Paul McCartney’s previous two solo albums of all original material, 2005’s Chaos And Creation In The Backyard and 2007’s Memory Almost Full, may have been less accessible and rocking than the big hits of his heyday, but they highlighted his strengths as a songwriter. Maybe the constant touring he’s been doing between then and now delighting huge audiences with songs from throughout his entire career has recharged his crowd-pleasing batteries, because his latest release, accurately titled New, features him going for the gusto once again with wonderful results.
McCartney’s solo stuff has always been at its best when he works with strong-willed producers. He ups that ante on New by working with four of them: Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Ethan Johns, and Gilles Martin take turns adding modern sheen to Macca’s instantly memorable tunes. Ronson and Epworth have been a part of some of pop music’s biggest recent hits, while Johns and Martin are the sons of two famous knob-turners from McCartney’s glory days (their Dads are Glyn Johns and George Martin.)
In this way, Paul seamlessly connects songs that recall past glories to sounds that give the album the daring feel of indie music. “Save Us” and “Everybody Out There” rock with the urgency of Wings’ best, but the genetically-altered guitar riff that drives the former and the futuristic breakdown that closes out the latter stave off easy nostalgia.
The second half of the album gets increasingly experimental without losing its inherent catchiness. A hazy drone overhangs the acoustic musing of “Hosanna,” while electronic touches keep the melody of “Looking At Her” from getting too warm and fuzzy. “Appreciate,” full of tape loops, backward guitars, and disorienting vocal effects, harkens back to the avant-garde adventurism that The Beatles first attempted in the mid-60’s while keeping the tune in focus so as not to disappear down its futuristic rabbit hole.
At this point, you would think that McCartney would have run out of ingratiating melodies, but he keeps unearthing them on New. The title track, buffed to a gleaming sheen by Ronson, features those inimitable Macca chord changes that veer from buoyant to wistful and back again while he sings movingly about the possibilities of fresh romance. Speaking of romance, the man can who once opined about the benefits of road sex proves he can still get raunchy on “I Can Bet,” telling his lover, “What I’m gonna do next I’ll leave entirely to your imagination.”
As icing on the cake, McCartney, a guy who’s always shied away from confessional or autobiographical tendencies in his songs, gives a revealing glimpse of what’s it’s like to hear your life story told over and over again, often inaccurately, in the gorgeous folk tune “Early Days.” Bemused by how people who weren’t there could possibly know the inner workings of his old band, he stands in defiance of their efforts: They can’t take it from me if they try/’Cause I lived through those early days.”
Well, he was the nice Beatle, so he balances that bit of feistiness in the song by bestowing his own blessings on his listeners: “And your inspiration, long may it last/May it come to you time and time again.” New proves that inspiration is not a problem for Paul McCartney, who shows both his contemporaries and the youngsters alike how to make rich music while swinging for the cheap seats.