Paul McCartney marries the experimental and familiar on 'New'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Inarguably one of the more revered songwriters of the past 50 years, Paul McCartney has a new album and its full of digital tape loops and processed sounds and at first glance, it seems to be unlike anything else in his expansive catalog. Immediately, that’s interesting.
What has defined McCartney’s solo career is an unflinching work ethic and a willingness to let his distinct style evolve. Where many of his peers have been content at times to kick back or settle into old habits, McCartney has devoted himself to a regular schedule, recording and touring without many gaps in the past 40-odd years. On New, he has 12 more songs (14 on the deluxe version) that marry his impeccable songwriting with updated approaches that could be seen as outside his comfort zone.
Classic touches all over, especially on the title track that heavily recalls the rhythm on “Penny Lane,” while “On My Way to Work” takes the same sort of tactic as his portion of “A Day in the Life” of turning the ordinary into something approaching profound for the little wisdoms that are revealed in the day-to-day grind. Of course, the most classic of all McCartney traits is his ability to quickly turn small bits into instantly memorable musical moments, and the single “Queenie Eye” has these in spades. It’s a song that will settle itself nicely into his marathon setlists and will burrow itself in listeners’ heads for years.
Everything carries McCartney’s hallmarks — which is really just a way of saying that he has perhaps the greatest natural ear for pop songs — but with a consciously modern edge. The opening “Save Us” could be recorded by the Strokes without much fussing around the arrangement. Updated production techniques and vocal masking are the first hooks on “Appreciate,” and a masked guitar solo starts off sounding like a trumpet before morphing into something resembling an electric piano, but again, the song winds up as the star, with its “Woo”s and its repeated call of “Appreciate, appreciate” creating a compelling soundtrack.
Among other projects, McCartney’s work with Youth on The Fireman records has displayed his interest and willingness to experiment with electronic sounds and techniques in the studio. While hinted at on Memory Almost Full in 2008, New might be the first time that this digital-age mentality was followed nearly all-out on a proper solo album.
The risk in adopting such cutting edge methodologies is that the album, as time goes on, could come to be seen as dated, much in the way that so many of those records by established artists in the early 1980s sound hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar era. But as it is, it’s a risk worth taking. It could just as well be seen as an important stage in McCartney’s expansive career and a moment where he made the most of his music. And while he may been seen as a classic craftsman rooted in the past, his career has been marked with experimentation, from tape loops and mellotrons in the 1960s forward.
In the meantime, all the speculation and forecasting is theoretical and useless. What matters today is that McCartney has another batch of songs that are worthy of his royal moniker, and that he dedicated himself to making them sound the way they needed today. In short, we have another solid Paul McCartney album on our hands, and he has something he needs to say, and he’s said it in a new way. Doesn’t that sound like an interesting listen?
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org