Should we be excited about a new Paul McCartney album? On the one hand he is, unarguably, the most successful living musician in the world. He helped create the very language of pop music - without him, metaphorically, we’d all be speaking German. For half a century he’s been an active part of the musical landscape, and even his lesser works are of value. Even ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’. Even ‘The Frog Song’.
On the other hand, well, honestly- when were you last excited by a new McCartney album? Since 1997’s Flaming Pie his records have followed a pattern - they’re released amid much fanfare, reviewed favourably, embraced by fans, toured and then completely forgotten. When the urge to listen to Paul McCartney strikes, you don’t tend to reach for Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. Within a few years even Macca himself forgets he made these albums - his touring setlist flogs the current stuff and glosses over the last decade in favour of the classics. Why would you play ‘Dance Tonight’ when you’ve got to find room for ‘Magical Mystery Tour’? It’s not as if McCartney is elusive in the way Leonard Cohen or Kate Bush is - he’s as ubiquitous as Miley Cyrus. In the last ten years he’s put out four solo albums, two live albums, two classical albums and two full-length collaborations. That’s ten records - pretty much one a year, and that’s not counting fronting the Nirvana backline on a new song, various Beatles reissue projects and turning up to do ‘Hey Jude’ at the opening of an envelope. It’s easy to get Fab fatigue.
Into this heady stew of McUbiquity is lobbed New, his sixteenth solo album, and you really do feel you should be more excited than you are. His record company certainly think so: security is so tight that streams (not CDs or MP3 files) are only sent out to a select few, with most reviewers having to wait until the album is actually in shops before their own stream arrives, despite the fact that a) it already leaked a week ago and b)there is basically no demand for this to leak. You can see what they’re trying to do though - create mystery. Create excitement. Create demand. This is the new album by the most successful rock musician of all time, produced by the trendiest names of the day, and by George we should sodding well care.
New buckles under the weight of expectation artificially piled upon it, and under its desire to be fresh and young sounding. Everything about the peripheries screams that this is edgy, modern, relevant. Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson are producing, the cover spells out the name in fluorescent light-bars. To hammer the point home, it’s subtly been titled 'new'. It’s all pointless though. This is Paul McCartney. We know when we hit play it's not going to sound like Factory Floor.
For a second Sir Thumbs-aloft nearly does pull it off - opener ‘Save Us’ is the most urgent, angular thing he’s done in years. The word he’d use is probably 'rocking', which it certainly is. It’s got Queen harmonies and a slashy, glammy guitar riff that piles the thing along. It’s great. For a short while we are excited about a new Paul McCartney album. It doesn’t last though. It’s not that New is at all bad. McCartney is still a great songwriter, but we’re so familiar with what he does that it’s impossible for him to surprise us anymore. Despite the shiny veneer, the big name nob-twiddling and a cover that suggests 40 minutes of day-glo bangerz, this is a record of classy, workmanlike, Beatles-ishy, -Paul McCartney songs. They do everything Paul McCartney songs are meant to do - words like 'solid' and 'robust' spring to mind. What we don’t get is 'edgy', 'modern' or 'different'. It wouldn’t matter if everything surrounding the album wasn’t trying so hard to make it an event that it can only be a disappointment. Yes Mark Ronson is collaborating here, but Giles Martin is the executive producer, the son of the man who recorded every Beatles classic and a safe pair of hands, and that really tells you what you need to know.
For a record sold on its modernity, New spends most of the time in the past. ‘On My Way To Work’ recalls Macca’s pre-Fab life in working class Liverpool - it doesn’t quite come out and say it’s about getting up, getting out of bed and dragging a comb across its head, but the ghost of that 47-year-old stanza hovers over it. ‘Queenie Eye’ refers to a school yard game Sir Paul remembers from his childhood (“O.U.T Spells out”), and ‘Early Days’ is a folky acoustic stride down memory lane recalling a time when the Beatle would ”dress from head to toe in black, two guitars on our backs” memories that “can’t be taken away”. Despite McCartney hiring the hippest young gunslingers he can find (although it’s hardly Dev Hynes is it?) and claiming to
The one time New’s rhetorical schtick works really well is on the brilliant ‘Appreciate’, which is all wobbles and odd wub-wub noises and hypnotic pop groove. It sounds weirdly like late-Nineties Kylie by way of the Flaming Lips, a reminder that this is, after all, the man who wrote the bonkers ‘Temporary Secretary’ and has recorded three psychedelic albums under the Firemen pseudonym. It makes up for the odd stabs and production flourishes that elsewhere sound self conscious.
McCartney can write classic sounding songs without breaking a sweat, although it’s important to note that 'classic sounding' doesn’t necessarily mean 'classic song'. New stands happily with the last few Macca solo records - the old master still has the moves, and the fact that he’s so creatively energetic as he enters his eighth decade is rather cheery. Still, it’s hard to shake the impression we’ll all - Sir Paul included - have forgotten this one in a few years time. Are we excited by a new Paul McCartney album? No. Of course not, but it’s nice to have one all the same.
6Marc Burrows's Score