FIFTY years on from Beatlemania and all that, you couldn’t blame Sir Paul McCartney for feeling history weighing heavy on his shoulders.
* * *
When you’ve been there, done that, and got a half-century’s worth of platinum records to prove it, what’s left enticing you back into the recording studio? It’s the question Macca posed himself with his 16th solo album, New.
The best answer he could come up with: gather a handful of younger producers and fool around with a diverse fistful of styles for the sheer heck of it, without straying too far from your roots. Not exactly a Johnny Cash meets Rick Rubin calibre reinvention. But as Cut Me Some Slack, McCartney’s screeching one-off jam with the surviving former members of Nirvana at the Hurricane Sandy relief concert in New York late last year hinted, when he finds the right foils there’s still life in the old dog yet, and so it proves here.
Four different producers – two of whom have family history with McCartney – contribute to a pair or more songs each. Grammy-winner Giles Martin is son of “Fifth Beatle” Sir George, while Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns’ dad, Glyn, engineered and mixed Let It Be. Paul Epworth helmed Adele’s multi-million-selling 21, while Mark Ronson masterminded Amy Winehouse’s retro-soul reinvention, Back To Black.
Propelled by a glammy guitar and piano riff, Save Us charges out of the traps before On My Way To Work sends Macca off on a wistfully nostalgic tip, imagining a suit “riding a big green bus” curiously observing the mundane world around him. The very Beatles-y title track is one of those songs you wonder whether McCartney hasn’t written before between the jangling harpsichord, burring brass and harmonic vocal hook, but it unlocks an enjoyable tingle of familiarity nevertheless.
Appreciate is about the furthest McCartney strays out of his comfort zone with its mildly hip-hop inflected groove, before a fuzzy slide blues solo helps him reset his compass. Everybody Out There could be Macca doing REM doing Dylan or vice-versa, while Hosanna sounds a little like one of Kurt Cobain’s Neil Young-inspired drawly ballads.
I Can Bet is a synth-licked rock’n’roller from the more Wings-y end of his songwriting spectrum. The final pair of tracks, Looking At Her and Road, contrastingly toy with electronic and ambient sounds – styles with which McCartney has previous from his side-project, The Fireman – and they feel like small, subtly adventurous triumphs. Like much here, they’re not exactly new, but not more of the same either.