Music Review: Paul McCartney - New

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Even though New is his first all-new collection of pop tunes credited under his own name since 2007, Paul McCartney has kept plenty busy during the past six years. Between exploring the Great American Songbook (Kisses on the Bottom), scoring a ballet (Ocean’s Kingdom), and experimenting with producer Youth (Electric Arguments; their third collaboration credited as The Fireman), there’s been no shortage of new McCartney music. That doesn’t make the arrival of New any less of an event. The largely positive reaction to its advance single (and title track) has appropriately whetted fans’ appetites.

New has lots of variety, even by McCartney’s standards. Much ink has been spilled about the presence of four producers over the course of a dozen tracks (14 on the deluxe version). There were actually more credited producers on Flowers in the Dirt (1989), but I guess the difference is that here McCartney isn’t listed as co-producer on anything. In fact, he hasn’t been a credited producer on his last several albums. I don’t think all the hype over the presence of folks like Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Ethan Johns, and Giles Martin is honestly all that justified. The end results are uniformly and distinctly McCartney-esque. Nothing sounds like it wouldn’t have fit in comfortably on Memory Almost Full (2007).

Don’t look for anything else quite as immediately catchy as “New.” Many of these tunes require multiple listens to sink in, and some never really do (particularly during the second half). The dance groove “Appreciate” may sound out of the ordinary for casual fans, but McCartney’s been dabbling in this type of music for years (with decidedly mixed results). “I Can Bet” marries a predictable chord progression with a repetitive chorus. “Looking at Her” only generates interest with the surprisingly aggressive recurring riff following the line, “I’m losing my mind.” These tracks feel a bit like filler, but luckily they’re offset by a batch of songs that fit right in with his late-career renaissance that began in ’97 with Flaming Pie.

The acoustic guitar-driven “Early Days” is more than simple nostalgia, with McCartney expressing annoyance at those who claim to know his past better than he does. It moves beyond the more giddily-expressed memories of “That Was Me” (on Memory Almost Full), definitively laying claim to his own legacy (“They can’t take it from me if they try”). “On My Way to Work” mixes the past with the future in a surreal vein, recalling youthful experiences as a courier’s assistant while looking ahead to some future relationship-to-be.

“Alligator” is a moody piece (“Everybody’s busy doing better than me”) that recalls the edgier moments from Driving Rain (2001); think “She’s Given Up Talking” and “Rinse the Raindrops.” The album kicks off with its most straightforward and liveliest rocker, “Save Us.” It’s one of three produced by Epworth, conceived out of a two-man jam. “Queenie Eye” is another Epworth track and it’s got the biggest sound. Along with the Ronson-produced “New,” it’s the most outwardly Beatles-esque. The Giles Martin produced “Hosanna” is another highlight, kind of the dark hangover to the exuberance of “New.”

As for the bonus tracks, they’re keepers. “Turned Out” is feel-good pop with a buoyant lead vocal. “Get Me Out of Here” is an acoustic blues number that sounds like something McCartney might’ve made up on the spot. That doesn’t keep it from being a fun track, featuring one of the album’s most no-frills productions. Speaking of simple production, whether you get the standard or deluxe edition, stick around till the very end for the hidden track, “Scared.” On an album that feels a little over-produced at times, this one is an uncluttered piano ballad with an atypically tentative, vulnerable expression of love.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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