Paul McCartney released 23 studio records with The Beatles, seven with Wings, and now, with New, has dropped 24 solo LPs on his adoring public. With 50-odd years of recording and 50-odd albums under his belt, it’s hard to imagine that he could really have anything more to say. He’s told all his John Lennon stories, and he’s sung about his three very public romances, so what else is there to chat about?
Well, a lot, as it turns out. New proves that McCartney’s still got a bit of kick left in him, though the way he harnesses that oomph isn’t always the best use of his time. New’s standout track is easily “Early Days,” a song that even McCartney says he’s incredibly fond of. A bit of a statement piece for an artist known for his romantic ditties and inability to offend, “Early Days” finds McCartney remembering his early years with John Lennon and The Beatles and taking issue with those who purport to know what it was like. Over simple instrumentation, McCartney jabs with lines like “They can’t take it from me if they try / I lived through those early days” and “So many times I had to change the pain to laughter just to keep from getting crazed.” It’s a stark, soulful look at the life and career of a guy who was, in fact, totally there. It’s McCartney’s best work in years and a reminder that while most of us think we’re well-schooled on what went on with the Beatles and with Yoko and with the Cavern Club, this guy is one of two left on the planet who actually knows for sure.
Other solid singles on the record include the opener, “Save Us,” and the rock-disco cut “I Can Bet,” both of which wouldn’t seem out of place on a Wings record. Similarly, “Queenie Eye” draws a little from McCartney’s Abbey Road school of work, something that’s never unwelcome. Even lyrically simple songs like “Alligator” soar on the combination of McCartney’s vocals and his stellar backing band’s instrumentation. The toms, especially, are huge on “Alligator,” and it just makes the song sound fantastic.
Where McCartney does fall flat on New is in his excursion into electronic sounds. While an innovator like McCartney certainly has every right to make whatever kind of music he wants, tracks like “Appreciate” and “Looking At Her” come off dated and flat. Instead of looping his vocals, it seems like McCartney just repeats them ad nauseum, giving the listener the impression that maybe he doesn’t quite get how electronic music works. It makes for a clunky listen, and ultimately distracts from the rest of a pretty good album.
New isn’t McCartney’s best record ever, but that’s a given. He made The White Album, for crying out loud. And Rubber Soul. And Ram. And McCartney. New isn’t bad, though; it’s actually pretty good. The singles are as vital as anything McCartney’s done in recent years, and in the case of “Early Days,” maybe even better. Yes, there are a few duds, but those missteps are forgivable. Even now, 50 years after The Beatles broke, New serves to remind the world that not only is McCartney still a smart songwriter with a sense of purpose and a way with words, but also that he’s got a history that’s beyond compare.