Friday, January 23, 2009

Paul McCartney 12: McCartney II

So Paul took his new Wings on tour and forgot that customs people don’t like you to pack that much weed in your suitcase. Ten days later he was allowed to go home, and Wings was done. But he had a deal with Columbia, and funnily enough he was able to give them a new album. The previous summer he’d recorded a pile of tracks in the style of his first solo album; in other words, he did it all himself, directly into the machine. Because it was ten years later, this time he used synthesizers and other high-tech gizmos. Since he wasn’t trying to do an album per se, he was pretty experimental in the broadest sense of the word, so many of the songs as originally recorded were interminable; when McCartney II finally came out it had been pared down from two records (nearly 90 minutes) of worse songs and more knob twiddling.
“Coming Up” is still a lot of fun despite the vocoder effects and sped-up saxophones, with a clever video to go with it. Unfortunately, “Temporary Secretary” bubbles from the speakers with headache-inducing intensity. Paul didn’t usually put the really annoying songs this early on his albums unless it was the best he had, so this didn’t bode well. “On The Way” is a slow blues, with some welcome guitar parts and bass playing that’s not at all showy. It can even be considered a better version of “Let Me Roll It”. “Waterfalls” is pretty if spooky, but would be recycled to commercial success 15 years later by TLC. This was an odd one to hear in the middle of the summer; the album as a whole is claustrophobic, a common effect when machines are used almost exclusively. “Nobody Knows” is another fun rockabilly tune, with enough different voices to make it sound like different guys in a band.
The rock ends there—it’s on to more atmospherics on side two. “Front Parlour” sounds like a hamburger commercial, and that’s not meant as an insult. The dreamy “Summer’s Day Song” uses the Mellotron in a way that his future classical endeavors wouldn’t repeat, while “Frozen Jap” should have been retitled after his customs escapade. The next two songs are two of his most embarrassing compositions, back to back to boot. Despite the notes explaining the origin, “Bogey Music” should have been a B-side; had he changed the words to follow the example of the guitar songs on the first side we might have had something. “Darkroom” also suffers from half-baked lyrics, then he runs out of words and starts scatting. (This is what happens when you have toddlers around.) “One Of These Days” almost redeems the collection, a nice acoustic and vocal tune in a style we’d forgotten. Hidden at the end of the album, it’s been unjustly overlooked over the years—and Paul’s probably forgotten it too—but it’s another in the growing tradition of a rare gem on even his least successful albums.
It was the first time in a long time we could say he had broken new ground, even if it wasn’t about to influence anyone. McCartney II wasn’t appreciated when it came out, but looking back and considering it in the canon, it has grown just slightly. It would be a long time before he truly felt his legs again, and would be as comfortable as he was in the Wings heyday.
While the original CD added two contemporary B-sides of low quality, the original US LP included a bonus single-sided 45 with the live version of “Coming Up” that was the radio hit, recorded the previous December by Wings. Only the single has the extended ending with the crowd chant that was edited off of future appearances. Thirty years later, McCartney II was reissued in tandem with its 1970 predecessor as part of the “Paul McCartney Archive Collection”. In a move surely designed to piss off his fans, it was available in two expanded packages. The so-called Special Edition added the two B-sides plus an extended but still truncated live “Coming Up”, along with some outtakes and “Wonderful Christmastime”. The much pricier Deluxe Edition didn’t just add a thick book and a DVD; a third CD filled out the balance of the original unreleased 2-LP sequence, with seven unedited versions of some of the released session tracks plus the radio edit of “Waterfalls”, which had already been included on Wingspan. All in all, a lot of fuss for an album a lot of people didn’t like much to begin with.

Paul McCartney McCartney II (1980)—3
1987 CD reissue: same as 1980, plus 2 extra tracks
2011 Archive Collection Special Edition: same as 1987, plus 6 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds another 8 extra tracks and DVD)


  1. I really enjoyed this one when it came out. Today I find much of it a bit too annoying. But "Summer's Day Song" and "One of These Days" are still two of my favorites.

    1970's "McCartney" and 1980's "McCartney II" had me convinced that sometime in 1990 he would release "McCartney III" with him playing all the instruments. I wish he had kept it up. If he had, we'd be getting "McCartney V" this year.


  2. Well, Flaming Pie was something of a McCartney III, and by the same token Chaos And Creation would be McCartney IV. If that helps.