Capitol Records B003285202
Paul McCartney says his new album, McCartney III, was “made in rockdown.” He likes the sentiment so much he uses the pun twice in the booklet that accompanies the CD. Too cute, perhaps, and less clever than he thinks, but part of McCartney’s appeal is that he occasionally lapses into silliness. He recorded this disc, the third album in his long career featuring him alone on all vocals and instruments, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it leans more toward the rustic charm of McCartney (1970) than the more heavily produced McCartney II (1980).
McCartney plays a simple opening melody on acoustic guitar to begin “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” but some distortion lets the closing note sustain as he repeats the melody along with percussive strikes against muted strings on a second acoustic guitar. Bass filters in and McCartney begins singing the simple lyrics (“Do you miss me? / Do you feel me?”) of this pleasant ditty he had lying around. He adds drums at the 1:40 mark, and some studio effects and multitracking as the song travels along.
“Long Tailed Winter Bird” sets our expectations for a casual recording, but Sir Paul the craftsman is on exhibit for “Find My Way,” with its forceful piano and harpsichord opening, ear-friendly melody, and memorable, multitracked vocals. The heavy guitar on “Slidin’” proves McCartney can still rock and make some noise, and even though “Deep Down” doesn’t use any distorted guitars, it’s still good rock’n’roll. “Seize the Day” and “Pretty Boys” are examples of the sort of mid-tempo pop confections that McCartney serves up so easily, and he manages to avoid making them too sugary.
McCartney’s experimental streak is on display on the longest track on the album, “Deep Deep Feeling.” Adventurous instrumental and vocal sections explore the song’s melodic and lyrical themes, with subtle shifts in tempo and instrumentation. Layered vocal harmonies reflect McCartney’s love of classic soul. McCartney sings about “the deep pain of feeling,” and about love and loss, and the different sections of the song, over eight minutes long, flow together and change in intensity before coming to a subdued close with acoustic guitar, piano, and voices.
The rollicking “Women and Wives” features McCartney’s considerable piano skills and carries a message about our increased responsibilities to ourselves and those around us as time passes. McCartney hasn’t fooled with the recording of the tracks in post-production, so the occasional limitations that age has imposed on his voice come through. In the case of songs like “Deep Deep Feeling” and “Women and Wives,” these add to the force of the performances.
I could have done without “Lavatory Lil,” where McCartney seems to be straining to be both adorable and vindictive. It’s the lone misstep on McCartney III, and the other tracks come through as examples of the work of a great pop songsmith still making good music. It’s true that “Long Tailed Winter Bird” doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s engaging, and McCartney returns to it for the opening to “Winter Bird / When Winter Comes.” He recorded “When Winter Comes” with George Martin in 1992, and it’s a brave thing to close the disc with the sound of his much younger and more flexible voice.
While McCartney III is a home recording, the singer’s studio isn’t exactly something you or I would have in our basements, and there’s plenty going on to catch your ear. Vocal harmonies are complex and often ornate, keyboards and other effects add sonic depth, and songs that benefit most from simple, straightforward presentation, such as “The Kiss of Venus,” are mostly left in a basic form.
McCartney says of the album, “I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.” As a result, McCartney III is somewhat loose, occasionally a bit unfinished, and the most enjoyable thing he’s done in ages.
. . . Joseph Taylor