Listening to McCartney With Fresh Ears

brigid NEW 2 med

A note from Publisher Bill King: When our staff assistant Brigid Choi, a student at Atlanta’s Emory University, read my review of Paul McCartney’s “New” in Beatlefan #204, she said she thought I had not devoted enough attention to her favorite track on the album, “Appreciate.” I thought that was a fair criticism, so, since we’re always looking to add a millennial view to our mix of editorial voices, I asked Brigid to write up her own thoughts on “New.” The thoughtful, refreshingly candid review below is the result, and I think it says a lot about McCartney that a 20-year-old responds to his work like this. …

Hey, I’m one of the youngest members of the Beatlefan staff, and I’m here to tell my peers why Paul McCartney’s newest album, “New,” is pretty dope. In his review of the album for Beatlefan, Bill did a good job of explaining the strengths of “New” to the older folks [Editor’s note: Ouch!], but to the fans who didn’t live through Wings’ career or the Fireman albums, the strengths of the album are geared more toward the eerie quality, the layered and echoed production, and how McCartney’s age supports the two.

See, it’s different for younger fans like me. I’m sure my peers also have to prove to their friends that McCartney’s still got it going on, and he isn’t just an old fart who needs to quit running around and just re-lax. With “New,” we can do this by talking about McCartney’s production style. Just like in his latest original albums, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” (2005) and “Memory Almost Full” (2007), he uses newer technologies and production strategies to modernize his sound, such as the layers of harmonizing autotune in “Feet in the Clouds.” On “New,” the modern technology that he incorporates into his music is Fireman-style ambience, deep beats and noises, and clever exaggerations of the “oldness” of his voice.

What I mean by the “oldness” is the deep timbre and the shaky quality. McCartney used this to create a rich texture in his jazzy, oldies album “Kisses on the Bottom” (2012), and he uses it in “New” to sound creepy as hell, like a powerful ghost that’s come back to haunt you. The prime examples of this are “Hosanna,” with soothing, dream-like backing instruments to back up his aged vocals; “Looking at Her,” which juxtaposes light guitar reverb and random heavy distortion with McCartney’s lightly distorted voice; “Road,” which sounds like a slouching beast with the bells, echoes and McCartney’s whispers; and “Struggle,” where McCartney switches from whispering to hollering to yelling through a megaphone.

Obviously, the best use of this creepiness with a dance number is “Appreciate,” which definitely deserves more than the one lousy sentence that Bill gave it! The lyrics are foreboding, even when they try to be positive, like the second verse, “There’s something there / But you’re frightened to invite it / Beware of pushing it away / Show that you care.” All major chords eventually slip down into parallel minors. At one point, the echoes and layers multiply, dipping into a muffled, underwater-like quality. “Appreciate” could be used in hip-hop dance classes. If sped up, it could be on Justin Timberlake’s newest album, and if sped up even more, it could be on Beyonce’s newest album. It’s a hard dance number, with a mix of aggressive and sly dance moves.

Not only does McCartney take advantage of his own resources, like his aged vocals, but also he takes advantage of his production resources and the newer, cleaner sounds that they give his usual songwriting style. The two singles “Queenie Eye” and “New” skip along, upbeat and cute, like tracks off “Revolver” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The guitar parts could easily be swapped out with brass sections to sound more like mid-Beatles tunes, but I suppose the instrumentation is one way McCartney wants to keep it “new.”

“Early Days” and “Get Me Out of Here” are acoustic songs that have familiar Beatles songwriting styles with cleaner production and layering: “Early Days” could be a late-Beatles era tune, next to something like “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Get Me Out of Here” could be an early-Beatles song, something McCartney and Harrison played when they were teenagers. These songs are familiar and comforting to hear, like The Beatles are still around and still figuring out how to improve their sound.

Both of these songwriting styles — the dark mood and the revamping of old themes — are represented through the lyrics as well as through the sound. In “Road,” McCartney sings, “I can’t see anymore /The blinding light / It’s just a metaphor /I use when things aren’t going right.” In “Scared,” he seems to eerily make reference to his age, with “I’m scared to say I love you, afraid to let you know / That the simplest of words won’t come out of my mouth /Though I’m dying to let them go / Trying to let you know.” In terms of renewing The Beatles’ style, McCartney says ironically in “Struggle”: “All I want is loving, anything will do / I’m your glass of poison and I’m acting up on you.” McCartney also comments on people analyzing The Beatles’ history in “Early Days” when he says, “Now everybody seems to have their own opinion / Of who did this and who did that / But as for me I don’t see how they can remember / When they weren’t where it was at.” McCartney seems to be becoming just a bit morbid and bitter in his 70s.

OK, so we’ve covered the strengths of “New.” Now, here are the tracks that our non-believing friends will laugh at: “Alligator” is really corny, with the main riff on what sounds like a recorder. “On My Way to Work” crawls by with moaning, boring lyrics and easy rhymes. “Everybody Out There” was structured to be an audience-participation song, and that’s all there is: no substance, no meat, and no fun listening to it if you’re not at one of McCartney’s expensive concerts. Quick! Hide these songs from your friends to avoid hearing them say, “Maaan, McCartney needs to retire.”

So there you go, younger fans. To our friends, we can show the awesome and eerie power of “Appreciate” and “Road” while, quietly, we can power up to the Wingsy opener “Save Us” and giggle over the lyrics of “Scared.” Come on, guys, we have our duties as younger fans to keep McCartney’s songs cool and hip for our generation!

— Brigid Choi

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5 Responses to Listening to McCartney With Fresh Ears

  1. natlek pi says:

    nice review but it seems like you shouldn’t have to justify your taste in music to anybody…

  2. Lee says:

    Well guilty as charged then cos On My Way To Work is one of my favourites….but I’m getting on now 🙂

  3. Anth says:

    As a fellow millennial, I totally identify with the appreciation for “Appreciate”–but “Alligator” is my favorite song on the album!

  4. John K. Walker says:

    Beyond even the monumental effort Mr. Lewisohn has already made in producing just this first volume, with its numerous fascinating revelations and historical corrections (including even to claims Lewisohn himself had previously promulgated), he deserves another form of credit for courage and integrity in revealing undeniably pertinent, but unavoidably scandalous, facts that are liable to burn well-established bridges for him, particularly with McCartney (whom Lewisohn used to work for, but who did not cooperate with the book and says he has not even read it) and with the previously untouched George Martin. (In the past, Paul has expressed “betrayal” at former associates revealing his past, without, of course, his ever actually denying the revelations.) This does not mean that these revelations render these two great men, or J/G/R or anyone else covered, any different as imperfect, sinful human beings than all of the rest of us also are, but if Mr. Lewisohn had failed to report what he learned (provided that it was credible, and the text always indicates if there is any question), as “authorized” bios usually do (and as Lennon famously accused Hunter Davies’ original of doing), this new book would have been a worthless whitewash.

  5. Michael K says:

    One of the best reviews I’ve seen of ‘New’ and you said it like I experienced it, especially about the chords on ‘Appreciate’. Possibly the wildest track from a musicological point of view is ‘Looking At Her’ which reminds of Dylan’s initial reaction to hearing The Beatles’ ‘outrageous chords’! I don’t know how McCartney managed to develop that song as it’s out and out weirdness in every aspect but somehow comes across as ‘pop’ in the end.
    I’m glad somebody else has picked up on the psychosis of ‘Struggle’ which actually started off me liking the album after an uncertain first play. Must admit though that ‘Alligator’ became my favourite track both lyrically and sonically. It has a particular fire I was not expecting from McCartney in the lyric ‘I want someone who can bail me/When I get up to my tricks’. That’s a real thrill and that hurdy gurdy sound has a lingering magic to it. Check it again, I say!
    ‘Early Days’ may have a bitter aftertaste but I find that completely in keeping with the ‘young/old’ theme and the growler of a voice which I’m really glad Ethan Johns performed the miracle of getting Macca comfortable with. Another thing about this track which bewilders me about reaction to it is that here we have him with exactly what he’s always accused of lacking…a Lennonesque autobiographical directness.

    Overall, I started out fairly sneering at this album, as some of my comments around the place still attest, but this and that tune called me back until the album’s journey and the depth of its musical intricacy and production layering started to become apparent. I now find that if I play it, I get inordinately excited about it. I think it’s a masterpiece.

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