Lockdown becomes a boon on McCartney III
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It’s hard not to feel that Paul McCartney lived the best-case scenario as pandemic lockdowns go. With a maintenance of health coming first, I know I had a lot of lofty goals with being home all the time. Accomplishing those has been another story.
Meanwhile, McCartney, at 78-years young, went into his home studio and started messing around. As the story goes, what began as just working on some lingering soundtrack projects turned into 11 songs and the natural third entry into his homespun McCartney series. Where the first album was born out of the breakup of the Beatles and the second from the dissipation of Wings, we get this record when the world stopped turning.
So we have McCartney III. Ignoring the dad-level joke of having been produced in “rockdown,” we get the artist on his own, running tape machines, playing every instrument and making music for lack of anything better to do. The results are 11 songs that range from serious to silly, remaining hopeful throughout and serving as an excellent illustration of McCartney’s still sharp skills.
His recent work on Egypt Station and New, while they definitely displayed the borne-in song craft that makes all that music distinctly his, also leaned decisively modern, in an almost unnatural way at times. On a certain level, that’s understandable — arguably the most successful pop songwriter of his time is going to want to remain relevant. But aiming for the charts and those unfamiliar ears isn’t always a winning proposition. The reason Paul McCartney has been so wildly successful (and popular) for nearly 60 years isn’t because he spent all his time trying to keep up with his younger peers. His strengths lie in an uncanny knack for a tune and joining that with real emotion, and it creates a through-line from the Beatles through the best of his solo work.
So, left to his own devices and without a game plan, we have the songs of McCartney III, presented without pretense or expectation. But it’s not as if he doesn’t take the time to experiment here. He bases the tracks “Deep Deep Feeling” on a bevy of drum tracks underneath his echoed vocal and is accented by an appropriately atmospheric guitar line. The opening “Long Tailed Winter Bird” features various electronic textures on his vocals while running through its repeated refrains. And surprise collection of tracks or not, this is still a proper album and is treated as such, with the main theme from “Long Tailed Winter Bird” returning to serve as a reprise opener for “When Winter Comes,” an acoustic-based track that is arguably the high point of the record.
What’s most charming are all the different styles and textures he plays with, which adds to the visual of him jumping from guitars to drums to keys and everything in between. He gets topical on “Women and Wives,” then turns around and gets just as silly on “Lavatory Lil,” and through it’s ’50s rock and roll vibe, it’s natural to think of her coming in through the bathroom window. He straight up rocks on “Slidin’,” turning those guitars up and laying down the groove. And sometimes, as on “The Kiss of Venus,” it’s just Paul and an acoustic guitar, singing a song and accompanying himself as simply as possible, a reminder of how the power comes not from the production, but the underlying song.
The strength of the song is what has made latter-day albums like Flaming Pie and Chaos & Creation in the Backyard such masterworks in their own right. By leaving self-conscious pop and production pretenses aside, what’s left is McCartney the musician supporting McCartney the songwriter. There are no featured artists or guest collaborators, just the man in his element.
Still, this doesn’t play as an album of tracks as much as it does as a piece. More than any of his albums, save for his first post-Beatles effort, it marks a very specific moment in time without ever directly referencing the era. Here, presented for your hopeful entertainment, is a document of how one man coped with the reality of an invisible disaster that has whipped around the globe. It’s suitably earthy and homespun, and decidedly real. If it’s not quite Paul McCartney sitting in your living room, it’s a more intimate and immediate album than he’s made in years. And in these times, with everything as uncertain as when he made it, the sentiment and this level of quality are both appreciated.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com