Paul McCartney is one of the most recognizable faces and voices in music, as well as the world. He was a part of a cultural revolution disguised as a quartet from Liverpool. He continued to be a flagship for pop-rock music through personal and emotional tunes via Wings and his wife, Linda. He is a composer, humanitarian, husband, icon and staple in music history. Now take all of those accolades away from him and what is at his core? McCartney, without the mythos and grandeur, is a pop star at heart. He likes love songs more than anything else, and he has been making stone cold classics for over 50 years. So, in 2013 at the age of 71, who does Paul McCartney want to be in the music world? Simple: himself.
On his 24th studio album, and his first of original material in six years (last year’s “Kisses On the Bottom” was him covering pop standards and jazz tunes), Paul McCartney has inserted his storytelling, wit, heart and soul into modern pop music for the fifth consecutive decade. He did not do it alone, of course: the appropriately titled “New” features production and songwriting credits to Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Lil Wayne, Bruno Mars), Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, The Vaccines), Paul Epworth (Adele, Cee Lo Green, Bloc Party, Friendly Fires) and Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin). McCartney uses all of these modern musical productions as a springboard to make his classic style of writing come alive. Opener “Save Us” is a great romp with hand claps and McCartney’s prominent bass guitar playing. Love is the answer “In the Heat of Battle” according to McCartney, but not something so complex. “Alligator” asks for a place McCartney can rest his bones with “a conversation not too deep” with reverse loops of organs and rocking guitar parts. “Queenie Eye” is a strange but bouncy pop tune that notes the fame game being a hunt from “dogs and bitches” and a warning to be careful what you wish for.
“Appreciate” follows a hip-hop drumbeat and McCartney’s wooing as an eerie background for a funky, electric breakdown during the chorus. It is one of the best tracks, but it is also very strange, sounding more like Bowie than McCartney. There is a rocking song (“I Can Bet”), a Wings throwback (“Everybody Out There”), and great ballads (“Hosana,” “Early Days,”) making this a standard McCartney record.
What makes it so interesting is the musical backing to it. Electronic loops, fuzzed out guitars and altered vocals are something McCartney may have tried during his time in The Beatles, but he has always remained in the traditional pop sense on his solo albums. He has been experimental on certain areas of his solo albums, but he has been pretty straightforward on his most popular songs. Here, he sounds like he has been listening closely to pop music from the last 10 years and thought he should give it a try. He has the right to, of course (anyone who wrote “Let It Be,” “Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” has the right to do whatever he or she wants), but it is amazing how seamlessly he does it. Other artists of his era, like The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan, shove off modern music and stay in their own lanes. McCartney has the talent and the spirit to go a little bit further. His voice, though aged, still sounds wonderful and he fits into almost every song without struggle.
McCartney is a master of love songs and, in his own words, “most people I know, who aren’t cynics, like them.” Here is the only problem with Paul McCartney: you can love him or just not care. He knows where he fans are, and knows that people are not into mushy stuff too much. You may like one or two of his songs, but you would not buy a whole album. So those looking for a break in the McCartney songwriting formula will not find it here. But if you are a McCartney, Wings, Beatles, or just a good time music fan, “New” is a bright album from one of music’s greatest contributors.
Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars