Hard as it might be to believe, it’s probably a bit frustrating being Paul McCartney. Yes, all that money would make up for it, yet you sense that he wouldn’t mind a bit of respect while he’s at it – not necessarily for his work in the you-know-who but for what has come since. The problem is he hasn’t exactly helped himself of late, especially last summer when he wheeled out wobbly versions of ‘Hey Jude’ and not one but two major British events, casting himself in the role of national treasure. That’s all well and good, but national treasures hardly inspire people to clamour for new material.
That, though, is just what Paul McCartney would like us do. Hence he keeps releasing albums at a reasonable (this his is sixteenth solo work) and we keep shouting for wobbly versions of ‘Hey Jude’. New just might – might – be the record to change all that. While it will always be appraised in comparison to his past, this time the modern McCartney stands up pretty well. This success comes from putting his faith in a quartet of very different producers – Ethan Johns, Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin (son of Sir George and the guiding light behind the Beatles’ Love project).
It’s a meeting of minds that works because it balances the ‘shit, it’s Macca’ approach with a ‘let’s make a proper modern record’ one. While none of the producers in question were likely to force the 71 year old down an uncomfortable path, New does have a contemporary feel that sits nicely with the style of songwriting style that we’ve come to expect. Even after all this time, McCartney still knows his way around a melody and the album is chock full of them. Seemingly completely comfortable with his past, he’s not afraid to reference either the Beatles or Wings (after all, everybody else is doing it so why shouldn’t he?).
This crossing of the ages is reflected in the lyrics, which look both forward and back. While the mood of the record is generally upbeat, ‘Alligator’ examines the downs as well as ups of romance. His view of the past is equally wistful, with ‘On My Way To Work’ painting a picture of youthful innocence. Best of all is ‘Early Days’, a touching that tribute to his formative years with John Lennon delivered with a break in his voice that transports you to another age.
Ending, as is his wont, on an epic in the shape of ‘Road’, New isn’t entirely the sound of Paul McCartney pushing at the boundaries. After all he’s already done that on the excellent Fireman project. Neither, however, is it content to head straight down the middle of the road. At this stage of his career, he probably couldn’t have done any better.