Music Review: Paul McCartney - NEW - Collector's Edition (2 CD/1 DVD)

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What a great time to be a Paul McCartney fan. On the eve of the long-awaited next installments in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection (Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound), Concord Music Group issues a collector’s edition of 2013’s NEW. Packaged in a compact hardcover book case, this two-CD, one-DVD edition is sort of a like a scaled back version of the Archive Collection extravaganzas—thankfully with a scaled-back price, too. Even though some may balk at the idea of a double-dip only one year after the initial release, this is an outstanding package that’s simply a must-own for McCartney fans. For anyone wondering about the DVD content, this disc is loaded with two hours of material.

The original album was McCartney’s first set of brand-new tunes since 2007’s Memory Album Full. It’s a colorful, varied, energetic collection that helped remind anyone who worried Macca had gone “easy listening” after 2012’s all-standards Kisses on the Bottom that he could still rock. Enlisting four separate producers—Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Giles Martin, Ethan Johns—added to the eclectic tonal variety, resulting in a revolving door of studio tech’s to rival 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt (which had a small army of credited producers). The collector’s edition adds a second disc that kicks off with a trio of studio bonus tracks, each of which could’ve easily made the final album cut.

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The first, “Struggle,” was previously released as a Japanese exclusive. It’s another Paul Epworth collaboration (to go with “Save Us,” “Queenie Eye,” and “Road”) and sounds a bit like something that could’ve fit well on the last Fireman album Electric Arguments (McCartney’s side project with Martin “Youth” Glover). Though resourceful fans might’ve tracked down “Struggle” already, “Hell to Pay” and “Demons Dance” are new to everyone. The former was produced by Giles Martin and, although a bit lyrically under-developed, it’s a melodically inventive rocker laced with orchestral stings. It was recorded with McCartney’s touring band. “Demons Dance,” like “Struggle,” finds McCartney in one-man-band mode, playing all the instruments himself. It’s an Ethan Johns production, a rollicking, piano-driven number that recalls “Flaming Pie.”

Giles Martin also produced the quartet of live tracks recorded in 2013 at the Tokyo Dome: “Save Us,” “New,” “Queenie Eye,” “Everybody Out There.” All are terrific renditions, with “Queenie Eye” especially sounding at home in a stadium setting. The seven bonus tracks total about 25 minutes. That may seem a bit slim, but at least this isn’t a bonus disc that will be listened to once and filed away forever. These tracks are easily strong enough to warrant repeated listening.

The DVD is possibly the biggest treat, kicking off with a 47-minute documentary, “Something New,” about the making of NEW. It features interviews with McCartney, his band mates, and all four of the producers. A substantial look at the creation of the album, the doc provides a fascinating glimpse at the different approaches taken by each producer. There’s also a one-on-one interview with McCartney about the album that originally aired on British television. Four music videos (concert-clip montage “Save Us,” star-studded “Queenie Eye,” surreal robot team-up “Appreciate,” and heartfelt narrative-driven “Early Days”) turn up, with “making of” featurettes accompanying three of them. Johnny Depp, who appears in two of the videos, has some fun moments with McCartney in the “Early Days” behind-the-scenes piece. “I feel sorry for Johnny,” McCartney says, joking that he only makes these videos to give Depp a job.

The “Promo Tour” section includes eight featurettes shot on location at various events staged throughout October 2013 to promote NEW. These are not, it should be noted, the original segments as broadcast on shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This is B-roll footage shot behind the scenes at those shows and other events, which also include McCartney’s appearance at the iHeartRadio festival, The Graham Norton Show, and other appearances. Full live performances would’ve been even cooler, but the short featurettes are fun ways to get a bit of the flavor of each promotional event.

The hardcover book features expanded liner notes (with lyrics and recording information for each track on the bonus CD). Each of the three discs is contained in a sleeve in the back of the book. Luckily the pockets are loose enough to make disc removal very easy. Even if you already own NEW, this new collector’s edition should prove irresistibly tempting to McCartney fans.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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