McCartney II (1980)
Coming Up/Temporary Secretary/On The Way/Waterfalls/Nobody Knows/Front Parlour/Summer's Day Song/Frozen Jap/Bogey Music/Darkroom/One Of These Days
"I went to see Talking Heads in London because I had plenty of time on my hands so it was the kind of thing I would go and see. Again, just to see what it was about, not necessarily because I was a massive fan. It was more like, you know, funky stuff like that" - Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney's first solo album after the demise of Wings was a patchy affair, to be honest. McCartney was battling to keep hold of his relevance after punk, with new wave, post punk all over the place and "New Romanticism" waiting around the corner. Was there any need for McCartney and this sort of semi-synthesised, electronic-ish material? Probably not, at the time. It is a very incongruous album, culturally. The idiotic, bemused expression on the cover didn't help either. Compare that with the Sex Pistols' album cover, or London Calling, or Dexy's Midnight Runners' Waiting For The Young Soul Rebels, just as random examples.
Coming Up is a danceable, lively piece of funky-ish disco that was very popular at the time, actually, while Temporary Secretary is an electronic, blippy strange song, insufferably catchy, and in possession of an embarrassing spoken part near the end. Just when you think that McCartney has lost everything he had and gone all synthesised pop, he comes up with the bluesy, rock guitar glory of On The Way, an industrial, meaty, chugging blues that I really like. It is the only really traditionally credible piece of rock on the album, however.
Waterfalls is a trademark hooky but plaintive McCartney ballad. It was memorable, and although stuck in something of a time warp, it is as timelessly endearing. Nobody Knows is a frantic slice of thumping country blues that I can't imagine appealing to anyone much in 1980. It sounds like a lazy demo piece of fun, to me. Similarly, the funky wah-wah instrumental that is Front Parlour. Yes, it is perfectly listenable, but was this really the best Paul McCartney could put on an album at the time? This is Paul McCartney we are talking about, remember.
Summer's Day Song is actually a quite evocative synthesiser-backed song with the electric sounds of David Bowie's "Heroes" instrumentals all over it. It is one of the album's most adventurous numbers. The electro-dance rhythms of the instrumental Frozen Jap is interesting too. I quite like it and it sort of suited that whole Ultravox-style electronic vibe of the time.
Bogey Music lets things down, though, being a ludicrous pice of jaunty "fun". I guess this whole "side two" of the original album, from Front Parlour onwards at least showed that McCartney was trying to be experimental, relevant and innovative as opposed to issuing another album of Wings-style (relatively) formulaic chart-aimed pop. Darkroom exemplified that as well - a quirky piece of Lene Lovich-style electronic nuttiness. This is definitely not what you would expect from Paul McCartney. I do wonder what people thought who had bought this album on the back of Coming Up, though. I dare say they just only ever played "side one". One Of Those Days snaps us back to laid-back, typical McCartney wistful balladry, however, just in time, before the album ends.
This album was certainly no work of genius, let's be brutally honest, either in its songs or its production. The whole sound on the album is pretty indistinct and muffled, I am told it was deliberately "lo-fi". Hmmm. Any excuse, eh? Some have even said this album has "cult" status and is listed in one of those "100 albums to hear before you die" lists. Do me a favour.
** Of the bonus tracks, Blue Sway is atmospherically excellent, though, full of sweeping strings and saxophone and should have been included on the album. The rest of it can be immediately written off. Check My Machine is a mildly enjoyable piece of industrial reggae together with random, high-pitched vocals. Secret Friend is over ten minutes of completely inessential, indulgent electronic noodling with occasional muffled vocals.
Mr H Atom/You Know I'll Get You Baby is an upbeat, dancey, vaguely Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club track with pounding drums, keyboards and chanted female backing vocals. The second half of it is another chanted piece of electro-pop. Bogey Wobble is a lively bit of Human League-style synth runs backed by a wobble board. All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway is another ten minutes of disposable vocal/instrumental nonsense, let's be honest. The original Blue Sway is the only listenable track in all of this lot, I'm afraid.
Tug Of War (1982)
Tug Of War/Take It Away/Somebody Who Cares/What's That You're Doing?/Here Today/Ballroom Dancing/The Pound Is Sinking/Wanderlust/Get It/Be What You See (Link)/Dress Me Up As A Robber/Ebony And Ivory
"The album, at its best, is as finely crafted as his work with the Beatles" - The New York Times
From 1982, this has been one of Paul McCartney's albums I have not paid too much attention to, to be honest (compared to Band On The Run, Red Rose Speedway, Wild Life or Venus And Mars, which I know far better). So, I am giving this new remaster a chance to get myself reacquainted with it.
Firstly, I have to concur, unfortunately, with some of my fellow reviewers regarding the sound quality of this particular remaster. While Band and Venus were excellent remasters, I have to say both this, and Ram, have been remastered too harshly for my personal taste. A bit tinny, I find. Nowhere near the bassy warmth that Venus has, for example.
As for the music, Tug Of War is an orchestrated opener that ends as a rock ballad. Take It Away is an immensely catchy singalong pop song of the highest quality. The first duet with Stevie Wonder, What's That You're Doing? is six minutes of funky brilliance. Strange to hear McCartney diversifying like this, but enjoyable. The second one, Ebony And Ivory is well-known to everyone, and, despite the cliched lyrics, their hearts were in the right place, so let the criticism go, eh?
Here Today, written to the recently-departed John Lennon (this was McCartney's first album since Lennon's murder) is as sad as one would expect. Ballroom Dancing, the start of the old "side two" is a suitably upbeat, fun, mood changer. The Pound Is Sinking is a catchy ditty about the world's money markets and gets a bit silly in its pompous vocal delivery at times. Typical McCartney, "mannerisms" indeed. This is one that is spoiled by the tinny, trebly sound.
Wanderlust, however, is just a beautiful song. Nicely orchestrated and impressively sung. The duet with Carl Perkins, Get It is enjoyable in a 1950s sort of way. Nice bass on this one. Dress Me Up As A Robber sees McCartney in falsetto vocal style, this also has a nice bass sound and an appealing upbeat tune. Some nice Spanish guitar too, as indeed there is on the lovely, laid-back Somebody Who Cares, a typical slow, thoughtful McCartney number.
Pipes Of Peace (1983)
Pipes Of Peace/Say Say Say/The Other Me/Keep Under Cover/So Bad/The Man/Sweetest Little Show/Average Person/Hey Hey/Tug Of Peace/Through Our Love
"A dull, tired and empty collection of quasi-funk and gooey rock arrangements ... with McCartney cooing platitudinous sentiments on a set of lyrics seemingly made up on the spur of the moment" - Penny Reel - NME
Firstly, this remaster of this 1983 release has a vastly superior sound to that of the previous year’s Tug Of War and I feel this a better album too.
The first two tracks are very well known - Pipes Of Peace, which for no apparent reason is known as a Christmas song and the funky, surprisingly good duet with Michael Jackson, Say Say Say. The Other Me is a quirky, attractive little very McCartney-esque song, while Keep Under Cover is jaunty, upbeat song with an extremely ABBA-derived keyboard riff. It could have come from Money Money Money. This isn’t a bad song. A good rocking vocal and some good guitar too. So Bad is a typical 80s lush, synthesised ballad and, for many people it is this sort of material, and the use of electronic instrumentation throughout the album that renders it a far worse album than Tug Of War. I agree that in many respects it represents the worst of the 80s - saccharine, commercial, every electro-dominated throwaway songs. However, for some reason, I quite like it and prefer it to its predecessor. Maybe it is just the sound quality, but maybe I just prefer the songs too.
The Man is another duet with Michael Jackson - catchy, upbeat and summery, with McCartney trying his best to match Jackson’s falsetto. Sweetest Little Show is again very catchy and jazzy, with nice acoustic guitar solo. Thinking about it, I certainly don’t find this album as blatantly “electro” as some contemporary critics seemed to. Average Person sounds quite Beatles-ish to me. Yet again, impossibly catchy. A critic at the time said the latter two tracks were “a nice one-two punch of refreshing creativity that give the proceedings a much needed spark of interest and vitality”. I have to agree.
Hey Hey, an upbeat instrumental, has more than an air of Elton John’s Crocodile Rock about it in its first half. The more one listens to Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles work, the more one spots the purloining of riffs and passages from other songs. Tug Of Peace has a nice sounding drum intro with great stereo sound. The track has great rhythm and another good bass line, but as a song it doesn’t really get anywhere. It has a good vibe though.
Through Our Love is a nice, slow closer but very over-synthesised. Maybe that’s where the opinions about synthesisers comes from.
This is a pleasant album, not nearly as bad as people say, but, unfortunately, it will always be the case that any work of Paul McCartney’s is measured against his Beatles output.
Flowers In The Dirt (1989)
My Brave Face/Rough Ride/You Want Her Too/Distractions/We Got Married/Put It There/Figure Of Eight/This One/Don't Be Careless Love/That Day Is Done/How Many People/Motor Of Love
"The relationship between Costello and the former Beatle was "not entirely harmonious" - Mark Lewisohn
Paul McCartney's stock had fallen a bit by 1989 and he needed to get back in the groove. He decided to team up with Elvis Costello to try and rekindle his enjoyment in the studio, writing and recording, again.
My Brave Face is a punchy, bassy catchy rocker, co-written with Costello, to start off with, while Rough Ride is an extremely convincing pice of white reggae in The Police style. It actually comes off really well, which attempts to play reggae don't often do. You Want Her Too is a duet with Elvis Costello that is muscular and vibrant, with both vocalists straining their throats somewhat. For some reason, it doesn't quite come off for me, as indeed the McCartney/Costello partnership didn't. I love both artists but I feel Costello was always too ascerbically cynical to gel well with the sincere McCartney. Apparently they didn't get on 100% successfully in the studio, either.
Distractions is far more of a McCartney song and is laid-back and lyrically tender, musically too. It is harmlessly fetching. Despite writing and recording a whole album's worth of songs with Costello, only four were used and typical McCartney material like this were used instead. Fair enough, much as I love Costello, this sort of thing is what I expect from Paul McCartney. We Got Married fits into the same category too. The good thing about this album is, that despite being recorded in the late eighties, it is quite a rocking album and not buried under waves of synthesisers. Put It There is wistfully folky and bucolic, but a bit blighted by a huge thumping drum sound.
Figure Of Eight is a catchy, Wings-like rocker with some attractive guitar parts near the end and a convincing vocal from McCartney. This One is another very recognisable McCartney moment. I guess there is nothing special about stuff like this, but there is a vague reassuring quality to it. Nice bass and solid, warm drum sounds on it.
Don't Be Careless Love is an inventive, quirkily appealing Costello co-write and there is another in the slightly grating and funereal That Day Is Done. For me, though, it doesn't quite cut it. How Many People sees a return to some reggae, this time with a lighter, summery touch. It is a bubbly number. Motor Of Love is a slightly indulgent, Beach Boys laid-back, multi-textured number to end an album which had been given the old "return to form" cliché. Despite being an ok album, McCartney was now seen a very much as an anachronism. As we moved into the nineties, though, it was the "grand elder statesman" image he would be given, so things were on the up.
Off The Ground (1993)
Off The Ground/Looking For Changes/Hope And Deliverance/Mistress And Maid/I Owe It All To You/Biker Like An Icon/Peace in The Neighbourhood/Golden Earth Girl/The Lovers We Never Were/Get Out Of My Way/Winedark Open Sea/C'mon People
"I decided to record the album "live in the studio", meaning that the band would rehearse an entire song then record it in one take, instead of recording each vocal track and instrumental track separately. This approach gave a raw, direct feel to the work" - Paul McCartney
This album is often condemned as being one of Paul McCartney's worst, which is somewhat unfair and does it something of a disservice. It is nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be. Personally, I prefer it to Tug Of War or Pipes Of Peace from ten years earlier. It is quite a direct, rocky album and eminently listenable. There is no "whimsy" on it either, always a good thing for me.
Off The Ground, the title track, is a catchy, upbeat number with a hooky "sha-la-la" chorus, while Looking For Changes is a riffy, lively rocker, with some excellent guitar. It is a "cause" song concerning animal welfare and animal testing. In fact this is one of McCartney's most political albums. Having said that, it is hardly Billy Bragg! He sings of a desire for peace and of hope on many occasions. Hope And Deliverance is song that speaks of a wish to come out of "the darkness that surrounds us...", albeit of a jaunty, rhythmic backing. The staccato, Lennon-ish Mistress And Maid, co-written with Elvis Costello, (no doubt left over from the Flowers In The Dirt sessions) is an interesting number. I Owe It All To You is an enjoyable mid-pace rock ballad. Biker Like An Icon is a bit silly, lyrically, at times but it has a solid bluesy thump to its upbeat rhythm.
Peace In The Neighbourhood is an invigorating and appealing number. It is just an ordinary McCartney, easy-listening rock number, but none the less pleasant for it. Golden Earth Girl is a pastoral-ish, beguiling number, with some evocative, melodic brass sounds near the end. The Lovers We Never Were is the other Costello co-write on the album. It is clunky and lyrically quirky, as you might expect. Get Out Of My Way is the album's one real, fast-paced rocker, featuring some rocking guitar, barroom piano, fabulous bass from McCartney, along with an energetic, enthusiastic vocal too.
Winedark Open Sea is the one often chosen to represent this album on compilations (such as "Pure McCartney"). It is a folky, engaging and profound number with bags of appeal. C'mon People is a fine, lengthy, atmospheric closer, with an uplifting, singalong refrain. This hasn't been a bad album at all. Sure, it is not a special album, but it has its underrated moments.
Flaming Pie (1997)
The Song We Were Singing/The World Tonight/If You Wanna/Somedays/Young Boy/Calico Skies/Flaming Pie/Heaven On A Sunday/Used To Be Bad/Souvenir/Little Willow/Really Love You/Beautiful Night/Great Day
"The Beatles Anthology reminded me of the Beatles' standards and the standards that we reached with the songs. So in a way it was a refresher course that set the framework for this album" - Paul McCartney
For this album, Paul McCartney wished to return to a "back to basics", less grandly-produced and tuneful approach, with simple, direct songs, often with an acoustic backing. The songs were intended to be catchy, immediate in their appeal and unassuming. By and large he achieved his goal with this highly listenable, pleasant album.
The Song We Were Singing is an appealing song with gentle acoustic-backed verses and a big, thumping chorus. The World Tonight is a classic piece of solid McCartney, easy on the ear rock, with his bass superbly melodic. If You Wanna is another nicely chugging, mid-pace, warm rocker. There is some excellent guitar backing on this one and a crystal clear acoustic backing riff. A song like this sounds like mid-sixties Beatles updated, as they would sound if they were still putting out material. This would be typical of McCartney's contributions. I really like this one. Somedays is a lovely, acoustic/vocal reflective, almost pastoral number. The guitar work, strings and woodwind near the end is very fetching. Only McCartney can write this sort of thing. Yes, he often strays into over-sentimentality, but this is not one of those occasions.
Young Boy is another of those gently rocking numbers that no-one could possibly take offence to. It is catchy, engaging and enjoyable. Calico Skies is wistfully sublime, one of his most appealing folky-style acoustic songs. Flaming Pie is very Wings-esque, for me, with some Lady Madonna-ish piano. Heaven On A Sunday is another gentle, laid-back acoustic and rhythmic number that again does not get over-sentimental, but is a sensitive song. If this had appeared on a Beatles album, it would have been hailed as a work of genius. Some sumptuous electric guitar soloing on it too, played by the legendary Steve Miller. Miller appears next up on the bluesy rocker Used To Be Bad. A lot of people don't seem to like this track, reading around here and there, but I love it. It has some stonking guitar, a great bass underpinning it and great vocals. It is one of my favourites on the album.
Souvenir is another bluesy, guitar-driven rocker with a soulful edge to the vocal. Little Willow is another tender, softly-delivered quiet number. Really Love You sees the temperature rise again with a cooking hot bass-driven disco/bluesy number, featuring a great McCartney vocal (that is almost Jagger-esque on the high bits) and a huge throbbing bass line. Beautiful Night is a classic mid-pace McCartney song, full of captivating atmosphere and hooks. Great stuff. Great Day is a quirky closer to the album, but it is slightly blighted by an enormous thumping drum beat that is not actually necessary, something McCartney seems to like using occasionally, usually to the detriment of the song.
A lot of Paul McCartney's albums suffer from being thought of as "just another Paul McCartney album". I know what is meant by that. This is not one of those albums, though, it is better than that.
Paul McCartney was knighted in 1997. Photo below.
Run Devil Run (1999)
Blue Jean Bop/She Said Yeah/All Shook Up/Run Devil Run/No Other Baby/Lonesome Town/Try Not To Cry/Movie Magg/Brown Eyed Handsome Man/What It Is/Coquette/I Got Stung/Honey Hush/Shake A Hand/Party
"He wasn't thinking it was going to be the next big record. He was just free to enjoy himself" - Chris Thomas
This was Paul McCartney's equivalent of John Lennon's Rock And Roll. He enthusiastically revisits his favourite rock 'n' roll songs, pretty convincingly.
Gene Vincent's Blue Jean Bop is an excellent, lively opener, full of vogue and a great bass sound. She Said Yeah, most famously covered in the mid sixties by The Rolling Stones, sounds strangely muffled, it has to be said, as if it needs turning up. It is odd, because the next track, Elvis's All Shook Up sees a return to a normal volume level and a clarity of sound. McCartney rocks it up on this one, with another throbbing bass run and an excellent vocal. He continues the all-out rock vocal attack on his own composition, the rocking Run Devil Run which sounds just as if it were from the late fifties anyway. A lot of this album's tracks are relatively obscure covers, as opposed to All Shook Up-type tracks. A classic example is The Vipers' rumbling No Other Baby, which has an air of some of Bruce Springsteen's contemporary material to it, in places. Ricky Nelson's Lonesome Town is sung in a typical late fifties/early sixties slow rock 'n' roll style, with echoes of The Beatles' Oh! Darling.
Try Not To Cry is another McCartney original - a mid-paced bluesy rocker, while Movie Magg is an obscure Carl Perkins country song given a contemporary makeover, with some impressive guitar in the middle. Chuck Berry/Buddy Holly's Brown Eyed Handsome Man also sounds a bit country, with some Cajun-style accordion. It is actually far less rocking than Holly's version, with a definite Cajun shuffle to it. Why It Is is the last of three McCartney songs and it is an upbeat, infectious number. All the self-penned tracks sound completely authentic to the era and suit the album perfectly.
Coquette is a rare Fats Domino 'b' side and has the slow piano-driven bluesy sound that he made his own. Elvis' obscure I Got Stung is given a full-on vocal and musical attack. McCartney's enthusiasm in recording this stuff comes across loud and clear. Big Joe Turner's Honey Hush was also covered by Elvis Costello on Almost Blue. It is given a suitably big, bluesy rocking feel here too. Faye Adams' Shake A Hand is a slice of rock 'n roll blues and, although its production here is a bit cloudy, it still has a powerful bluesy feel to it. The album closes with a punky, breakneck version of Elvis's Party. Great stuff.
This is a good album. Sooner this than more messing around with Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder anyway. McCartney revisits his roots, successfully.
Driving Rain (2001)
Lonely Road/From A Lover To A Friend/She's Given Up Talking/Driving Rain/I Do/Tiny Bubble/Magic/Your Way/Spinning On An Axis/About You/Heather/Back In The Sunshine/Your Loving Flame/Riding Into Jaipur/Rinse The Raindrops
"I thought it was a great sentiment, and immediately post 9/11, I thought it was the right sentiment. But it got hijacked. And it got a bit of a militaristic meaning attached itself to it, and you found Mr. Bush using that kind of idea rather a lot, in a way I felt altered the meaning of the song" - Paul McCartney
After the excellent, melodic rock of Flaming Pie and the rootsy rock 'n' roll covers of Run Devil Run this was another credible Paul McCartney album. It was also maybe his last one constructed as one to still appeal to the contemporary music-buying public as opposed to later ones, which seemed to almost revel in the ageing process at times. There was, thankfully, no "whimsy" on here, such as appeared on later albums. It was far more of a slightly arty, melodic rock offering. It was not as straight ahead rock as Flaming Pie had been. There is more experimentation with different sounds and moods. It is actually quite an inscrutable album, quite difficult to pigeonhole or characterise.
At sixteen tracks, it was a typical early 2000s album, full of well over an hour's music. Too much for my liking. I prefer the old seventies forty-five minute albums. The sound quality is excellent too, not affected by the off-putting, crashing loudness which blighted "Memory Almost Full" in particular, and, to a lesser extent, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. Here it is rich, warm and bassy, as it should be.
Lonely Road is a muscular, confident rocker of an opener, with a throaty vocal. From A Lover To A Friend is a solid, slow rock ballad with a laid-back, dreamy vocal and delicious, rumbling bass line. McCartney's delivery is almost improvised in a bluesy jazzy way at times. She's Given Up Talking is full of buzzy guitar and intense, moody drum backing, plus some contemporary scratchy sound effects. Driving Rain is recognisable Paul McCartney, with airs of both The Beatles and Wings, but it also has contemporary instrumental stylings. It is this sort of thing that makes this a more credible, memorable album than others. I Do is a short, melodic ballad, with a fetching vocal and another lovely bass line and some Beatles-esque brass sounds near the end. Tiny Bubble has echoes of Queen's eighties material in small places, for me, although others may not pick up on that at all. Something about the "all the world's a tiny bubble" refrain.
Magic is a pleasant enough number that just washes over but doesn't particularly stick in the mind. Your Way is a Wings-like appealing love song. Spinning On An Axis tries to create a hip/hop style groove with its staccato vocals and big, shuffling, resonant drum beat. It is actually quite an intoxicating track. About You is a thumping, chugging rocker. Heather was in tribute to his wife at the time, and is a tuneful instrumental at the beginning, with bits of prog-rock style guitar and organ interplay, some ambient vocals appear at the end, without any real discernible meaning and what sounds like a sheep bleat in the background at the end.
Back In The Sunshine Again harks back to Wild Life from the early seventies, for me. It has a scratchy guitar sound and a vocal that takes me back to that earlier track. It has an understated mysterious appeal to it. Your Loving Flame starts slowly, with a beguiling, wistful vocal and crashes into a big guitar part in the middle and some lovely organ in the backing. That's it now for regular tracks. Riding Into Jaipur features Indian instrumentation that, of course, George Harrison would have loved. McCartney's vocals, intended to fit in with the Indian sound, leave a bit to be desired, however. Rinse The Raindrops goes on for over ten minutes. It is full of fuzzy guitar breaks and pounding drums and a convincing, committed rock vocal from McCartney. As a four minute rock number, it would have been fine. After not even three minutes it turns into an extended studio jam, with occasional returns to the vocal, like the stuff at the end of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass. Having said that, there is a funky organ rhythm underpinning it and a general lively feel all round. I quite like it, but the last two minutes are pretty superfluous. Freedom was a response to September 11, 2001. It is very Lennon-esque in a Power To The People sort of way.
Overall, I prefer the smoother, warmer tones of Flaming Pie, but this is certainly an impressive, relatively innovative offering.
Chaos and Creation In The Backyard (2005)
Fine Line/How Kind Of You/Jenny Wren/At The Mercy/Friends To Go/English Tea/Too Much Rain/A Certain Softness/Riding To Vanity Fair/Follow Me/Promise To You Girl/This Never Happened To Me/Anyway
"My initial reaction was one of terror, not only because it's a very important person, but I really wasn't sure how willing he would be to get his hands dirty" - Nigel Godrich - collaborator
After three excellent albums in Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run and the underrated, slightly experimental Driving Rain, Paul McCartney returned to the "solo" concept of McCartney and McCartney II in that he played nearly the instruments himself on this one.
Fine Line is an extremely catchy opener, and How Kind Of You builds into quite an impressive slower number, with some nice bass and percussion. It is not quite as much of a "stripped down" album as one might expect, containing some full, varied, punchy and solid instrumentation. Jenny Wren is a return to the acoustic Blackbird style that McCartney had not employed for quite a few years now. These have never been my favourite type of McCartney songs, but this one is pleasant enough, staying a fair way from twee. More than you would expect. At The Mercy is a plaintive, short typically McCartney piano and vocal ballad. Friends To Go is a jaunty, short, melodic and appealing number. All these songs are perfectly enjoyable, but I have to say I preferred the lengthier, more rocky numbers of the previous three albums.
English Tea is McCartney at his absolute worst, for me, I'm afraid. It is twee and positively dreadful. "Whimsy" to the highest degree. As is often the case with these songs, it is insufferably catchy and quite evocative. I still can't bring myself to really like it though. It is the one track from the album that sticks in my head, though, all the time. So, there you go. Too Much Rain restores things somewhat, as does the Elvis Costello-esque A Certain Softness. The beguiling, laid-back Riding To Vanity Fair is worth more than a few listens.
Follow Me is very much typical of later-era Paul McCartney material. It is perfectly ok, but it has lost that rock vitality of the afore-mentioned albums and helps to put this album in the category of "just another Paul McCartney album". For me, stuff like this is nothing particularly special. Promise To You Girl starts very Beatles-ish before bursting out into some Venus And Mars-style Wings rock. Both This Never Happened To Me and Anyway are very Wings in style. Both are perfectly pleasant and inoffensive, but, for me, this is nowhere nearly as enjoyable as McCartney's rockier, bluesier material. (Funnily enough, the closing track, Anyway has a "hidden" bit of rock/dub instrumental at the end, for three minutes or so, which is the best bit on the album).
Memory Almost Full (2007)
Dance Tonight/My Ever Present Past/See Your Sunshine/Only Mama Knows/You Tell Me/Mr. Bellamy/Gratitude/Village Clothes/That Was Me/Feet In The Clouds/House Of Wax/The End Of The End/Nod Your Head
"I actually started this album, 'Memory Almost Full', before my last album 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard'" - Paul McCartney
Recorded when he was 64, the age he sang about so many years earlier, Paul McCartney alludes to his age on both the title of this album and its cover and in some of the lyrics. Taking that into account, one may expect the album to be reflective and quiet. Actually it is quite refreshingly upbeat.
The sound and production has long been a matter for discussion on this album, as it is deafeningly loud and needs to be turned down lower than most albums. I am someone who likes his music loud, but it is too much for me at times, and actually unnecessary.
The lively mandolin riffs of the singalong Dance Tonight introduces the album in a positive, carefree manner and My Ever Present Past, while speaking of his past, is a thoroughly enjoyable, punchy pop number, with some excellent guitar and a generally upbeat vibe. See Your Sunshine is a rhythmic, staccato number, which features an excellent, rumbling bass line from McCartney and a Wings-style melody. Only Mama Knows begins with some Beatles-like strings before launching into another very appealing, pop rock number. It is a great song, full of life, but it is blighted somewhat by a dense background production. It, unsurprisingly, sounds much better played live on Good Evening New York City. You Tell Me is a typically plaintive McCartney bleak ballad, complete with that higher pitch of voice he uses for this type of song.
Mr Bellamy is a quirky, frankly odd song that still has its interesting moments, but I can't really get into it. Maybe I should try harder. I never like giving up on a song. Gratitude has McCartney in full Oh Darling rasping vocal form. It also has some Beatles-style orchestration.
The album now heads into a five song "medley", beginning with the bassy, jumpy rhythms of Vintage Clothes, with more Beatles noises in the backing. The more you listen to it, the better it becomes. That Was Me is very reminiscent of Elvis Costello's nineties/2000s work, both musically and lyrically. It also lays on lots of nostalgia. Feet In The Clouds is a wistful, acoustic and, once more, nostalgic look back to his growing years. House Of Wax is a mysterious, dense number that needs time to seep into your consciousness. It is a bit bombastic in its production but there is some excellent industrial guitar at the end. The End Of The End is very Beatles-esque song that has McCartney singing abut the day he dies. The albums ends, incongruously, with a short sharp slice of searing guitar and drum-powered chunky rock in Nod Your Head.
I can't help but feel that however tender and sensitive parts of the second half of this album are, it is the first half that is the more instantly appealing. Maybe the "suite" in the album's second half just needs more attention. It is certainly inventive and adventurous. As I said about Vintage Clothes, the more you listen to it, the better it sounds.
Amoeba Gig (2007)
Twelve years after Paul McCartney performed a "secret gig" at Hollywood's Amoeba Music Store, it has finally been released in its full 21-song set list format.
The sound on the album is excellent, big, bassy and thumping. The set it is similar to 2009's Good Evening New York City concert - a mix of contemporary solo material from Memory Almost Full (five songs), Wings stuff (actually only one track when you add them up!) and Beatles classics (eleven songs), particularly at the end.
The contemporary songs are good, like the Wings-ish Only Mama Knows, the singalong folky fun of Dance Tonight, the beautiful Calico Skies and the entertaining, tongue-in-cheek That Was Me. Add to that the brief heavy rock of Nod Your Head. Wings' C Moon is delivered energetically and he sounds as if he is really enjoying it. Here Today, written for Lennon, from the Tug Of War album has McCartney, movingly, choking on tears at one point. He pulls himself together afterwards, sort of laughing about it, before launching into a pounding Back In The USSR. McCartney and the band are on fire here. It is good to hear new material, though, like the sombre rock of House Of Wax, as opposed to "greatest hits".
Also making an appearance are a couple of old-time classic covers in a goofy minute-long Baby Face and, more credibly, Carl Perkins' Matchbox. McCartney always loved Perkins' material. It is performed here really well, full of verve and bluesy rocking vibrancy. I like hearing McCartney rock out like this. It is also a surprise to hear I've Got A Feeling from The Beatles' Let It Be too. This would also be performed on Good Evening New York City's set list. Once more, it is done very impressively. It is worth getting these live albums, not for Hey Jude etc, but for things like Matchbox and I've Got A Feeling. The same applies to Rolling Stones live albums, I get them for two or three unusual cuts on each one.
So there you go, another Paul McCartney live album, but it is a good one (as they all are), with the band on top form and a general feeling of enjoyment prevailing, as often comes across on these small audience gigs. I really like it.
Finally, a mildly amusing moment comes right at the end, before I Saw Her Standing There when McCartney tells the audience that Ringo Starr is present, only to find that he has already left. "Elvis has left the building..." says a briefly befuddled McCartney.
Good Evening New York City (2009)
This is the best of the Paul McCartney live albums. The sound quality is excellent throughout - full, deep and bassy, as a live gig should be. The set list is superb - going on for a good two hours - and is a pleasing mix of later period solo songs, Wings classics and Beatles crowd-pleasers, plus a few rarities thrown in. Very much like David Bowie's Reality concert from 2003.
In the rarities category are Beatles songs Blackbird, I'm Down and I've Got A Feeling, from Let It Be. It is good to hear Helter Skelter and Back In The USSR as well. From Wings, Let Me Roll It is always a muscular, energetic pleasure to experience and Mrs Vandebilt gets an airing. Only Mama Knows, Dance Tonight, Sing The Changes and Flaming Pie are recent-ish solo songs that transfer well to live performances. Highway from The Fireman is a big, thumping rock number that sounds great too. McCartney's band is bang on the money throughout. The bass solo at the end of Hey Jude is sublime. A shout out for McCartney at the piano for The Long And Winding Road and My Love too. The CD recording leaves out the introductory chat/"banter" before the songs, and I prefer that, although I know some like it left in, feeling it adds to the concert experience. Personally, I just want to listen to the music.
The DVD is really impressive too, although McCartney's afore-mentioned "banter" is a bit cheesy (aren't they all guilty of this though?). The picture quality is top notch and the sound is good, although it is better on the CD (as is always the case). a pity one cannot sync the film with the CD sound.
Kisses On The Bottom (2012)
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter/Home (When Shadows Fall)/It's Only A Paper Moon/More I Cannot Wish You/The Glory Of Love/We Three (My Echo, My Shadow And Me)/Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate The Positive/My Valentine/Always/My Very Good Friend The Milkman/Bye Bye Blackbird/Get Yourself Another Fool/The Inch Worm/Only Our Hearts
"I pulled up some [songs] from my memories, when I was a kid and we had family sing-songs, which was the original inspiration for the whole idea" - Paul McCartney
This is an album of cover versions of "easy listening/crooning" songs that Paul McCartney remembers from his childhood. The are delivered in a fetching, appealing manner, with his ageing voice adding a nice feeling to what are mainly quiet, melodic and relaxing songs.
They are largely played in a jazzy style - lots of drum brushes, beautiful jazz guitar and a delightfully warm stand up bass. The sound quality is excellent and it makes for an enjoyable late-night listen. Yes, it is a bit in the Rod Stewart "Great American Songbook" fashion, both in the type of material covered and in the method of vocal delivery but somehow it doesn't seem as cheesy as those albums do in places. It has a nice ambience, like putting on your slippers for the first time in autumn and sucking a Werther's original. Very rock 'n' roll I know, but he wanted to do it, and clearly enjoyed it, so fair play to him. Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison regularly mine this sort of material these days. McCartney grew up in the same era, so it is unsurprising that these songs mean a lot to him. They are the songs his mother and aunties liked. He covers the songs evocatively and respectfully. I certainly play his regular material far more than I do this, but there is a place for this sort of album.
Some of my favourites are the most jazzy ones - the jaunty Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive and the smoky, late night feel of My Valentine and Get Yourself Another Fool. Stevie Wonder adds some trademark harmonica on Only Our Hearts, too. Ringo had earlier covered Bye Bye Blackbird on his Sentimental Journey album, back in 1970.
Egypt Station (2018)
I Don't Know/Come On To Me/Happy With You/Who Cares/Fuh You/Confidante/People Want Peace/Hand In Hand/Dominoes/Back In Brazil/Do It Now/Caesar Rock/Despite Repeated Warnings/Station II/Hunt You Down/Naked/C Link
"I liked the words 'Egypt Station.' It reminded me of the 'album' albums we used to make... 'Egypt Station' starts off at the station on the first song, and then each song is like a different station. So it gave us some idea to base all the songs around that. I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from" - Paul McCartney
Of course, many, many reviews will trot out the "return to form" quote in relation to this album. It is de rigeur for an album release from an artist who has been around a long while. Funnily enough, however it is probably correct for this one. The whole album is delivered with an age-belying effervescence that renders it most appealing. It actually avoids being labelled "another Paul McCartney album", in my view.
I Don't Know is a melodic, mid-paced pleasant opener, with shades of some of his mid-seventies work (a bit of a My Love "who-woh" bit in there at one point). The first thing that hits you is the quality of the sound. McCartney's albums during the previous decade were dogged by an often distorted sound, particularly Memory Almost Full. This album is not affected in this way, the sound is excellent, to my old, ravaged ears.
Come on To Me is a big, thumping, confident industrial blues rock number. Despite his ageing voice, McCartney sounds in control, strong and enthusiastic. The song has a killer brass break in the middle. There is a lot of energy, verve and vigour to this which is refreshing to hear from an artist at this stage in his career. The bass sound is big and full. I like it that way. Maybe some won't, but it is to my taste. Happy With You is a Wings-ish acoustic song telling of how he used to "get stoned" and "drink too much" in the past. His voice does admittedly sound old on this one, but heck, he is old. This is an old man's song of peaceful, satisfied reflection. A song from a man at peace with himself. It is actually quite touching. It is McCartney's What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong) type song.
Who Cares is a riffy, seventies-style rocker with some great lead guitar and bass. Again, it is very Wings in its feel. Fuh You is a tender but upbeat song with some nice verses, but it is blighted a tiny bit by a crashing chorus and some weird-sounding high-pitched backing vocals. Confidante has McCartney in a sad mood about a past relationship gone wrong. It has a strong acoustic backing and another impressive vocal and sumptuous bass in the middle passage. There is a melodic catchiness to this number that instantly makes it stick in the mind. People Want Peace evokes the spirit of his old mate Lennon, especially in the Give Peace A Chance clapping and chorus part. It is quite moving to hear him do this.
Hand In Hand is a beautiful song, backed by strings (cello?) and flute and a plaintive McCartney vocal. A short but lovely song. Dominoes gets back to some pumping, muscular rock over a beguiling lyric. McCartney's struggles to match the beat vocally a little during the rockier parts, but not to any real detriment, to be honest. The instrumental bit at the end is excellent, almost Beatles-esque in places. Back In Brazil is a short, impossibly catchy, rhythmic and lively number with some intriguing lyrics and a fetching delivery from McCartney. Is it an interesting song that shows he certainly hasn't lost his muse, musically or lyrically.
Do It Now is a delightful number, backed by a harpsichord-sounding keyboard and some philosophical lyrics. I wonder if this may be McCartney's last album. Who knows? If so, this is a wonderful song to appear near the end of the album.
Caesar Rock is an intense, powerful piece of solid, and once again, incredibly confident rock. Despite Repeated Warnings sees the album to its conclusion in reflective mood, initially. Its rocking change of pace half way through is very much like something from Venus And Mars. The big, cinematic synthesised brass bit at the end brings to mind Live And Let Die. It even has shades of Happiness Is A Warm Gun in the "yes we can do it" vocal part. It is by far the most adventurous composition on the album. Repeated Warnings? It will demand repeated listenings.
Hold on - there's one more track to come! Hunt You Down/Naked/C Link follows on from the extended, songs within a song style of Despite Repeated Warnings and gives us an Abbey Road style cornucopia to finish with. As with the previous number it is impressive and needs more than one listen.
On first listen, I am extremely impressed with this album and, while I am obviously an aficionado of McCartney's work, I am not an absolutely obsessed fan, so I feel my views on it are somewhat objective. I like it. And the great thing for me - no "whimsy" tracks!