Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
purchase this album
As I wrote last week, I wasn’t expecting much from this. McCartney albums can be pretty half-baked — in fact, I’d say most of them probably are — and despite the wave of critical adulation he’s been riding since Flaming Pie, I think his newer albums have fallen mostly between so-so (Pie) and lame (Driving Rain). Rather than praising him, critics should have been lining up to kick his ass; by and large, he’s better than his solo output has shown. The world knows it. I’m not sure why he’s insisted on hiding behind cutesy garbage such as, I don’t know, “Biker Like an Icon,” but it’s a colossal waste of talent. The worst part was always that, no matter how uneven the album, McCartney would usually remind you once or twice that he could still get it together if he just buckled down and tried hard enough. Like a smartassed teenager who gets C’s on purpose, he made you want to wring his neck.
On first listen, I was ready to chuck Chaos onto the same pile as Flaming Pie — couple good songs, nothing great, nothing awful, thanks for nothing, Mr. McCartney. But after hearing it two or three times, I started to come around. This is what music nerds like to call a “grower,” an album that reveals itself to you slowly by degrees, and maybe it’s because you don’t hear many of them anymore that I was so surprised to find myself getting into Chaos. Or maybe it’s because McCartney isn’t really known for his mastery of pop subtlety; though he’s certainly capable of writing a phenomenal song, he tends to favor the bash-’em-over-the-head-with-the-hook approach. Either way, this is a pleasant surprise. I’m still not sure I’d call it a great album, or even a very good one — but what I can say is that it’s a small, stately, and mostly pretty quiet set of songs. Once in awhile, it’s even sort of lovely.
It might sound like an odd comparison, but Chaos reminds me a little of David Mead’s Mine And Yours; they’re both slow and dreamy, they both take their time showing themselves, and they both benefit from solid songwriting and playing. In Chaos’ case, the playing is mostly done by McCartney himself, which makes me happy. He’s one of my favorite drummers — not because of his technical ability, but because his tracks always have a real floppy, homespun feel. Any time a set of liner notes says “All instruments played by…” you can pretty much bank on the album in question sounding mechanical and uninspired, but McCartney is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, and since this is such a low-key album, the approach is ideally suited here.
I hesitate to provide any songs for download, because I think Chaos is more than the sum of its parts; these songs sound better together than they do apart. But hey, I’ll give it a shot: “Jenny Wren” (download) and “This Never Happened Before” (download) are, if not the two strongest songs on the album, at least perfectly representative of its overall vibe.