I’ve been lucky to be listening to “McCartney III” for a few days now. To catch you up: “McCartney” in 1970 turned out to be a masterpiece of its time. “McCartney II” in 1980 was dreadful and I try never to think about it. “McCartney III” is a great success, and shouldn’t be compared to either of its predecessors, especially the second one.
But here’s a new rub in the long running saga of the Beatle: the new songs are credited to “James Paul McCartney.” That’s a change, a first, a twist for Paul at age 78. Of course, that was his birth name. But is “James Paul McCartney” a different person than the one who’s written around a thousand songs?
“McCartney III” was supposed to be released today. December 11th. But there are many iterations of colored vinyl and extra tracks and whatnot that it was postponed til next Friday, December 18th. So consider it a Christmas present from Sir Paul, as I do. There are 11 tracks, he plays most of the instruments, wrote it all himself. You know Paul is a savant, in a way. He can’t stop himself. The music pours out of him. Thank goodness.
If the 11 tracks, I’d say 6 are among his very best, the other 5 are very good. Considering “Egypt Station” is just two years ago, that’s quite a compliment. But Paul is a professional. He’s not dithering around with us even though he says he is. He demurs. Just once, in the last couple of years, I heard him break down in an answer to a Stephen Colbert question about how he’s written all these songs and made all these incredible records. “Maybe I’m a genius,” he said, half-joking. Well, he is. That’s it.
“McCartney III” is surprisingly extra-economic, even when it’s self indulgent (a long 8 minute piece called “Deep Down Feeling” that’s really an improv, a jam that grows on you). McCartney loves a hit, and he’s got a half dozen of them: “Find My Way,” “Kiss of Venus,” “Women and Wives,” “Slidin’,” “Seize the Day,” and “When Winter Comes” all qualify. One track is just odd, that’s “Pretty Boys.” And another one, “Lavatory Lil,” addresses a golddigger who Paul must have dated before he happily married Nancy Shevell. It’s a rare bit of McCartney-esque spite and gossip.
But I’m concentrating those half-dozen gems that support the album foundationally. The melodies are just as beautifully shaped as anything Paul has done before. I’ve found myself humming them after a couple of plays. You will, too. They are also quite clever, especially “Women and Wives.” Paul’s had three wives, and marriage has been a constant in his life. And there’s a keen observation about outsiders looking at couples: “What we do with our lives/Seems to matter to others.”
“The Kiss of Venus” is one of those McCartney gems that just seems perfectly formed around a lilting vocal and a disarming hook. “Find My Way” would be a single, if there were still such things. “Seize the Day” is also a pop earwig, again, deceptively simple but a lovely Beatles throwback. And the album ends on a very “Ram” like lilting melody that could have been included on the White Album. “When Winter Comes” is no throwaway. It’s a gentle thing that sounds simple and isn’t. It’s actually a very melancholy recall to those early solo days when it was Paul and Linda living on the farm.
Next Friday can’t come soon enough– and I look forward to finding out what the extra tracks are on all those coloured vinyls!