ARTIST Paul McCartney
LABEL Hear Music
RELEASE DATE 15 October 2013
7.9 | 10
Is there anything left for Paul McCartney to prove to music-listening audiences? He’s responsible for, along with John Lennon, composing some of the most legendary works of any musical acts of all time as members of The Beatles during the 1960s. Since then, Sir Paul has scored countless hits as a solo artist and as a member of Wings. His material since the turn of the century, as one would expect, has up until this point been introduced as a reflection on past successes. It was the closest thing to retirement Macca has ever done. So it is a refreshing twist that McCartney forwent the reflective nature of Memory Almost Full (2007) on his newest collection of new material, 2013’s New.
From the offset, McCartney sounds the most feral he has in years, as “Save Us” wastes no time in queuing up a mission statement for the album’s intent. While the results are generally tragic when elder statesmen of rock ‘n roll dabble in current trends, McCartney never sounds compromised. His songwriting vision has certainly not waned; in fact, something seems to have lit a fire in Sir Paul, as he delivers some of his strongest compositions in years here. “Alligator” and “On My Way To Work” both represent just how refreshing and vital New can be. “Work” especially mesmerizes, as it features classic McCartney storytelling, albeit with 40 (almost 50!) more years worth of life experience to draw inspiration. Arguably the most devastating moment occurs during “Work,” with Macca wistfully singing, “How could I have so many dreams / and one of them not come true?” In many ways, the song acts as a sequel to “A Day In The Life.” The narrator has “woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head” for 45 years now, and in many ways is in the same exact spot.
“Early Days” and “Hosanna” are both beautifully crafted acoustic numbers, and they both go a long way in giving the album some sonic depth. Contrasting those more meditative moments is the thrillingly experimental “Appreciate.” It’s reminiscent to McCartney’s work as Fireman, exploring terrain he’s seldom traveled. When he does travel previously foraged ground, the results are decidedly mixed. “Everybody Out There” is a dated rocker, full of faux-Mumford & Sons guitar stylings, while “I Can Bet,” is entirely serviceable as a bridge for his older listeners, featuring a tired and worn chorus.
There’s no doubt McCartney’s choice of producers in the end serves as a positive for New. While there are some moments that make for a disjointed listen, the majority of the album is aided by his producers’ input. Retro-revivalist Mark Ronson, most known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, brings out some quirks in McCartney’s gorgeous melodies on “Alligator” and the title-track. Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Rufus Wainwright) strips McCartney’s sound considerably, and while helping shape the album’s lack of cohesion, that has more to do with how the tracks are sequenced and less to do with Johns’ production values. Paul Epworth, who has worked with a vast array of artists ranging from Adele to Azealia Banks (winning 4 GRAMMYs for his contributions to Adele’s 21), goes by largely unnoticed, while it’s the work of famed fifth Beatle George Martin’s son Giles Martin that dazzles the most. It’s no accident he works on the album’s three best cuts, “On My Way To Work,” “Appreciate,” “Looking At Her.” Martin brings a fuzzed-out electronica to “Looking At Her,” which ultimately carries the song past MOR territory and makes it one of the most memorable songs here.
That Sir Paul McCartney released an album in 2013 isn’t surprising. He never really has stopped making music, and 2013 seems to be like the year every artist decided to drop an album. But what is surprising about New is how new (my apologies) it sounds. What could have been another album of covers of pop standards is in actuality one of the most vital releases in McCartney’s recent discography. For someone that didn’t have to care about releasing this album (because, to be honest, who isn’t paying to see McCartney live?), the fact that he has put so much thought and effort into this release means a lot. Sometimes music is an old man’s game.