There has been an ever so slight shift in the Macca narrative in the past few years. The image of the slightly cheesy uncle has made way for the real story - of the only Beatle who immersed himself in the London Avant-garde scene whilst all the others absconded to the shires; the lo-fi self-recorder years before it was fashionable, the megastar who took his new band on the university circuit, the one who embraced the electro scene of the early 80s with gusto.
The way this frames ‘McCartney III’, the latest unintentional instalment in his self-recording trilogy, cannot be underestimated. Recorded in lockdown (he calls it ‘rockdown’, but no Paul) it seems that, when left to his own devices, McCartney produces his most real, immersive, and innovative work, and roles a mellotron in for good measure.
He seems to have embraced his thinning voice as an instrument instead of straining for the top notes, such as in White Album-worthy ‘Kiss of Venus’ or sparse album opener ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’. You do sometimes wonder, on tracks like ‘Slidin’ for example, what it would be like if he could let rip with his old Little Richard vocals, but this is a minor gripe. With this record, we’re getting the older McCartney that we’ve been wishing for, away from the self-imposed constraints of having to write a record that tours, some lead singles that sell; away from the arguably overproduced 21st century efforts; removed from a band too tight, a sound too polished, and all the better for it.
Highlights are many, but the parable-like ‘Women And Wives’, and eight-minute album centrepiece ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ belong on any McCartney setlist or best of. The latter almost has an Arctic Monkeys feel, a swagger that seems to have been found again in a locked-down Sussex studio. ‘Seize The Day’ is the closest we come to his recent material, and maybe the album could have done without it, but if this is collection is a snapshot of McCartney the man now, lyrics such as ‘It’s still alright to be nice’ sort of makes it belong.
He closes the loop on album finisher ‘Winter Bird’, back to the pastoral feel of ‘McCartney’. The only ‘collaboration’ on this LP - some of the track was produced under the watchful eye of a certain George Martin back in 1995 - it’s an appropriate codetta to what is so far a fifty-year long project.
It’s almost rude, approaching eighty, that McCartney has the ability to craft an addition to his back catalogue that’s not only worthy of some of the highest points that have come before it, but one that actively enhances the story. There have been utterances that this may be the end of something, a closing of a chapter, but if he can churn out a McCartney IV during the next apocalypse, I’d gladly listen.
Words: Matt Charlton
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