Review: Paul McCartney - New

Paul McCartney's New album is one of the most consistently pleasurable releases of the year.


You want to know a secret, and a scandalous one at that? I’ve never much cared for the Beatles. And it’s not for lack of trying. Every couple of years I get a wild hair up my ass and resolve to give the most iconic band in the history of popular music another shot. And every time, after a couple of weeks of listless listening, I give it up and go back to my beloved Stones.

It’s not that I hate the Beatles. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy a lot of their stuff. “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Let It Be” — obvious classics to which I’m certainly not immune. But here’s the catch — all of the aforementioned are McCartney cuts, as are the vast majority of the songs by the Beatles that I actually like. I can scarcely suffer Lennon’s later work with the group, and it’s this work that serves as the foundation for the band’s critical legacy.

Post-split, Lennon’s work becomes more odious still (my admission of which is a separate act of heresy I won’t bother getting into here). But I’ve grown to love a lot of McCartney’s much-maligned solo work. So, while legions of music lovers greeted the news of yet another McCartney record — the cheekily titled New — with a resounding “meh,” I felt a modest measure of excitement.

I say “modest” because McCartney’s solo work, good as it has often been, is never the kind of groundbreaking, earth-shaking music that engenders real fervor. McCartney’s chief virtue has always been his relative modesty. The music on New bears this out.

That’s not to say there aren’t surprises on this record. On the quirky, quasi-dance number “Save Us,” it’s the indelible riff that hooks you, even if it’s McCartney’s lovely vocal refrain that brings you back. The plaintive, aching “Hosanna,” a somewhat atypical melancholy moment, is an easy highlight, as is the stripped-down folk pop of “Get Me Out Of Here.”

Nonetheless, more often than not McCartney leans hard on his tried-and-true melodic gifts. “Alligator,” “On My Way To Work, “New,” “Looking At Her” — each is the kind of effervescent, stick-to-the-head pop treat McCartney has traded in for decades. Is it a little predictable? To be sure. Is it any less enjoyable on that account? Well, it shouldn’t be, but because popular music is so often judged less by its craft than its ambition, it’s unlikely that too many folks will consider this to be essential listening.

That’s unfortunate, because New will stand, in all likelihood, as one of the most consistently pleasurable releases of the year. Sure, the lyrics are sometimes a little silly, and the musical hooks are sometimes a trifle too easy. But even at its worst, this is fun stuff. Fun may be an undervalued quality in pop music today, but it is still one of the music’s cornerstones. And Paul McCartney is still one of the masters. [B]