Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Paul McCartney: New

This doesn't exactly sound like a veteran's album, although there aren't many who have been around the pop game longer than McCartney so I guess he's setting the pace about how good you can be 50 years into your career. You expect sappy old man music, but this isn't it by a long shot. The litmus test I have applied to New is, "What if this were the debut album from some other artist?" Discounting the defensive-reflective "Early Days," you could almost buy into it. And this hypothetical artist would be onto something. He would be lauded for getting to a Paul McCartney-like sound while also adding something new into the mix: as someone with an advanced knowledge of pop songcraft and the way things used to be/ought to be, but with their own spin and atmosphere. That's what gets me. There is a safe way to "do Paul McCartney," a certain way we expect our rock vets to comport themselves. And maybe there's some of that here: a good-natured safeness creeps in at times...but by and large it's almost daring how nakedly poppy it is. We're talking full-bodied, all-rhythm, hooky wall-of-sound classic pop. Not in a cloying way, either, but a real brassy one.

Paul McCartney has not reinvented himself by any stretch. When you've been around this long, and have done that much that is so varied, it's really just a question of which aspects of your style are you going to present at any given time? What you don't really expect, at least not right out of the gate, is an opening track like "Save Us," a buzzy, bracing, breakneck rocker that reminds us that yeah, "Cut Me Some Slack" happened. He's well aware of his toolkit, and he's not afraid to mix and match that kind of growling guitar with his quirky self-harmonizing on "Alligator." There are tracks like the Brian Wilson-like title track or "Early Days" that celebrate and acknowledge the past, and then there are ones like "Queenie Eye," which are just fun. There's an abundance of songs that sound like a way forward, like the thumping electronic "Appreciate," the grooving "I Can Bet" or "Road," which sounds lightly Arcade Fiery. Whether your enjoy this album or not, you can't accuse it of trying too hard to rehash past successes. It wins or loses on its own merits, here and now. The win column, though, for me goes on and on. "Everybody Out There," sounds like a mid-era Beatles tune covered by a modern band. "Looking At Her" is just nuts.

It announces right up front that Paul McCartney is not just interested in putting us through the paces of "being Paul McCartney." He wants you to remember that he is Paul fucking McCartney, and he has forgotten more about writing awesome music than most people ever learn. Every single type of song conceivable, he's already done. Even amidst today's diverse and experimental crop of indie popsters, one of the biggest compliments you could level is still "Hey, that sounds like something Paul McCartney did." So presented here, to take or leave, is what Paul McCartney is doing. Writing Paul McCartney music for 2013. He manages to avoid being stuck in his ways, while showing the virtues of the first principles. There are flaws if you look hard enough for them, and sometimes it feels like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, for the most part it works within his strengths, and it's nothing I wouldn't forgive when I'm having a good time. Believe me, I'm no blind devotee: I wasn't going to like this album just because it existed and applaud Paul for just getting up in the morning. I had no intention of even checking it out until I started reading the reviews.

Albums like these are fascinating cases to write about. It's won't win new fans, and it's not designed to appeal to old ones per se, just to wake them up, to test them and see if there's room in their hearts to grow along with him. Maybe, in fact, it's for me, the 26-year-old avowed lifelong Beatlemaniac and music nerd, who wants to see what the old fella has left in him. I return to my original premise. As a Paul McCartney album in his overall discography, it's somewhere in the middle, sure. As a Paul McCartney album in 2013, it's great. If it were the same album by a new 26-year-old artist, you'd think he was a damn genius. So there's that.

No comments:

Post a Comment