Monday, July 23, 2007

New McCartney Album Actually Good

Betty is used to apologizing for Paul McCartney, but you know what? The Starbucks album is actually awesome!!

Sir Paul has been through a lot in the last few years - re-marriage, fatherhood, divorce, plastic surgery - and all that comes through in his newest music. Not the events themselves (Paul is famously oblique, and we love him for this), but rather the tumult and the chaos and the soul-searching. And it's in the music as much as the lyrics.

Consider "Gratitude", with its unpredictable melody, dual-personality singing, and synthetic stylings (and this is the album the Radiohead guy DIDN'T produce!). It's enough to undermine an otherwise touching message of loyalty and devotion. You hear that, Heather?

Or take the crunchy, Strokesy guitars on "Ever Present Past" and "Nod Your Head" -- why does this 64 year old rock my headphones more than most anybody else??? Grandpa clearly just ROCKS.

But then again, there is something working beautifully on this album that has never been contemporary. In fact, it is rooted squarely in McCartney's early 70's period, mainly pre-Wings but spilling over into "Red Rose Speedway" and "Band on the Run". And this is a factor I'll call HEAVY WHIMSY.

HEAVY WHIMSY is not to everyone's taste, and some call it a failure of discipline on McCartney's part, but I take it seriously. How could any Paul fan not? Heavy whimsy is all over the "Ram" album on tracks like "Ram On", "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and "The Back Seat of My Car". Simply stated, McCartney's Heavy Whimsy involves a straight-faced account of the improbable, the surreal, or the ridiculous, and the songs usually take the form of collages, episodes, or medleys (e.g. "Band on the Run", "Silly Love Songs", "Lazy Dynamite").

On the new album, McCartney is able to focus this characteristic heavy whimsical energy in a new way - telling stories with music and only a few words on songs like "Only Mama Knows" (about a baby being abandoned in an airport) and "Mr. Bellemy" (about firemen trying to rescue a hermit from a tree). The single "Dance Tonight" is a perfect example of this new, more sparse incarnation of 1970s Paul. Good thing his voice, amazingly, still sounds like it did in the 70s, and still does everything it ever could.

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