The aptly titled ‘NEW’ is Paul McCartney’s first album of new solo pop material since the good but not great ‘Memory Almost Full’ in 2007. As has been much discussed McCartney did not craft this album alone, it was made with a little help from his friends, the renowned producers: Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns with Martin serving as executive producer. Initially McCartney intended to try out all of them and then pick one to produce the whole album, but reportedly he enjoyed working with each of them so much that he ended up sticking with all four.
For NEW the bass playing ex-Beatle draws heavily from the past, both lyrically and musically. This is probably one of McCartney’s most Beatle-esque releases within his 37 volume post Fab Four discography, and that’s no bad thing. This is no half baked attempt to rehash and recapture some of that ol’ Beatles magic; McCartney has no need for that. The septuagenarian has proved time and time again that he is a varied artist willing to experiment and take risks. In fact, he had nothing to prove in the first place, what two Beatles albums were ever the same?
NEW begins with the attention grabbing, Epworth produced ‘Save Us’. The thriving guitar riff gives a sense of vitality, as if to say ‘Sit up and pay attention, there’s life in the old dog yet’. According to McCartney the song began with a drum beat from the producer and was wholly spontaneous, possibly drawing from his experience as a member of ‘The Fireman’ – the electronic duo he formed in the nineties along with Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover wherein McCartney improvises lyrics. Save Us ends with a howl from the singer reminiscent of that found in Hey Jude, almost as if sang with a knowing wink to the listener. Next comes one of the standout tracks, the vaguely Wings-y ‘Alligator’, producer Mark Ronson has described the song as ‘brooding’ and ‘quite tough’. I think this is important, often accused by his fellow Beatles (Lennon in particular) of writing ‘Granny music’, Alligator’s rolling synth line and almost menacing guitar part show that McCartney has an edge, this adds to the prevailing sense of vitality about the record.
The two most nostalgic tracks on the LP are ‘On My Way To Work’ and ‘Early Days’. The former is a strange song; it recounts McCartney’s time pre-fame working as a driver’s mate for Speedy Prompt Delivery in Liverpool. Just add some sleigh bells to the verses and they would sound almost Christmassy, however these are juxtaposed with loosely Country Western sounding guitar bridges. It’s an odd, almost unsettling song and doesn’t work for me at all. The latter on the other hand is a wonderful song; it offers a touching portrait of the young Lennon and McCartney perusing their local music shops, attempting to mimic the pictures on the wall with their waxen hair. On this track the singer sounds vulnerable, his vocals aren’t absolutely perfect. But it suits the subject matter and shows that McCartney isn’t attempting to prove anything, at 71 he’s showing his age gracefully.
Three of the strongest tracks on the album are ‘Queenie Eye’, ’Hosanna’ and the titular track. Queenie Eye is a fantastic beefed up modern day Beatles song, if they were still around, they’d sound like this. It again draws on the artist’s past; the brilliantly catchy chorus is taken from the words to a street game McCartney formerly played as a child in Liverpool. What makes the song is the achingly beautiful underwater sounding middle eight, pure perfection. Hosanna is both stunning and strangely haunting, McCartney’s own kind of American Recordings (Johnny Cash’s universally regarded, stripped back series of albums produced by Rick Rubin in the decade before Cash’s death) moment, I can fervently hope he releases more songs like this. The song and album’s namesake New is a true testament to McCartney’s immense song smith prowess. After more than fifty years of writing love songs the thrice married Liverpudlian lovebird is still finding ‘new’ ways to express what it’s like to fall for someone, and once again he hits the nail on the head. It’s such a joyful composition clearly inspired by the New Yorker Nancy Shevell whom he married in 2011, much of the album has a joyous feeling to it. McCartney himself has said “This is a happy period in my life, having a new woman — so you get new songs when you get a new woman.”
If there’s one criticism I’d have of NEW it’s simply that the track listing places most of the strongest songs at the beginning of the album, which makes for a slightly weaker second half. It’s somewhat unfair as if NEW wasn’t as great as it was tracks on the latter half of the album such as ‘Everybody Out There’ and ‘I Can Bet’ would be the standout numbers as they are indeed accomplished songs in their own right.
The album’s official closer is ‘Road’; it’s another pleasing sign of McCartney’s satisfying edge. With more possible allusions to Lennon and himself with the lyrics ‘We came from nowhere’ and ‘Two crazy partners’. Road is an excellent conclusion to the LP, although at times it’s yearning for a bit of the vocal power found on McCartney compositions gone by such as ‘Oh! Darling’ from the Abbey Road album. But I suppose one must sadly concede to the fact that there is more than forty years between the recordings of Road and Oh! Darling. I said ‘official closer’ for the reason that following Road is the ‘secret track’ Scared. The song is a melancholy piano ballad and with the opening line ‘I’m scared to say I love you’ there are no prizes for guessing the subject matter of the track. It’s a strange note to end an upbeat, mostly joyful album on, but I like it. It’s a slightly jarring move on McCartney’s part and the focus of the song coupled with the fact it’s hidden from the track listing adds a hint of complexity to the record.
In 2012 McCartney got a fair bit of flack for his ‘weak’ performances at the London Olympics and The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and perhaps deservedly so to a certain extent. But the suggestions that it was ‘Time to Let It Be’ were ridiculous and now even more so after this absolute knock out of an album. The lovable vegan isn’t so precious about his output like some others are (*cough* Dylan). McCartney is in it for the music, and the proof is in the pudding.
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