The greatest strength in Paul McCartney’s New is not that he sounds young, but that he sounds old. At times he sounds cranky and dissatisfied, and he is doing so in concordance with some of the crankiest, pop/rock-oriented sounds he’s produced in years; quite a departure from the previous Kisses On The Bottom, where we all presumed he was off to the neverland of standards-flogging that so many other acts went to (and few have returned from). Right, we know about “The Fireman” and we know about the one-time frontman turn of Beatvana with Dave Grohl, Kris Novoselic and Pat Smear, but those were one-offs, asides and pseudonyms. For his own discography, under his own name, things have been pleasant, stately, and kind of predictable. Think about Memory Almost Full‘s “Dance Tonight” — a fine trifle, harmless, kind of insignificant.
New is the best kind of unpredictable in that you had a hint. We all knew that even though Sir Paul was called the “Cute Beatle” and was known for occasional lyrical hippy-dippy floopy-flop, he had a weird side. McCartney II bears witness to that. And from his cohorts we’ve heard that Paul is a workaholic. He is the one mostly likely to say, alright, enough screwing around. Ten songs by noon, and…go. So the revelation that the workmanship remains, and that the strangeness, the archness, and the patrician motivation for not wasting time all play a part on New shouldn’t be a shock. It’s really about how it all coheres that makes the difference.
Still, McCartney sounds at times all of his 70-plus years. Some of it may be pushed up for exaggerative effect, but there are those scratchy, squeaky harbingers of time that present themselves as something worth noting versus something needing heavy masking (and to be clear, there are lots of studio filters and tricks going on with McCartney’s voice on the record, but nothing too far away from that which are current recording norms). Which is not to say he sounds like Graham Chapman or Terry Jones working up a shrill old pepperpot horror. Paul sounds good, but he sounds like a guy who has lived enough to have history to back up statements. That’s important.
The songs let you know this is a rock record from someone who has had a successful career making rock records, and the flow from the first song, “Save Us,” to the last (official) track “Get Me Out Of Here” is that of a solid listening experience with tonal shifts and a feeling of dynamism. Without diverting too much into a review inside of a review, New succeeds in every way that Elton John’s The Diving Board does not. Both albums from proven stars with venerable track records, but one feels like it demands your attention while the other feels like a meander.
It’s anyone’s guess how time will treat New. A lot of the same sorts of huzzahs the disc is getting are similar to those that were bestowed upon Flaming Pie, and yet that offering has been eclipsed by older releases in terms of appreciation. Maybe in a couple years we’ll retroactively throw stones at New and snarkily reply, “Well, not so much, no.” But for now, New feels like its name, and more than that, it feels worthwhile, which is something we always want to feel from a McCartney offering.