By Peter Donoghue
Paul McCartney, the man, the myth, the legend. He’s done everything, from death conspiracies to supporting both football teams in Liverpool, he knows how to put on a show, and New is the former Beatles’ bassists sixteenth, count ‘em, sixteenth solo album. At the mighty age of 71, you wouldn’t expect much new from the Liverpudlian, considering he’s covered nearly everything in the musical spectrum. But this album does indeed see McCartney delve into completely new sounds, and the use of multiple producers help to give this album a real sense of variety.
Variety is good for a man of this age, but coherency is something that this album is not. There are no instrumental or lyrical themes or consistency, and it leaves this album sounding like a collection of tracks thrown together. Depending on your stance on music, this may or may not take too much of a precedence into your opinion on New, so without further ado, lets dive in!
Album opener “Save Us” shows us that McCartney is still eager to open his ears to new music, and this sounds like a classic Strokes us with some Beach Boy infused harmonies thrown in for good measure. It’s not an album favourite as you can really hear Paul’s voice straining here, and the formula never really changes, but it’s an opening number that really sets the pace.
“Alligator” is a brilliant track, the synth lead hook on this track is just about the only piece of electronics used, as the rest of the track is filled out with acoustic and electric guitars. At around 90 seconds in, it drops into a psychedelic minimal ballad with an impressive falsetto being sported for a fella’ into his seventies!
One of the more cliche’d tracks on this album is “On My Way To Work” which in my mind sounds like a really poor post Beatles takeaway track. Underdeveloped lyrics like “On my way to work, I rode a bring bus, I could see everything, from the other deck” try to tell a story, but ultimately fail. The only redeeming factor is the bridge post chorus into the next verse, which is a huge instrumentation thing. It’s pretty difficult to describe, but it’s very cool.
Track four is one of the pre-album singles “Queenie Eye” and is one of the catchier numbers on the album. The production on this track really shines, with Paul Epworth (he’s the guy who made Adele and Florence and the Machine huge) injecting some splashes of synthy energy, muddy piano and looped drums into this gleaning shiny pop gem. It’s not original, but who cares when songs are this fun.
“Early Days” see’s Paul go back to a sound reminiscent of the album “Flaming Pie” which contained great acoustic tracks, which were then taken to a new level with the (somewhat overpowering) production of Jeff Lynne. The job this time is given to Ethan Johns, who is more subtle, by adding more and more guitars as the track progresses. Electronic drums are added, and before you know it there are 4 Paul’s harmonising with themselves.
Title track “New” is simply a remastered Beatles song, let’s face it. The drums sound like they’d be vintage Ringo, this thing has handclaps, a boomy bass and excellent guitar work, the only thing letting this song down is once again the writing. It’s just lacking something, and despite Mark Ronson’s best efforts, this is a track which simply sounds like it’s pretending to be something else.
Um, “Appreciate” well hmph. This thing is disgusting. It sounds like the soundtrack to a corny spy film. The fake string ambience things, the “appreciate appreciate” at the end of every two lines, bad drums and the horrid reversed piano effects don’t make things better. Forget this track, the noisy chorus can’t make up for it.
“Hey, everybody out there!” Oh yeah, a feel good song from Paul! It’s got all the trademarks. The generic acoustic guitars that bounce along, the infectious chorus, the annoying stamp of nothingness that’s tacked onto every song Jason Mraz has ever written. Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of this. I am not saying that I dislike anything McCartney does which is “traditional”, I just don’t think he pulls if off very well.
Yes, it’s a muddy middle section folks, and it’s not getting any better. The overproduced acoustic formula shows up again on “Hosanna” and this recipe isn’t ripe for success. A distinct lack of melody and squeaky synths are all this tracks have to show for.
What the hell is this next track? “I Can Bet” is an adult contemporary pile of rotten crap. Not got much thats even optimistic to say on this track, everything is so tacky and feels like it’s been nicked from somewhere in Pauls discography itself. Come on, you can do better!
Paul responds. with “Looking At Her.” Now I swear I thought it was David Byrne on vocals here, (the guy from Talking Heads) this is a track which is subtle and properly powerful when it wants to be. The lyrics are actually meaningful, and the instrumentation doesn’t feel generic, it’s great! It’s experimental, and it keeps the essence of Paul’s best songwriting – it’s catchy! Surely this is the start of a powerful finish?!
Nearly. Album closer “Road” starts with someone padding about with some synths and electronic drums, before Paul chimes in with some soppy romantic lyrics. I found this track to be mildly disappointing at the chorus, but as with many songs on this album, they really shone when it came to the chorus! Piano and hand claps worked here too, success!
So in conclusion, Paul McCartney’s New really is a mixed bag. It’s got the dreaded bad middle section and sometimes he’s trying too hard, but nearly every song has a redeeming factor of sorts, so if you’re interested in how old-time rockers fare in the modern world, the phrase I would use is “alright, when they get lucky.”