The toppermost of the poppermost: ‘New’ by Paul McCartney
It’s not cool, I know, but I couldn’t wait to finish work yesterday to get home and download ‘New.’ I stuck it on the iPod then went for a jog in the moonlight – a great way to get to know Paul’s new album. From irresistible crunchy power pop (Save Us, Queenie Eye, New, Turned Out, I Can Bet) to affecting acoustic ballads in the manner of Johnny Cash’s later albums (Early Days) and more experimental avant-garde groove-based pieces (Road, Looking at Her, Appreciate) it’s pure Macca magic.
Being Paul it’s stuffed full of hooks, often three or four in the same song, and there’s a real honesty and generosity of spirit throughout. The chorus of Looking at Her is wonderfully heartfelt – full of pride and admiration for his new wife, and has a sweet melody to match.
Early Days is a meditation on John and Paul’s early days together: ‘dressed in back from head to toe, two guitars across our backs.’ It’s full of images of the two of them posing on the streets of Liverpool and Hamburg, ‘hair slicked back with Vaseline.’ There’s amazing moment when Paul’s voice is double tracked, singing about memories of friends from the past when we hear the blessing/mantra: ‘Your inspiration, long may it last, may it come to you time and time again.’ It’s hard to resist the idea that’s this is John, egging his old mate on from beyond the grave. Paul responds to the challenge by following up with New – his best single since Coming Up and up there with his greatest Beatles and Wings work.
There are some misfires; I’m not as keen as some on the platitudinous Everybody Out There, but it’s undeniably tuneful and spirited and I’ve yet to fall for Hosanna’s charms. But there’s plenty of time to get to know these songs. Paul’s voice is not the rasping wonder it was during the 70’s when he had that powerful, pure upper chest range (Download Wings Over America if you want some of that) but it has other qualities now – a wonderful deep tone offset by a still bird like falsetto (a la Here There and Everywhere.) Elsewhere, Get Me Out of Here is a bluesy, throw away response, in part to the show of the same name and maybe a remote kissing cousin of Why Don’t We Do it in the Road. But perhaps it should have been left off.
These quibbles aside, New is full of inspiration, originality and invention. It’s more buoyant than Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which although full of good things, was overshadowed by an un-Paul like introspection. This contains the same thoughtful maturity, but with an optimism that album was missing. In that respect, it has more in common with Memory Almost Full and Electric Arguments (Light From Your Lighthouse from the Fireman side project is my current all time favourite Paul song!)
Here Paul’s new songs are aided and abetted by a great fuzzy electric guitar sound – either in full blow riff-mode (Save Us) or as clever tone and texture (see Alligator). You’ll remember that Taxman solo was by Paul after all. The songs also feature unexpected and delightfully varied arrangements.
On the ELO tribute (and very likable) Turned Out, he proves he would have been a more than capable Roy replacement for Travelling Wilbury (don’t forget to seek out Paul’s fab and Wilbury-like cover of Buddy Holly’s Maybe Baby on YouTube as an added treat).
But to hear him on Queenie Eye is to celebrate the return of a true pop master. From the teasing, Lucy in the Sky-like organ intro, nursery rhyme playfulness (a lyrical nod to John’s Cry Baby Cry perhaps) pop-bounce and soaring double chorus, here we have a reminder why Paul was in the best band there ever was. It is to experience the joy and delirium of pure pop as it was meant to be heard, on sunny mornings in 1966, by the man who invented it.