Sunday, 3 November 2013

Paul McCartney's NEW album review. Paul McCartney: NEW (2013)

The excellent 'new' album
from Paul McCartney
Release date: October 2013

Artwork: The cover was inspired by the work of Dan Flavin, the renowned American minimalist artist who liked to create his work using commercially available fluorescent light fixtures. It creates a classy cover which I like, rather than love.

General Comments: In my opinion, McCartney has wasted much of the last five years, certainly since the release of the excellent Electric Arguments album, under the moniker of The Fireman.

During this period, he spent his time enjoying himself performing his increasingly predictable live show to the detriment of his musical creativity and his critical reputation, but to the benefit of his bank balance. This culminated in his annus horribilis of 2012 when his declining and increasingly weak live voice was exposed during his sub-standard performances at the Jubilee and the Olympics. To make things worse, there was also, justifiably, a sense of 'Macca fatigue' caused by him closing so many events of this type over recent years - despite him possibly being the only natural choice to close them. He is in a 'no win' situation when he is approached to perform at these events - he would be criticised by many if he refused, and certainly is, when he accepts. However sometimes 'less is more' and I hope that 'less' will be his strategy for the future. He does not need to do them and can only lose credit by doing so.

2012 also saw Paul's unnecessary and rather dull covers' album of old standards, the somewhat naffly titled: 'Kisses on the Bottom'. This would have been better off as an EP - if he really had to get it out of his system (an EP!?! - 'Google it' kids and reminisce old gits!). 

However, as 2012 finally came to an end - a year which many McCartney fans will wish to forget - there was a glimmer of light with the hard-rocking and surprisingly good collaboration with the surviving members of Nirvana. This brought hope that all the hard-work and credit that had been stored after a run of mainly excellent work between '97-'08 (particularly Flaming Pie, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Electric Arguments, most of Driving Rain and some of Memory Almost Full) coupled with some great live performances, were not totally destroyed in the eyes of a fickle and critical public, and with the hypercritical and uneducated media.

Therefore, the question I now ask and one which is on only a few peoples' lips, is: 'Does anyone really care about what Paul McCartney does anymore?  To be truthful, other than his hardcore fans, most only care about his life until 1970 and consider him a musical irrelevance in 2013. This is a rather sad view as his musical output is still far beyond the quality of most other veteran rock stars and many younger ones. 

In my opinion, Paul McCartney still has so much to offer: both musically and creatively. It is a shame many choose to cover their ears and are only influenced by the myths which remain about the so called lesser quality of his solo career. Dig a little deeper and beyond some of the singles and fluff and there you will find a treasure trove: full of many gems of songs of equal - and some of even higher quality - to his Beatles' work.

Back to the album, NEW has no right to work as complete piece of work, but somehow it does. As most people know, it is an album which includes a variety of musical styles and has been put together using four different producers: Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns. 

In many ways, it works in the same way which RAM works - perhaps his best ever solo work - inasmuch as both albums create a warm feel and vibe which transcend the individual tracks. Due to this, and to the quality of the songs, it is an album with no major weak points which is a rarity with most artists.

NEW deserves to be discovered and appreciated by more people than have actually purchased it.  However, despite the quality threshold being very high throughout, the best on NEW possibly does not reach the highs on some of his other recent albums - but there are no lows, and NEW ends up being one of the best and most consistent albums of his career.

This review is based on the deluxe version of the album.

Track by Track:

1. Save Us
A vibrant opening track driven by an enjoyable rocking guitar riff accompanied by some quick fire, almost rapped vocals. It makes a good choice as an opening track, but is one of my least favourites on the album. The chorus just does not appeal to my taste. However, it is short, fresh and works. 6.5/10

2. Alligator
In my opinion this is the best song on the album, with crazy lyrics, interesting passages and a psychedelic theme throughout. It has a simple feel, but with a hidden darker edge and full of intrigue. Great production by Mark Ronson who fills it with inventive sounds. I like the 'Everybody else is busy doing better than me lyric'. A very high quality song. 9/10

3. On My Way to Work
Although I don't like the 'big green bus' line, I really like the words and wordplay used in this song. You actually listen to the story of Paul remembering his teenage years.  A very nice melody - possibly a little slow, but that would be nitpicking - but the backing music really picks up during the last minute and the song is all the better for it. 8/10

4. Queenie Eye
Catchy and certainly a very accessible track. The lyrics - many of which are based on a children's playground game - are good, and Paul sings great too. It has a bit of a 60s feel about it with nice changes of tempo and the simple playfulness of the song works very well within its theme. Oasis would have been proud of writing this. A good song, although it does not have as much staying power as I originally expected. 7.5/10

5. Early Days
A nice folky feel to this acoustic song and it is certainly a central point to the album.  I particularly like these lyrics: 'May sweet memories of friends from the past, always comes to you, when you look for them. And your inspiration, long may it last, may it come to you time and time again'. There has been much talk about the quality of the vocal on this track, I think that due to the looking back nature of the subject matter, it does give it more emotional punch and I think the vocals are appropriate and work - especially towards the latter verses. A really good and personal song. 8/10

6. New
The lead single, but one which does not really resonate with me. The vocals are a little weak and thin, but it is undeniably catchy, and the wall of sound can't fail to at least raise a smile.

'New' works much better as part of the album than it did on its own, it lifts the mood and brings vibrancy back to the album after the tone and feel of Early Days. It has a very Beatles' vibe to it, almost verging on pastiche, but McCartney just about pulls it off, and it is perfectly enjoyable. 7/10

7. Appreciate
A very trippy and modern hip-hop sounding drum beat starts this dark, edgy and industrial sounding track. It is vibrant, and although not groundbreaking, it is inventive and one to slightly shock the public and the casual McCartney fan. This is amongst the best on the album and is great played loud - a song that gets into you soul. The last minute or so reminds me of 'Bullet the Blue Sky' by U2. Excellent. 8.5/10

8. Everybody Out There
This must have been a contender for a single. It is really catchy and has a good feel, mainly due to the folky guitar chords driving the song along. Despite a little too many 'Heys' and 'Ooohs' - possibly trying too hard to create a sing-a-long anthem - the simple lyrics actually have an effective message and work well. A great little song and a good vocal, although not so keen on the shouty bits at the end. 8/10

9. Hosanna
A little disappointing, but only because it had rave reviews prior to release.  Once you give it a chance, it is a very good and atmospheric track which works really as part of the album. It is an acoustic and slightly haunting song with a little bit of a psychedelic feel, but no real surprises. 7/10

10. I Can Bet
A pot-bolier of a track which really romps through its 3 minutes' duration. It is full of playful lyrics and has an excellent vocal. 'I Can Bet' is a fun, disposable and catchy song which would be very enjoyable played live. Comes supplied with a great Moog solo. Possibly one which doesn't hold long-term interest though (the song, not the Moog solo!), but a joy. 7/10

11. Looking At Her
I did not like this at all during my first two or three listens, I thought the vocals were weak and the verses a little lightweight in nature, but it really grows on you - and I think will continue to grow. 'Looking at Her' now keeps my interest and appeals to me, especially its three different changes of pace and style and this will help it to be enjoyed even more over subsequent plays. I love the 'losing my mind' part and the unexpected industrial noise during this section. A very decent track. 7.5/10

12. Road
The last 'officially' listed track on the standard CD. 'Road' could have easily been on The Fireman's 'Electric Arguments' album, as it is very much in that style. It does beg the question if the Fireman Paul and the normal Paul have now overlapped so much, will the Fireman never appear again, or will he return with new fire and ideas? Despite this little side consideration, 'Road' is one of the best tracks on the album. It has a dark, cool, relaxed and spooky feel about it and builds to a crescendo. Listeners not particularly familiar with Paul's solo work will be surprised with this track. It sounds a little like a mixture of Radiohead, Massive Atttack and Portishead. Play it late at night and let the ambient textures take you over. 8/10

13. Turned Out
Bonus track: This sounds like a long lost contribution to a Travelling Willbries album which Paul was waiting to offer, if he had ever been asked to join! Therefore, it is an enjoyable track, rather than a stand out one which retains the interest on multiple listens. However, it is a very upbeat and instantly catchy including a delightful middle-eight which has some of the most heartfelt and best vocals on the album.  7.5/10

14. Get Me Out of Here
Bonus track: This could have been released between '71-'74 as a Wings' b-side. It is a pleasant country-style song with character and charm. 6.5/10

15. Scared
A piano ballad...finally. Just as you thought a McCartney album was not going to have one, up pops 'Scared' - the hidden track. I've never really seen the point of a hidden track, unless the artist was not convinced by its quality to call it a proper album track. No worries here though, Scared is a beautiful and sparse ballad that is really heartfelt and has a nice melody. There is a real and valid argument that it should have been given the full works with orchestration, making it into an epic ballad. In fact, I'd really still like to hear Scared given this treatment. However, it is just as valid in this stripped and bare interpretation, perhaps making it more real and affecting. 7.5/10

In conclusion it is a very satisfying album which brings relief to those who thought Paul had dried up creatively. Its strength is in its consistency and also being full of interesting and varied songs. It does lack the warmth and personal touch of some latter day McCartney albums like Flaming Pie and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but that is a very minor criticism of a fine album. The test will be in a few years, when we will find out if it is still being played and if some tracks end up sounding dated. Time will reveal all.

We should be happy that at this stage of his career we are still seeing such quality. 

Overall score: 113.5/150
Overall score indexed: 75.6%
Advice: BUY, GIVE IT 5 LISTENS AND YOU'LL BE ADDICTED

Interested. Listen to the sampler below.

2 comments:

  1. if i was nitpicking i would possible take 1 point off the track 'appreciate' and stick it on the bonus track 'turned out'....however other than that i found myself in complete 100% agreement with everything yopu say about mccartneys album and before that about him as an artist in this century....great piece of writing,really enjoyed it!

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  2. Its soo good music album..Its all tracks are great..feel good to listen to all tracks.all the best for next all albums..great reviews.

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