Kisses On The Bottom
Kisses On The Bottom, Sir Paul McCartney’s new album of reworked jazz-pop standards, features a cute little number called “Ac-Cent-Chu-Ate The Positive,” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (covered by Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin, among others). Quite frankly, who does cute better than Paul McCartney? Throughout, he sounds like he’s having a blast, playing around with the song’s life-affirming chorus, his voice surrounded by sweet harmonies and sprightly jazz guitar.
More than likely, “Accentuate the Positive” is exactly the point McCartney’s trying to make with Kisses On The Bottom, his breezy (and often skippable) 16th solo album. And he’s right—there isn’t much point in dwelling on the negative here. Working with Miles Davis veteran producer Tommy LiPuma, pianist Diana Krall, and a variety of seasoned jazz instrumentalists, McCartney very clearly wanted to have fun without thinking about big ideas, to re-charge his creative juices by exploring some of the tracks he was inspired by as a youngster. The resulting album is warmly, immaculately recorded, featuring a wealth of tasty cocktail pop atmosphere perfect for sipping wine on the couch late at night or reclining with a book in a bay window on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s fine, it’s dandy, and it’s completely inessential.
And Kisses On The Bottom is, naturally, most enjoyable when the tempos and perky, when the arrangements are more immediately ear-grabbing. Opener “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (written by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young, made popular by Fats Waller) sums up everything there is to love about the project: McCartney in excellent smoky voice, pianos that twinkle and comp, brushed drums sizzling and popping, double-bass walking in an unhurried half-jog. Though there’s nothing new or surprising—or even all that much worth replaying after a listen or two, Kisses is hard to dislike while it’s lazily crawling out of the speakers.
But in spite of the simple pleasures of the cover material, it’s absolutely no surprise whatsoever that “My Valentine,” one of two original McCartney compositions present, stands head and shoulders above the other tracks. The flourishes of acoustic guitar (played by old pal Eric Clapton) and harp, the moody strings hovering in the distance, chords effortlessly climbing and falling from major to minor, from sunny to cinematic—it’s McCartney at his finest as an arranger. It’s so good, in fact, it’s easy to question why Macca didn’t pursue a whole album of original tracks in this style instead of simply retreading the ground of his heroes.
“Music I can wish you, merry music while you’re young / And wisdom when your hair has turned to gray,” he sings above warm strings and sleepy harmonics on “More I Cannot Wish You.” At 69 years old, McCartney, the world’s most influential songwriter, has certainly accumulated plenty of wisdom in his 50-plus-year musical career. But he’s too creative, too romantic, too young at heart to start turning back the clock.