Album review: Paul McCartney, New (Virgin EMI)

 

Recently, Paul McCartney’s  long and  winding road has veered, bumpily, between peppy, populist highways (Olympics gigs, Diamond Jubilees) and more restless byways (an electronic music collaboration with Youth and the Nigel Godrich-produced 2005 album Chaos & Creation …). On the first album of original Macca-song since Memory Almost Full (2007), his split explorations lead to one destination: a spot where McCartney-isms, vintage and modern, meet mostly amicably.

The title and multi-producer (Paul Epworth, Ethan Johns, Giles Martin, Mark Ronson) pitch a whiff of modishness, but McCartney no less strains to hide his roots and mileage than gives in to nostalgia here. Cherished history is invoked as “On My Way to Work” revisits “Penny Lane”, but Giles “son of George” Martin’s spacious production makes light work of it. “New” echoes “Got to Get You into My Life” and celebrates forward-thinking so seamlessly that even Ronson’s decaff-soul horns can’t deaden it. And, in its electronically buffered flush of Roy Orbison-esque romanticism, “Looking at Her” reiterates Macca’s way with “silly love songs”.

Creaky rockers “I Can Bet” and “Everybody Out There” reiterate his weakness for fluff, too. But you’ll take the bumps for two weathered gems that remind us this is the man who co-wrote pop’s map. With tender fragility, the piano-backed “Scared” recalls “Maybe I’m Amazed”. “Early Days” is more reflective still, McCartney letting the cracks in his voice show as he summons “sweet memories” and lays renewed claim to his past. That’s a past few can measure up to, but McCartney gets closer to it here than he has in years. Kevin Harley

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