Sir Paul got lambasted last year on this blog for his dreadful valentine album, Kisses On The Bottom, landing as our biggest disappointment of 2012. But the most enduring singer rock history doesn’t rest on his laurels, but instead hit the road last year, with fellow LxLer Todd and I seeing a show of a lifetime this summer as MACCA headlined Bonnaroo. Now, the legendary Beatle releases New, an album giving new modern twists on McCartney’s tried and true musical strengths, my favorite album from Paul since the early 70’s (not that I was alive then, or have heard every album in between).
What makes New so fresh is a combination of Paul playing to his strengths and challenging himself with new sounds. With the help of Mark Ronson, title track “New” toys around with jaunty Beatles sounds from songs like “Penny Lane” and “We Can Work It Out” with a little more buzz and reverb to make this a fresh take on a nostalgic sound. “Queenie Eye” takes Paul’s famous sound of heavily punctuated piano pop and adds an air of mystery and a growing symphony of sound. On songs like “I Can Bet” and “Everybody Out There”, Sir Paul sounds 40 years younger, full of energy swinging along some folk-tinged pop with a funky edge. “Turned Out” is reminiscent of the best Traveling Wilbury’s tunes, except Paul doesn’t need three other legends: his charismatic presence fills the room plenty. “Get Me Out Of Here” is Paul doing his old playful lonely dog blues.
Giles Martin, longstanding Beatles producer George Martin’s son, produced the lion’s share of these songs, and it’s clear that he understands what it takes to Paul to step out of his shell but still get the most of what has made him the most enduring artist of all-time. Remove “On My To Work” and “Road” which are minor letdowns, this album his remarkably consistent and memorable for a 71 year old, or even a 31 year old for that matter. For a guy that has accomplished everything under the sun, it’s wonderful to see such a legend continue to push himself artistically.
In my opinion, Sir Paul ranks in at about number three in line for best post-Beatles careers. Right after Ringo Starr and Pete Best. Forgive me, I meant George Harrison and John Lennon. Paul has a certain style and a certain sound that suits him extremely well, but it is harder for him to fit well outside that comfort zone than it is the other two. This album is a great example of that. We all know that George Martin was an incredible visionary for production and not only stretched the limits of the norm but also what the Beatles could accomplish as a band in terms of musical experimentation. Choosing the same line of work as his father, this probably leaves his son Giles with a lot of pressure to try and do the same I’m sure. At least that is what it feels like when I listen to his work, such as New. Luckily, Giles is not the only producer on the album. Mark Ronson, and Ethan Johns found themselves producing a few tracks as well that managed to be sprinkled throughout the final cut of the album. These tracks are the ones I feel shine brightest. “Alligator” and “New” both being Ronson’s and “Hosanna” as well as my favorite track of the album, “Early Days” being Johns’. In these tracks the producers explored new ways to dig up a very classic Paul sound that still tugs on the nostalgic heart strings of the listeners and reminds us exactly why we love Paul. This is very similar to how Nigel Godrich worked with Paul for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Unfortunately, most everything else on the album sounds as if Giles was pulling Paul into a space that doesn’t fit him very well.
There are a few tracks however that Giles manages success in finding a groove with Paul. As Wes mentioned, “Everybody Out There” leaves Paul sounding especially young and bright, and the bonus track “Get Me Out Of Here” was probably Martin’s best attempt at getting a more experimental sound out of Paul. Yet this leaves about half of the album sounding as if it is trying to hard to be something it’s not, and plays as a bit of a disappointment. So unfortunately I am not as high on our beloved ex-Beatles first attempt at a fully original album in six years. Some highlights do exist on the album that are certainly worth a listen, but as a cohesive unit, I am not in love with New. Next time I would suggest letting Mark Ronson and Ethan Johns man the entire album.
I haven’t been much of a connoisseur of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work. My listening habits with Paul have consisted mostly of just cherry-picking a song here and there. When I have listened to full late-career McCartney records, such as Chaos and Creation and the abominable Kisses From the Bottom, I feel like I am being assaulted a nice track or two surrounded by a lot of unnecessary fluff. I don’t feel near as negative about New, which still clocks in at an unnecessary 14 tracks, but manages to get at least half right. But still, Paul McCartney has no business releasing an album with 14 tracks these days. A cleaner, leaner approach consisting of 8-10 solid tracks still seems within Paul’s reach, as very few albums in general need to be 14+ tracks.
But like I said, what is there is about half good and half blah. There is a surprising amount of life to many of the songs. “New” is the ultimate throwback to Paul’s day as a Beatle, with its simple chord progression in airy vocals. “Queenie Eye” is another song that is pretty vintage Paul, whether it be his later days as a Beatle or his more successful early solo stuff. “On My Way to Work” and “Alligator” are also very strong tracks.
I do have to take issue with “Early Days” being Todd’s favorite track. In the words of Tony Soprano, ” ‘Remember When’ is the lowest form of conversation” and doesn’t translate any better coming from Sir Paul. His voice is annoyingly strained to pull at the heartstrings a little more, and it is just the type of track that every aging artist finds it necessary to record. And of course Wes is still a slave to the classics with his 9 rating, but we all knew to expect that by now.
Aggregate Score: 7.5/11
Can’t Miss: “Alligator”, “New”, “Queenie Eye”
Can’t Hit: No real agreements were made here