Paul McCartney ‘New’ – Review

30 Oct

It can’t be easy being Paul McCartney – A Paul McCartney who still operates as a musician in 2013. Can’t be easy when the whole world sees you as a museum piece. When even your biggest fans wouldn’t argue with the fact that your best work is behind you. Every artist in their seventh decade has a certain amount of baggage, without exception, but when that baggage is The Beatles, well that makes life pretty difficult. You just can’t approach this album with an open mind. That voice has so much history and weight. These lyrics are so referential. Every melody or guitar solo seems to recall one of your favourite songs. The title alone seems tongue in cheek or helplessly misguided. It’s also eminently perplexing. Here is an artist who created so much that was new, and just did it, without calling it out. A guy who constantly reminded people that he was just a normal guy with a lot of luck. Here he is now, with something that just can’t be all that new, that he has named ‘new’ and clearly wants to be new. In reality it just has you looking to his past.

The wall of guitars on the Paul Epworth produced ‘Save Us’ is pure ‘Band on the Run.’ The melody on ‘New’ lives on Penny Lane. ‘Early Days’ mines similar territory to ‘In My Life.’ These are all good songs (good not great) but it’s difficult to judge them with any objectivity. No surprise, I’m a massive fan of that voice. It means the world to me. I’d find it very difficult to dislike anything Paul McCartney sings. Likewise, I’m a fan of his songwriting, and he’s hardly going to drop the ball in that department. Are you going to criticise Paul McCartney? The Beatle? Who do you think you are? What exactly are you after?

It’s best judged in the context of Macca’s other 21st century material – that’s the only way to fairly critique it. I was a fan of his 2005 album ‘Chaos and Creation in the Backyard’ which did a much better job of re-imagining old material (‘Fine Line’ is virtually the same as ‘New’ but it’s much better). Likewise ‘Memory Almost Full’ did a much more intelligent job of reappraising the past, and commenting on nostalgia (but maybe the tunes weren’t quite as catchy). His side-projects have also been worth a listen; ‘Electronic Arguments’ is his only innovative post 80’s work, and I liked the song he did with Dave Grohl last year.

But ‘New’ is far superior to the soppy and embarrassingly titled ‘Kisses on the Bottom’, an album that was essentially Paul singing the great American songbook. And right there we have an alternative history we should be grateful to have avoided. Paul could have gone down that Rod Stewart route of collecting his pension and banging out some oldies but goodies. He could have been like The Rolling Stones and release a poor knock off every decade and tour it into oblivion. Or he could have done a Cash or Dylan, and strip back the excess and return to his roots – which never would have worked. McCartney’s roots were in rock n roll. Revisit that first Beatles album and you’ll be overcome by the energy, enthusiasm and ambition. In that first half decade in the buissiness Paul established himself as someone who pushed boundaries, who worked productively and who enjoyed challenges. ‘New’ is very much in that spirit, and that is truly pleasing. Even when that ambitious streak leads to dire songs like ‘Appreciate’ and ‘Everybody Out There’ you’re still left admiring the man and his work ethic.

There’s one more fate that we could have had to contend with. Paul McCartney could have ended up in an early grave like his old buddy and songwriting partner, John Lennon. In an interview this week he admitted that he still talks to John from time to time, still seeks his advice. It’s sad that we live in a world with only two surviving Beatles, and Paul won’t be here forever. I know it sounds morbid, maybe even  a bit patronising, but we should enjoy records like ‘New’ while we can, and appreciate the fact that he’s still making music, and pushing his own boundaries. As he sings on ‘Early Days’ – ‘May sweet memories of friends from the past always come to you, when you look for them / And your inspiration, long may it last / May it come to you, time and time again.’

6/10

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