Music Review: Paul McCartney - McCartney III

By , Contributor
Arriving right around the mid-point of Paul McCartney's third completely DIY album, McCartney III, is an extended song called "Deep Deep Feeling." An elemental drumbeat kicks it off, followed by McCartney's otherwise unaccompanied vocal. He's singing about the duality of love and devotion ("The deep, deep pain of feeling"). Slowly other elements are layered in. Haunted lead guitar, jazz-inflected piano chords, lush backing vocals, hypnotic repetition, and eventually rousing acoustic guitar—it's adventurous, unpredictable and essentially everything one could ask for from the 78-year-old McCartney.

A sense of exploration drives and elevates not only that tune (the very best of these 11), but also the entirety of McCartney III. It has been 40 years since the last time he worked in this purely solitary format with McCartney II (1980). Ten years before that, he launched his solo career with McCartney (1970). This trilogy feels ripped directly from McCartney's subconscious. Instrumentals, sonic experiments, goofy asides, and of course fully-formed songs all collide to deliver pure, unfiltered McCartney.

McCartney III is arguably the least experimental of the three ("Deep Deep Feeling" not withstanding). Aside from the tense, acoustic-driven opener, "Long Tailed Winter Bird"—nearly instrumental, with lines of minimalist lyrics sneaking in—this batch offers generally well-polished songs as opposed to the bizarre rhythmic exploration "Kreen-Akrore" (McCartney) or the synth noodlings "Front Parlour" and (the unfortunately-titled) "Frozen Jap" (McCartney II). Much of this new album is closer in tone to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005), though much sparser given that—although recorded largely by himself—that album was laced with string overdubs that broadened its sound.

This is the first time in quite a while that McCartney has self-produced an entire album (though two tracks credit co-producers: Greg Kurstin on "Slidin'" and George Martin on "When Winter Comes"). The last time was 1988's so-called "Russian Album," Сно́ва в СССР, a collection of rock and roll covers initially released solely in the USSR. The sonic touches sprinkled he's throughout, more reserved than those contributed by Youth on The Fireman albums, enliven the songs, providing surprises and nuance in almost every track. Though he spent most of the '80s, '90s, and beyond seeking outside producers to help expand his sound, arguably the best producer for Paul McCartney is... Paul McCartney himself. Time and again, he demonstrates instinctive ability to adorn each song with prescisely what it requires.

Take "Find My Way," a pop confection that surges forward on a feel-good vibe, see-sawing between typical Macca optimism and the self-doubt that has found a place in his oeurve in more recent years (think "I Don't Know" from Egypt Station or "At the Mercy" on the afore-mentioned Chaos and Creation). Just when the breezy, wisp of a tune seems to close, an instrumental coda sparks to life, led by surf-rock style guitar. The bluesy stomper "Lavatory Lil" features irresistible, sing-along call-and-response backing vocals. The thunderous "Slidin'" harkens back to late-'70s Wings-era rock, but amidst the snaking electric lead riffs, McCartney's multi-tracked vocals soar above a convincingly raucous cacophony. Incidentally, "Slidin'" is the one departure from the one-man-band concept—drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and guitarist Rusty Anderson, both longtime members of McCartney's touring band, join in to create something of a power trio.

My prediction for 'most-polarizing track' on III: "Deep Down." This one has more in common with the often-outré elements of McCartney II than anything else here. The lyrics are as minimalist as anything this side of "Bip Bop" or "Riding into Jaipur" (basically, the takeaway is that Paul wants to "get deep down" and "do it right"). The herky-jerky beat is a bit stiff, though the bassline is sufficiently rubbery enough to keep things grooving. But it's long (second only to the similarly-titled but otherwise entirely different "Deep Deep Feeling") and might've benefited from some editing. On the other hand, he works up a good head of steam vocally towards the end. "Deep Down" may prove to be one of those love-it-or-hate it affairs.

Back to positives, because the borderline-disposable quality of "Deep Down" really is an anomaly here, especially compared to the two tracks that precede it. "The Kiss of Venus" is an instant classic—a poignant, acoustic-based, folky slice of McCartney gold. "Seize the Day" utterly transcends its rather clichéd title, offering a continuation of the sentiments expressed in Egypt Station's "Do It Now" (or "This One" from way back in 1989, for that matter). Let the detractors snicker at a line like "It's still alright to be nice." The fact is, McCartney appears to have had a pretty successful run based upon that particular ethos.

The acoustic freneticism of "Long Tailed Winter Bird" returns for a brief reprise before segueing into the subdued finale, "When Winter Comes." The supple sound of a relatively youthful McCartney (the track was recorded in the early '90s with George Martin at the helm) is startling. Speaking about the track in an interview with Loud and Quiet, he said "It's just me," adding that it was originally slated as a bonus track on the Flaming Pie Archive Collection. As a coda to the otherwise 2020-recorded album (at least according to information available pre-release; early access didn't include liner notes of any kind), it is a fitting reminder of how much has remained unchanged throughout McCartney's career.

"When Winter Comes" (which has thematic ties to "Seize the Day" and its warning of impending "cold days") sounds even 20 years younger than it actually is. Its homey, "Heart of the Country" vibe provides ample evidence that as much as the world has changed and as much fortune as he has amassed, McCartney has managed to remain constant in all the ways that matter: emotionally-direct, relatable, and always praiseful of life's basic necessities.

McCartney III will be available in a variety of formats, including a wide variety of colored vinyl (and multiple Paul McCartney shop exclusive CDs, each containing a different bonus "secret demo") December 18, 2020.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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