s soon forgotten. As with his last “rock” album, he takes the opportunity to evoke his own past, covertly in “On My Way To Work” (sung from the point of view of the same bus in “A Day In The Life”) and overtly in “Early Days”. In the middle is “Queenie Eye”, another jaunty track with a seemingly nonsense lyric that is so irresistibly catchy you can’t help shake your head and smile. The title track incorporates a “Penny Lane” march in something of an homage, likely unintentional, to The Rutles’ “Doubleback Alley”.
The second half of the album has a more unpredictable sound. “Appreciate” takes a few plays to, well, appreciate, mixing his ‘80s tendencies with modern touches. “Everybody Out There” is a strange cousin to “Mrs. Vandebilt” musically—it’s not a stretch to imagine Linda happily yelling “hey” at all the right spots—if the lyrics are a bit forced. Built on drones and loops, “Hosanna” is basically a one-man operation that sounds like it took as long to write as it did to record; here it serves as a palette cleanser before the more upbeat if unsubstantial “I Can Bet” and “Looking At Her”, which sounds a lot longer than it is. With an intro that brings to mind “It’s Raining Men” when it returns for its crescendo, “Road” doesn’t have quite enough drama for a finale.
But in this era of “deluxe” editions around the world, which add various bonuses, whether audio, visual or tchotchke, to a “standard” edition, it was a moot argument. Most McCartney fans would have gone for any of the packages that added more music anyway. “Turned Out” sounds halfway between an early-‘80s George Harrison track and a late ‘80s McCartney track, and would have made a decent B-side if they hadn’t been made obsolete of bonus tracks. “Get Me Out Of Here” is an innocuous little strum, making reference to the celebrity reality show of the same name. (Another track, the more experimental “Struggle”, only came out in Japan.) Unlisted on the cover of any edition but indexed separately is “Scared”—not a John Lennon solo cover, but a show of vulnerability with a suitably frightened piano part. It makes for a sobering end.
No matter what anyone tries to say, New is not a grand statement, or even one of his more important albums. It is, however, proof that for all his talents and hobbies, Paul McCartney still gets a kick out of making records. A few of these songs will likely appear in the slightly modified setlist of his next handful of concerts, and they’ll be replaced with whatever he chooses to include from his next album.
So it’s just his New album. Long may he run.

Paul McCartney New (2013)—3

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