Beatlefan Publisher Bill King reviews Paul McCartney’s forthcoming “McCartney III” album. …
I have to admit that the first time I listened to “McCartney III,” my reaction was not all that positive.
However, this is Paul McCartney — master of the stealth earworm that burrows into your head whether you want it to or not, so repeated listening sessions have upgraded the album in my estimation.
While not top-drawer McCartney, this third of his all-solo homemade collections is not bad.
Still, after just one hearing of the self-produced album, which Macca recorded earlier this year during lockdown (or “rockdown,” as he calls it), I initially told a few friends that, of the three “McCartney” albums, I would rank this one third, noting: It’s rockier than “McCartney II,” but the vocals and songs are less interesting. It’s about on the level of the first two Fireman albums, and nowhere near as good as most of “Egypt Station,” I said.
I thought the last third of the album — “The Kiss of Venus,” “Seize the Day,” “Deep Down” and “When Winter Comes” — was stronger than the rest. A couple of the other tracks have potential, I said, but they feel underdeveloped.
Basically, after that initial listening, I thought the main problem with the album was that it was missing the catchy/hooky melodies that always have been Paul’s strong suit, and I agreed with a couple of my friends who said they missed the rich harmonies that usually are a hallmark of McCartney albums.
A lot of “III” sounded like tracks made up as he went along, as opposed to recordings of properly written “songs.” Also, a couple of the lengthier tracks were in need of trimming — too repetitive.
And, to me, the production was a little bit artificial/processed sounding. I knew it was all Paul on instruments and vocals, multitracked, but you can do that and still manage to make it sound like a song being performed by a group live in the studio. This mostly doesn’t sound like that. (UPDATE: When I reviewed this album, I did not have access to the credits. It turns out that McCartney was joined by guitarist Rusty Anderson and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. of his tour band on one of the tracks, so this album is not 100% solo Macca.)
McCartney’s vocals on the album tend to be heavily multi-tracked or falsetto, but that’s not surprising, considering the current state of his voice.
There’s a lot of interesting music on the album, I told my friends, and nothing that’s awful, but also nothing that made my ears really perk up.
Of course, I noted, “it’ll probably grow on me with repeated listening sessions (most of his albums do).”
And, sure enough, it did.
After living with the album for not quite two weeks, my initial observation that it’s lacking any of those instantly hummable, beautiful McCartney melodies still stands.
But, rather than rank it a clear third among the “McCartney” albums, I’d now say that, while it lacks anything as instantly memorable or pretty as “Every Night,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Waterfalls” or “One of These Days,” it never sinks as low as some of the forgettable instrumentals on the first album, or the electronic noodling on the second.
The strongest tracks on this new album can’t match the strongest tracks on the first two, but it’s the most consistent of the trilogy; the weakest tracks on “III” are not as weak as the worst tracks on “McCartney” and “McCartney II.”
The album opens with “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” a lengthy, mostly instrumental track that features a distinctive electric guitar riff and rhythmic playing of muted guitar strings. The main problem with this one is that it comes to a natural end point … and then continues self-indulgently for quite a bit longer. The 5:18 track would have been much better if trimmed by a couple of minutes.
Next up is the best of the early selections, “Find My Way,” an upbeat pop-rock number (somewhat reminiscent of “New”) in which Paul offers guidance for dealing with anxiety as he spouts familiar phrases like “We never close, I’m open day and night,” and “I know my way around …. I walk towards the light.” This track, which has a false ending, could have developed into something, but, here, it feels a bit like an elaborate demo.
One of the quirkier selections is “Pretty Boys,” a midtempo acoustic guitar number whose backing consists mainly of a repetitive riff, with not much of a melody. It appears to be an effort to flip the usual sexualizing of women by focusing on the titular “objects of desire,” whom the camera loves but who are treated like bicycles for rent. This one would not sound out of place on “Egypt Station.”
“Women and Wives” is a piano-based track sung in Macca’s “Lady Madonna” voice that implores, “Hear me women and wives / Hear me husbands and lovers / What we do with our lives / Seems to matter to others.” The song, unfortunately, won’t matter to many people, as it’s not a very memorable tune.
“Lavatory Lil” is a loosey-goosey, rougher number built on a bluesy guitar riff. It’s about a woman who appears to be a gold digger. Macca’s spokesman has denied British tabloid speculation that it’s about his ex-wife, Heather Mills, though Paul said in his Uncut Magazine interview that the subject is one of those people who “screw you over,” and he decided to write a song as revenge. With lyrics like “You think she’s being friendly, but she’s looking for a Bentley” and “She’s acting like a starlet but she’s looking like a harlot / As she’s slowly heading over the hill,” this is a level of Macca bitchiness we’ve rarely seen. Still, it’s not a great number and, while some reviewers have found it reminiscent of the “Abbey Road” Side 2 medley, I don’t see that at all.
The album gets a bit heavier with “Slidin’,” a slow rocker with an insistent guitar riff and a lyric that appears to be about flying (or, perhaps, the common dream of flying). Played live onstage with his band, this one could be a powerful concert number. (UPDATE: This is the track where Paul is joined by Rusty and Abe.)
The album’s longest track, running 8:28, is “Deep Deep Feeling,” a rather haunting Fireman-esque mini rock suite. It does run on a bit, but mostly manages to stay interesting, as it keeps morphing, with lots of layered sounds and multitracked vocals. “Sometimes I wish it would stay / Sometimes I wish it would go away / Emotion” is the most memorable refrain. There’s another false ending, of course.
The strongest section of the album kicks off with “The Kiss of Venus,” a romantic acoustic guitar ballad sung mostly in a somewhat frayed falsetto. It has a memorable spinet/harpsichord-sounding keyboard element, too.
One of the two strongest numbers is “Seize the Day,” which has the closest thing on the album to a typical McCartney chorus. This one sort of sums up Macca’s personal philosophy: “It’s still alright to be nice.” It also shows the 78-year-old getting a bit bittersweet and reflective, as he sings: “When the cold winds come / And the old ways fade away / There’ll be no more sun / And we’ll wish that we had held on to the day / Seize the day.”
My favorite selection on “McCartney III” is the sexy r&b track “Deep Down,” which has a slinky organ backing that’s bolstered by bashing drums and synth horns. (I think it would sound even better with real horns.) There’s not a lot to it lyrically (it’s mostly about wanting to “get deep down” and party), but it has one of the album’s better vocals (augmented by some seductive “woooos” in the background).
We get a brief reprise of the opening “Winter Bird,” followed by the album’s final track, “When Winter Comes,” an acoustic outtake from 1992 that Paul co-produced with the late George Martin. Although it has the album’s best vocal performance (no surprise, since it dates from 28 years ago), this one didn’t knock me out on first listen. However, it’s the selection that most gets into your head, and you might find yourself humming it afterward. Lyrically, it’s in “Ram” territory, a charming pastoral ode to farm life that you could just take at face value, or, at this late date (and as this particular album’s closer), it could be viewed as Paul coming to terms with aging. As he sings: “When summer’s gone / We’ll fly away and find the sun / When winter comes.”
Overall, it’s not an album you’re likely to fall in love with right away, but it is one that rewards return visits.