As if the Get Back sneak peek wasn’t enough Beatley joy for one day, my copy of McCartney III landed on the doormat. It’s an album I’d expected long before we had heard an official peep about it, as it’s hard to imagine what else Paul McCartney would do when plunged into lockdown other than get into the studio, and let the music flow. He’s responded to previous, more personal crises – the collapses of The Beatles and of Wings – with truly solo albums on which he played every instrument, experimented with technology, indulged all sorts of weird whims, and largely baffled music critics.
Therefore it wasn’t a great surprise to learn a third such album was on the way – yes, fuelled by hummus-and-Marmite bagels (his favoured recording session snack, as discussed on The Adam Buxton Podcast), McCartney had made the most of ‘rockdown’ and got busy in his personal studio at Hog Hill Mill.
I avoided much of the pre-release hype, so that I’d not heard a note of McCartney III ’til I could pop my headphones and give it the undivided attention that I feel a new record from the great man deserves.
It’s perhaps a little early for me to pick favourite tracks or say where it falls in the complex hierarchy of solo Macca. At a push, I’ll choose The Kiss of Venus as my highlight – it’s a delicate cosmic love song that could have been equally at home on the White Album or Venus and Mars, but works so well at the top of 78-year-old Paul’s vocal range, croaks and all.
My main initial impression is that the album is as ‘pure Paul’ as I’d hoped, a true sequel to McCartney and McCartney II, on which he once again pushes himself. For instance, he throws everything at the moody 8-minute centrepiece Deep Deep Feeling, chasing down every last harmonic idea and rhythmic quirk, ever more curious about the crazy sounds he can conjure all on his own. That’s all driven by the same restless musical instinct that resulted in the bonkers Temporary Secretary (and the even more bonkers Check My Machine) back in 1980. The freewheeling lead guitar on Lavatory Lil is executed with the same boyish glee as the noodling on Oo You and Momma Miss America fifty years ago. The bluesy Women and Wives is a whole new twist on Paul’s Fats Domino impression – both unlike anything he has attempted before, and unmistakably McCartney. A treasured upright bass (the very same Kay Maestro M-1 played by Bill Black on early Elvis recordings!) is put to good use here. In the closing seconds of the song, I can picture Paul beaming as he gives the string a final emphatic thump and slides lazily up the neck.
The album concludes with When Winter Comes, a gorgeous, wistful acoustic piece that lists tasks to be completed around the farm.
Must fix the fence by the acre plotWhen Winter Comes
Two young foxes have been nosing around
The lambs and the chickens won’t feel safe
Until it’s done
With its percussive acoustic playing and bucolic feel, it’s a sister song to Calico Skies. Lyrically it harks even further back, to the early 70s when Paul and Linda were raising a young family on their farm near the Mull of Kintyre. It’s a mark of an incredible songwriter that he can sit on a song this perfectly lovely for nearly 30 years. With its message of taking care for and pleasure in nature as the world changes around you, perhaps there’s no better time for Paul to finally release it.
Interesting McCartney III links
Twitter Listening Party
Tim Burgess’ Twitter Listening Party for McCartney III is available as a replay – Paul chips in with notes about the inspiration and gear behind each track and it’s a fun way to listen along.
The making of McCartney III
This is really for gear nerds like me, but if you want to know a little more about Paul’s Studer J37 tape machine or the signal path for his bass parts, this is gold – an extended interview with the engineer and technical manager at his studio, with plenty of new insights into his process.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
A typically great interview by Dr Buckles, ranging from Paul’s unexpected penchant for reality TV like American Pickers, to his opinions on Bob Dylan’s live act.
64 reasons to celebrate Paul McCartney
This essay by Ian Leslie is better than most books on McCartney, drawing on all kinds of sources to try and understand his ‘ordinary genius’. There’s bound to be something in here that’s news to you, or that sends you hurrying back to a particular album or song.