Pros:At The Mercy, A Certain Softness, Riding to Vanity Fair
Cons:Friends To Go, Follow Me, This Never Happened Before
The Bottom Line: Paul McCartney is back in town with a newfound sense of purpose (a new, good, producer)
What's your favorite BEATLE (putting aside Ringo Starr, no hard feelings)? I stand with John Lennon, even though I'd had loved to be George Harrison. I still believe the popular ballot would belong to Paul McCartney.
Recommend this product?
While George Harrison played for transcendence and John Lennon delved deeper into his inner contradictory dwellings, Paul McCartney was the earthy guy. Unafraid to be called populist, he gave the people what they wanted - melodies, love, exotism.
Knowing everything under the Sun, Paul still needed someone to update his craft, from time to time, be George Martin or newcomer Nigel Godrich (RADIOHEAD's OK Computer is the bravest reference).
Paul is the kind of guy that can sit down on his porch somewhere over Victorian Britannia and forget about the world. He have had more than his lion's share on the world conciousness. One can't blame him for resting on his many laurels.
Godrich managed to work Old Paul out of his quiet strike of ruminating releases. Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, say, it's the record JAMES BLUNT will struggle to death to record (and fail to). It's the best thing KEANE will forget hidden somewhere. Between the sheets, THE GUILLEMOTS and THE MAGIC NUMBERS will seek for something this good in the forthcoming decade.
Paul have nothing to lose. You too. You can perfectly listen to this cohesive body of songs as if they belonged to a 21ster from Wales. Or, if you prefer, this is a former BEATLE doing what I would believe to be his homework. His partners in crime, apart from a string section and some discreet orquestration, are:
- Rusty Anderson (guitar on Livin' La Vida Loca, composer of NATALIE IMBRUGLIA's Torn);
- Psychedelic-Baroque revivalist Jason Falkner (guitarist for JELLYFISH);
- Studio ace James Gadson (drummer for MARVIN GAYE, THE TEMPTATIONS, QUINCY JONES, HERBIE HANCOCK etc);
- Brian Ray (guitar for SHAKIRA and SMOKEY ROBINSON!);
- Joey Waronker (drummed for SMASHING PUMPKINS, JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP, REM, BECK etc).
Apart from the team, the thing is about Paul and you, he playing almost all instruments known to Pop market men, you and the unfulfilling expectations.
Fine Line, indeed, is a fine start. A false Indie start and the rest is vintage Paul trembling piano and humming bass. A reflective, almost preachy, number (rhymes don't come that easy). And that fluid soloing, a must-hear, the cloudy bridge "Come back to me", Paul bringing back the 1980s (the good, for the matter) and the undeliable chorus. Really, a fine line.
How Kind Of You keeps the throbbing brief intros just to find reflective chamber Pop thereafter. The rumination is doomed to bother, still, the craft is almost redeeming, it contains the fluidity and sparse manner of morning dewdrops and the tension of Seattle grunge folkers. Still the words and the sound don't coincide. A triumph of craft, of Godrich's.
Jenny Wren brings back the original Paul, acoustic singer-songwriter. Minimal production works that good, the voice intact, the chiming licks, the verses sailing espontaneously...Until a pointless ghouly string section finds Godrich struggling for comeback. Even if they don't share the same ground, their competition is showing an interesting ugly head.
At The Mercy ties the disparate strands of Paul's career with insistence, acoustic naivety, orchestrated reflections, folk ruminating through Rock N'Roll and Pop just lurking underneath. Paced vocal delivery does justice to the intrincate arrangement. This time Godrich and Paul play for the same team.
Friends To Go brings back the acoustic barenaked Sir of Blackbird/Bluebird climbing up the imaginary Pop hill. The self-help lyrics are sillier than the arrangement, fortunately. Somber, maybe too much for the song's own good. Still, craft involves filler, this is A-class. Godrich seems completely absent...
English Tea (oh oh my), another Classical juncture (Wild Honey, you know), another Vaudeville (you know, When I'm 64), you know, it's about British, if not the isles, the leaves. Paul is a well-known admirer of all sorts of tea and his Pied-Piper-on-Musak (Godrich scores) arrangement poorly disguises it...Quasi-funny, if only this record wasn't that serious!
Too Much Rain captures the right bombast. Moody piano, poignant voice, restrained soloing. Superb dynamics (strenght of both Paul and Godrich). This track gives TRAVIS and KEANE a nice addition to their live listings. Skipped the afterthough chorus, it would have been a minor gem. A bit of frustration, it could have been much greater!
A Certain Softness brings back those Flamenco licks (And I Love Her, Michelle etc). JACK JOHNSON, beware...Here comes the Britons! OK, discount the cocktail Cuban Soul inflictions and the track turns into a walk through Andaluzia's sea under the sunshine of a good day, not merely a genre exercise. SADE's King of Sorrow comes immediately to mind (in the best of possible ways). Godrich and Paul begin coming to terms with each other. SANTANA, you forgot someone.
Riding To Vanity Fair oddly resembles fellow Liverputians ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN in the slightly psychedelic electronic arrangement (my favorite overall, check out ECHO's Supermellowman for the matter) sided by ornamental strings and spare orchestration. That's a vague platform from where Paul ponders on love lost, getting older and what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life. This is the magnum opus of this record, deservedly. Paul and Godrich fulfill the promise.
Follow Me is a sincere ballad (probably to Paul's newfound love Heather Mills). I'm sincere too - preachy, preachy Paul, too condescendent, generic and seamlessly drowned in your own career to deserve major attention. The arrangement is merely adequate. This time we just can't follow.
Goofy and classicist, and Poppy in the 1970s BEATLES-dead ringers (BADFINGER) vein, Promise To You Girl is everything you though of a new, this new Paul McCartney record before listening to it. It's a concession Godrich and Paul made to good old times, without sounding tired and predictable.
This Never Happened Before seems ALICIA KEYS before majestic strings confer more dignity...Then it returns to plain R&B sentimentalism. Godrich and Paul play with this listener's earnestness. The arrangement is versatile, sometimes sappy, other times epic. Too much for this restrained composition with generic lyrics' own good. I wonder if PHIL COLLINS will give a chance. I hope to be quite far these times...
Anyway, you got there, the 13th song. I can't avoid the feeling of plagiarism (tell me, I've heard this intro before). OK, there's plenty of dynamics here, Paul seems doomed by uncertainty and Godrich seems prone to Prog-Rock ubiquity. Either laughable or jaw-dropping, Godrich infuses the retro inner-searching. You have 7 minutes to decide what to do with the bookending number, which encapsulates the many portions of Paul's career aforementioned. The record folds with in an aesthetical draw between the author and the producer.
So? Enjoy it. This is a long, winding road of nice moments, a few of quite impressive for a 64-plus year old Sir. Until KEANE is back, we won't see a comparable melodic jewelry. See ya there!
* * * * Fine Line
* * * * How Kind of You
* * * * Jenny Wren
* * * * 1/2 At The Mercy
* * * 1/2 Friends To Go
* * * * English Tea
* * * * Too Much Rain
* * * * 1/2 A Certain Softness
* * * * 1/2 Riding To Vanity Fair
* * * 1/2 Follow Me
* * * * Promise To You Girl
* * * 1/2 This Never Happened Before
* * * * Anyway
File under: BEATLE for sail
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