Graham Reid | | 2 min read
In our Famous Elsewhere Songwriter Questionnaire we ask, “The one songwriter you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?”
Names like Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell and Bon Iver have come up a few times.
But to the best of our recollection Paul McCartney never has, which is strange given an impressive track record in two Very Big Bands and a solo career which has offered some diamonds on just about every album.
Maybe people still can't forgive Mull of Kintyre, The Frog Song and so on.
But round Elsewhere's way we would always give the man a fair hearing even though he has frequently disappointed.
At 76 he is still touring (and with astonishing stage energy as we witnessed) and writing: this is his 17thstudio album under his own name and it is a double album in old money . . . although admittedly each side is pretty short, around 15-17 minutes.
And if he is taking stock of his life, as he seems to be in places, he is content with his new wife Nancy (the folksy Happy With You, the ballad Hand in Hand) but still keen to rock out a bit while delivering the message of pushing back against life and the naysayers (the chugging rock'n'roll of Who Cares “what the idiots say”) and again on the six and a half minute guitar rocking closer Hunt You Down/Naked/C-link which morphs through different sections.
Despite Repeated Warnings is a very Beatlesque mini-epic at seven minutes with strings, his bass mixed high as it was sometimes in the mid Sixties, and a dramatic arc of tension (the refrain “What can we do to stop this foolish plan from going through”) before it resolves abruptly into new directions with stinging guitar and then strings and horns (think the track Band on the Run).
It's not a great leap to get that the Captain here who is ignoring warnings of dangers from those who ought to know is President Trump, who is going to lose his ship and crew.
The old boy gets raunchy and youthful with Fuh You (as in “I just wanna fuh you”)* but when he turns things down as on the acoustic Confidante – which has a whiff of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now in one melodic signature – a sense of the personal comes through from a man who has often been a master of misdirection. It is a real high point.
As is Caesar Rock which you can imagine could get deserved remix treatment.
Sometimes McCartney's sentimental side has let him down (Silly Love Songs anyone?) and here some will pick apart People Want Peace for that reason. The message is the title and a chant for the stadium.
And on the string-soaked piano-based ballad Do It Now he offers a message which is perhaps equally easy to dismiss but does sound heartfelt and relevant: “Do it now while the vision is clear/while the feeling is here. If you leave it too late it call all disappear, do it now . . .”
McCartney's on record as saying there is a concept here driven by the title and that the songs are like different stations, but that's hard to discern other than in the most conceptual reading of “a concept album”. Certainly it gets going with an evocative instrumental-cum-field recording Opening Station and towards the end is a snippet entitled Station II . . . but there's hardly a unifying feature.
So what do we conclude about this beautifully produced and arranged 17thalbum by one of the rock era's finest songwriters?
That, as with every solo album, he delivers some great melodies, a few fine songs, some convincing old school rock'n'roll, a couple of soft-centred ballads and a bit of filler . . . but sounds like he's still making an effort.
Naysayers will find enough to criticise, others will find enough to enjoy.
As always, it's enough to give Paul McCartney the benefit of the doubt next time.
If that appeals to you check out this oddity which came out on the Beatles' Apple label back in '69.