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McCartney releases a ‘rockdown’ album during pandemic

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 06, 2021 4:00 pm

"Stuck inside these four walls,” Paul McCartney once sang on Band on the Run: “Sent inside forever.”

Sir Paul might not have been clairvoyantly commenting on the COVID lockdown to come decades later, but that song was many people’s go-to jam during the ECQ.

Perhaps in response to the lockdown, McCartney decided to do one of his “one-man-show” albums to close out the Worst Year Ever (So Far), 2020.

“McCartney III,” like the previous two eponymous McCartney albums, is a bit of a unicorn: one of those rare “long-tailed winter birds” the former Beatle sings about on this new release.

He’s now made a total of three self-titled solo records over a 60-year music career. First, “McCartney” (featuring the huge hit Maybe I’m Amazed) came out in 1970, when the ex-Beatle was working through separation from his Liverpool mates; 10 years later came “McCartney II,” in a flurry of home-cooked sequencers and sped-up vocal experimentation, just as his hit band Wings was breaking up.

Now comes “McCartney III,” released a full 40 years (!) later. Dropped late 2020, it shows Sir Paul is still full of tricks in the studio, taking on all the instrumental and vocal duties (with some added guitar by Rusty Anderson and drums by Abe Laboriel Jr. on Slidin’) amid richly layered songs that vary between bass-driven romps (Lavatory Lil) and almost ambient meditations that resemble his solo work as The Fireman.

Perhaps in response to lockdown, McCartney decided to do one of his “one-man-show” albums to close out the Worst Year Ever (So Far), 2020

A good example of how all this works together is the video for Find My Way, a bouncy two-chord track in which Paul is shown, Zoom-style, doubling himself on bass, drums, keyboards, mellotron, and numerous backing vocals. He seems to be enjoying himself immensely.

The “McCartney” album concept is an open-ended one: none of the three albums sound alike. This allows Paul avenues of self-indulgence he didn’t fully explore with Wings or the Beatles. (Though let’s be honest, a lot of Wings albums consist of a few major hits sandwiched by lots of goofy or gooey filler.)

McCartney seems not to care a whit one way or the other. He presents this as a “rockdown” (a play on “lockdown”) release, recorded while bunkered inside amid the pandemic, and there are rock songs driven by blues-driven guitar riffs (Slidin’, Find My Way) that wouldn’t be out of place on Wings’ later albums; but it opens with a lovely instrumental, the aforementioned Long Tailed Winter Bird, that’s almost casually decorated with acoustic filigrees, bass and drum rumbles and synthetic patches. Its sheer flightiness is propulsive, winning.

Seize the Day returns us to the electric piano sounds of ‘70s McCartney, and if “McCartney III” has a message, then it’s pretty much that: “Seize the day,” acknowledge those you love, march toward your next pop song, even as the world seems to be perpetually slipping out of order.

The current McCartney, now 78, allows himself a strain of wistful nostalgia in these lyrics — probably as close to melancholic recognition as you’re likely to ever hear from the cheeriest Beatle.

Paul McCartney's new album was recorded in lockdown, or as he puts it, in "rockdown." Photo by Mary McCartney

The longer songs on “McCartney III” are actually a real treat: a chance to hear Paul take his time and organically develop his musical ideas. Deep Deep Feeling has a wandering, inventive quality, while Deep Down (Paul must have an affiliation with the word “deep” this season) echoes Daft Punk’s descending R&B chords and his earlier Kanye West collaboration, with call-and-response vocals. His vocals are a bit craggier than his Moptop days, but come on: people stopped giving Dylan sh*t about his vocals decades ago. Let’s cut Macca some slack.

McCartney is a Gemini and the thing about Geminis is they never stop doing things, even in lockdown: they’re constantly working on their next song, their next album, their next creation. Quality may vary.

While it’s true that Maybe I’m Amazed was an early high mark for the former Beatle, and some say Macca’s Best Solo Song Ever, it has to be said the songwriter doesn’t fuss about too much, even when making eponymous albums; there’s always some filler. It’s just that his earlier filler, like Junk, was high-quality, leftover Beatles material.

The current McCartney, now 78, allows himself a strain of wistful nostalgia in these lyrics — probably as close to melancholic recognition as you’re likely to ever hear from the cheeriest Beatle.

Follow-up “McCartney II” boasted the impressive opener Coming Up — with its sped-up soul vocals, synth horn section, ascending bassline — and lush ballads like Waterfalls to help you forget the insubstantial doodles surrounding it, like Front Parlour, Darkroom, and the unfortunately titled Frozen Jap.

While some saw the synth experiments on “Macca II” as a flirtation with krautrock, I think it owes as much to Yellow Magic Orchestra, which had released their first album two years earlier. At the time, an ex-Beatle dabbling with sequencers and synths was probably considered very “off the reservation,” and while critics pounced, synth heads cited it as a breakthrough. Erm, I don’t know…

So “McCartney III” comes to us much, much later, with 40 years’ experience tucked into its creation. It ends with a bit of the Winter Bird coda reprised, segueing into a gentle acoustic rumination, When Winter Comes, that’s not the kind of “final chapter in life” musing you’d expect, but a reminder to oneself to fix the fences and store up food for the chilly months.

So, just as the first “McCartney” was about doing things at home, down on the farm, so closes this entry: “When winter comes, and food is scarce/We’ll warm our toes to stay indoors/When summer comes, we’re gonna fly away/and find the sun/When winter comes.” Cheery to the end, Paul will forever be Paul.