Finally the trifecta is complete. Paul McCartney's third self-produced and self-written album, innovatively titled McCartney III sees the former Beatles rocker storm through everything from acoustic instrumentals to his best Sam Smith impersonation. There's no doubt it's a varied bag which would usually play into his hands.
McCartney has always been a jack of all trades; the last two McCartney albums proved that, giving fans the likes of Coming Up, Every Night and the brilliant Goodnight Tonight to marvel at. However, when they're combined with Temporary Secretary in the case of McCartney II, you do end up getting a mixed bag of results. In this third instalment, I can't help but think McCartney was leaning more towards his experimental side than the side of Paul the hitmaker.
I'm by no means berating his latest release from the outset; on the contrary, there's some great tracks here from its groovy opening instrumental Long Tailed Winter Bird, a reworking of an unfinished McCartney tune from several years ago. With its intricate guitar work and enchanted lyric, it's got this certain hypnotic quality and although there's some liberties with a five minute length, it blows his last attempt at an instrumental on Opening Station out of the water. Even with its simplistic nature, it's up there for me with the likes of The Beatles' 12-Bar Original and Cry For A Shadow. The following Find My Way sounds like it could easily be on his 2013 album NEW, the fresher sounding predecessor to Egypt Station, especially with its thumping horns and little interludes of harpsichord. On standout tracks such as this, McCartney manages to make it sound like it could be from the last McCartney release but it sounds as fresh as they come too. Being released in part as the album's lead single, it should come as little surprise that this one's undeniably catchy.
Continuing in the NEW vein comes the simple acoustic Pretty Boys which demonstrates what McCartney does best and the fundamentals behind what a McCartney album is designed to do. Sure, they might be experimental at times, but over the course of them, everything becomes stripped back to bare bones to work out what true music is. Think of it as a modern take on Every Night; nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it's fresh enough to sound great several listens later. It's from this moment on however that McCartney III turns in fortunes; the string of Sam Smith impressions (Woman and Wives) and odd rock and roll (Lavatory Lil') that follows doesn't leave much to be desired.
This is only compounded by the near nine minute Deep Deep Feeling. When I first looked at the track list and saw the song length, with this being McCartney, I was expecting a sound collage such as The Beatles' oddball The Palace Of The King Of The Birds with some simple but insightful McCartney lyrics over the top. What I got was something completely different. Where a long song is meant to tell a story such as Billy Joel's Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (as an aside, McCartney writing something in this vein would've been refreshing) or to be different enough in its individual components (Marillion's Bitter Suite segment from Misplaced Childhood) , Deep Deep Feeling meanders like there's no tomorrow. Much like Woman and Wives before it, there's an attempt from the former Beatle to almost modernise himself to try and appeal that little bit more to a younger audience. I can't help but think that during the writing process McCartney stuck on Radio 1, listened to the charts and thought "Ooh yeah, let's do something like that, y'know.".
It's following this three track suite of dulness that things start to pick up. Slidin' is the heavy rock and roll tune Paul was aiming for on side one, with its brooding attitude and seething vocal. The lyrics might not be groundbreaking - "And every time I try/I feel like I can fly" - but for a song with a such overpowering attitude, they don't have to be. It's almost a homage to the likes of Josh Homme and the Queens Of The Stone Age with its prowling guitar work. The Kiss Of Venus that follows harks back to the true intentions of the McCartney album, given it's just a guitar and the man himself with nothing else to get in the way of the music. Being such a simple affair means that it's an easy listen which after some of the other tracks here is certainly a welcome change.
The back-end of McCartney III acts a case in point when it comes to its nature as a mixed bag. In the final trio comes Seize The Day, Deep Down and Winter Bird/When Winter Comes; the first is another NEW sounding tune and what I think will eventually be considered one of McCartney's best hidden gems thanks to its optimistic tone and how everything just falls into place wonderfully. It's tracks like Seize The Day that make such varied albums a worthwhile listen as you're likely to find something hidden within it that outweighs some of its dodgier moments. However, the hard work of Seize The Day is undone by the following Deep Down. Much like Deep Deep Feeling earlier on, this one feels like a real trudge; listening to its repetitive and uninventive chorus doesn't really fill me with hope and whilst there were undoubtedly some oddball choices when it came to McCartney's earlier solo work and with The Beatles, none have felt quite so bland.
The same can't be said for McCartney III's final track though - Winter Bird/When Winter Comes is a sweet and festive little ditty where Paul concerns himself with all the tasks he needs to sort in the garden. There's something nice about his discussions of horticulture; it's a sign of his ageing and a realisation that he doesn't need to try and appeal to the youth on the likes of Woman and Wives. It's one of his most honest songs for decades and I'm sure that with time, it will become one of his most appreciated. This honesty also makes for some great and simple lyrics that just prove the point that if you made an entirely acoustic album of just McCartney's thoughts and feelings, then it would be incredible.
Summing up McCartney III is actually pretty difficult. There's no doubt that it makes for an enjoyable listen but it does come with a few issues. As mentioned previously, whilst it is stripped back, its more experimental elements overpower the rawness of some of its lighter, acoustic tunes. There's almost more airtime given to such tracks that causes this, but what it means is that with such a diverse selection, people won't be left short-changed when it comes to variety.
In a line, when McCartney III is good, it's absolutely marvellous; when it's not so good, things can go a bit haywire.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3mzuMxU
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
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