It’s a monument to superfluity, the music of Sir Paul McCartney in his grand old age. I say this with the utmost respect. His masterpieces—to state the bleeding obvious—are behind him, his legacy is assured, and a quality of pure dizzy diddling-about now infuses his songwriting. Glorious biological excess, like the baby turtles heading for the ocean. This has always been part of his gift: his closeness to the original delight of composition. The melodies come wriggling out of him, the words itch in his finger-ends, and here’s another album.
Not all those baby turtles make it, of course. Some must die. New, Sir Paul’s latest, opens with the wobbly rocker “Save Us”—matchbox vocals, nasty swatches of processed guitar—and you ready yourself with a sigh for the usual thing, for 45 minutes of nonsense showtunes, sub-Wings thumpalongs and rumty-tumty Beatle-oid bubblers. But things pick up dramatically with “Alligator,” a ruminative stomp in which Sir Paul sings in his hard voice, his pushed-from-the-front-of-the-chest voice, about the deepest, toughest virtues of togetherness. Everybody else is busy doin’ better than me / And I can see why it is / They got someone settin’ em fre e/ Someone breakin’ the chains / Someone lettin’ em be.
The next track, “On My Way To Work” is not so easily grasped. It seems to describe the morning commute of disappointed man on the upper deck of a green bus, someone from the 1950s paperback side of McCartney’s imagination, who then goes and purchases some sort of skin mag, wondering dowdily at the generosity of the models therein: She came from Chichester / To study History / She had removed her clothes / For the likes of me. Unaccountable passages of sonic splendor attend this tale, epic whooshes and deepenings and takings-off—it’s a little bit “Day In The Life.”
Four producers worked on New, each credited with a couple of tracks: Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth, and Giles (son of George) Martin. To my Slayer-coarsened ear they all seem to blend in: maybe Ronson makes more frequent dabs from the palette of electronica, and Giles, son of George, more use of psychedelic throbs and washes; maybe Ethan Johns likes a simpler thing; but there’s nothing here from beyond the spectrum of McCartney. “Early Days” is the triumph, a rustic acoustic number in which Sir Paul, his voice shaky with Yeatsian old-man passion, returns us to the origins of Beatlehood. They can’t take them from me / Those early days / So many times I had to change the pain to laughter / Just to keep from getting crazed... There’s fierce pride here, and anger, and accumulations of God knows what else, while the guitars chime and cluck in the hayloft. It’s a pathos hoedown, of the sort only McCartney and Neil Young can manage.
“I Can Bet” is another dead turtle; as is the moody “Hosanna” (Sing hosanna to the morning sun...) Nature is cruel! But the danceable lumps and bumps of “Appreciate” are right on. Lift up your head and remember what your life is. Nice guitar solo too. Appreciate everything. Appreciate Sir Paul McCartney. This genius, his hair dramatically dyed, is with us right now—still living and, more importantly, still lively.