Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paul McCartney 16: Press To Play

It had been less than two years since his last album, yet it seemed like eons since we’d heard from Paul McCartney. When the abysmal “Spies Like Us” single was released on Capitol, there was hope that the Columbia years were the result of a temporary jinx, even if the song itself didn’t take away our dread. Naturally, there was the usual talk that this new album would be a return to form. Press To Play didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but at least it was encouraging.
“Stranglehold”—not the Ted Nugent song, but that would have been interesting—is a strong, subtle start, but “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun” is his latest feeble attempt to stick two songs together. “Talk More Talk” has various spoken word segments going in and out of it in an attempt to be surreal and is predictably annoying as a result, “Footprints” is a pretty folk tune that would have fit right in on Back To The Egg. (This, like the bulk of the album, was written with Eric Stewart, who’d been hanging around since Tug Of War and was under the mistaken impression that he’d fill Denny Laine’s old role.) The side is redeemed with “Only Love Remains”, the album’s big ballad. Had it come out when he was still the king of the Top 40 single it would have been huge.
Instead, “Press” was the first single, and it still isn’t very good, though this could be because we still remember the video wherein Paul rides the Tube to appear inconspicuous while singing the song at his fellow travelers. “Pretty Little Head” is another strange experiment (Hillmen? Ursa major?) that pulls together various disparate parts for no discernable reason. Luckily, “Move Over Busker” and “Angry” take us back to the Rock before it’s too late. The big finale “However Absurd” is supposed to bring Sgt. Pepper psychedelia to mind, but it tries too hard to be obscure. (George would do it much better with “When We Was Fab”, but thumbs up to Paul for anticipating the following year’s Sixties nostalgia.)
As a unit Press To Play isn’t as awful as it sounds, and certainly was a step up from his recent worst, but it just doesn’t gel like it should. The packaging was uninformative but made the most of the gatefold sleeve, with Paul’s drawings showing the stereo spectrum for each track so you can listen to the album through headphones and follow along with the mix. (The CD has some extra tracks—”It’s Not True”, “Write Away” and “Tough On A Tightrope”—that only make it worth buying over the LP version for completeness’ sake.)
He was about to take his longest sabbatical yet. By the time his next album came out, Neil Finn (with Crowded House) had released two albums that both out-McCartneyed the man himself.

Paul McCartney Press To Play (1986)—3

4 comments:

  1. "Press to Play" is my current vote for Paul's worst. Someday I may well warm to it, but right now the only track I like is "Footprints" -- so of course that's the only track on my LP that skips! The rest of the album is too overblown. The real reason I'm writing, though, is to put in a good word for the B-side of "Spies Like Us": a song with a New Orleans groove called "My Carnival." Back in '78, Paul had invited the great New Orleans musician Professor Longhair to play at a party he was throwing on the Queen Mary, which resulted in the Longhair album "Live on the Queen Mary." This song is more evidence of that influence. For some reason, it turns up out of chronology as a bonus track on the "Venus and Mars" CD.

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  2. One more thing: I remember buying this album and Paul Simon's "Graceland" together -- they came out on the same day. "Press to Play" was bound to suffer by comparison. I'm enjoying this site; thanks for sparking all these little memories.

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  3. Good point about Graceland -- that album definitely had better legs. I remember being much more intrigued by "You Can Call Me Al" than "Press".

    As for "My Carnival", that was recorded during the New Orleans Venus & Mars sessions, along with another underrated B-side, "Lunch Box/Odd Sox".

    Thanks for the kudos, Gary! Hope you like what you see here.

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  4. Great review, and great website! I check in regularly here to see what you have reviewed. I have a blog of my own in which I listen to the "worst" albums by great artists and write my thoughts about them - Press to Play was one of the albums I have revisited. Check it out here if you are interested: http://dampwrag.blogspot.com/2009/07/first-half-of-1980s-were-something-of.html
    Thanks!

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