Paul McCartney, a man whose musical career is so illustrious that I dare not, and need not, try to summarise it in some feeble opening statement, returns this week with New, his 16th solo album.
The former Beatle apparently couldn’t settle on any one producer for this record, and instead split the job four ways between Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns. In a way the album feels like a showcase of the abilities of these men, each one vying to show what he can do with a Paul McCartney song, but there’s no subverting the distinctive melodic style or vocal tone of the original artist. If anything though, the youth of the producers – relative to McCartney, at least – has allowed for some rather contemporary-sounding manifestations of the songwriter’s formulas.
The album kicks off with Save Us, which has an urgency that initially startles me. It races along like some coked-up ‘80s driving tune, feeling a little overbearing in the verse but relaxing into the chorus, which plays with some nice harmonic overtones.
The following Alligator has a discontented kind of vibe and is a track that really works because Mark Ronson has a good understanding of when to push the synth layers forward in the mix and when to sit back and let McCartney’s songwriting breathe. However, the next piece On My Way To Work, produced by Giles Martin, is saved from being rather banal by the almost industrial artificial noises underscoring the instrumental breaks.
Queenie Eye is a bouncy track with a jubilant chorus that reminds me of that Chumbawamba tune Tubthumping. It’s followed by Early Days, a nostalgic piece that addresses the genesis of McCartney’s career in an understated folkish manner: ‘I live through those early days’, he repeats in the lyrics.
The title track New, more than any other song on the album, draws my mind to the Beatles’ catalogue. It’s a playful and optimistic tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s the track that to my mind is most typical of McCartney’s songwriting, but it is followed by the most divergent tune Appreciate, which I am somewhat conflicted about. Its trip-hop kind of groove is interesting, but the song is rather bizarre in its context, a feeling exacerbated by the intermittent overdriven slide guitar work.
The next two tracks, Everybody Out There and Hosanna, bring us back to a more conventional McCartney. The former is an upbeat and hooky tune that takes on a stadium largeness in places. The latter is a subdued and atmospheric piece of folk-pop that is beautiful in its simplicity.
I Can Bet, which is next, shifts from an ‘80s disco groove in the verse to a pounding classic rock drive in the chorus. It’s followed by Looking At Her, which has a melody befitting the beauty of the girl described, but with a hint of melancholy to emphasise the fact that she’s out of reach. Whilst the textures in this song are largely synthetic, their minimalism in the verses gives it a certain intimacy. This is abruptly shattered, however, in the chorus, where a violent and edgy synth sound pervades; it gives a good sense of McCartney ‘losing [his] mind’, but is rather obtrusive.
The record is capped off by Roads and the ‘secret’ track Scared, the latter of which is about McCartney’s initial difficulty in telling his wife he loved her, as the recently disclosed in a radio interview.
Whilst McCartney may have reservations when it comes to putting his heart on the line, New shows that he does not have a similar aversion to taking musical risks. And why should he? Thirty-two number one hits to your name earn you the right for a bit of musical exploration, as far as I’m concerned. And even though this record has, in places, a rather experimental bent, and is painted with the distinctive markings of some other accomplished producers, it is a collection of solid tunes from a man who has once again proved himself a master of melody.
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::: Renowned For Sound Music Reviews ::: Ben is a 21-year-old student whose taste in music consists of tunes that make him see things. Music for him is a very visual experience; a song has succeeded when it transports the listener somewhere. This is a quality Ben hopes to articulate in writing music reviews for RenownedForSound.com.
Ben capped off his school days at a Sydney high school catering specifically for the musically inclined, but now must balance his musical cravings with university study. To satisfy these cravings, Ben has played guitar in a few groups of differing styles but is often most contented just tinkering with the blues.