With producers Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin, Macca delivers his most enjoyable album in years
Perhaps it’s a symptom of our nostalgia-obsessed age, but over the last decade or so rock’n’roll has shed the stigma of getting older. Quips have been made about The Rolling Stones’ advancing decrepitude since they were lithe fiftysomethings, yet this summer, on the cusp of their seventies, they became the most popular headliners in Glastonbury history. Ten years ago, new David Bowie albums were met with mild dread and disinterest; today, they are bona fide cultural events. The same applies to Bob Dylan, who’s currently enjoying the kind of acclaim he has not known since the 1970s; and Fleetwood Mac, whose last few reunion tours weren’t quite the hipster circle-jerks the latest one has inexplicably become. Put simply, there’s never been a better time to be a pensionable rock legend with a new record.
All of which augurs well for Paul McCartney’s first collection of new songs in six years. His last album, ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ – 2012’s well-intentioned but utterly extraneous set of pre-Elvis jazz standards – couldn’t have sounded more septuagenarian if it had been given away with The Mail On Sunday. By contrast, ‘New’ initially seems in danger of veering too far in the opposite direction: there’s that godawful name for starters, not to mention the presence of It-producers such as Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth, two guys who fit the profile of what you imagine McCartney considers ‘with it’. Happily, ‘New’ avoids becoming another thumbs-akimbo entry into the Groovy Uncle Paul canon; instead, it’s his most enjoyable record in years.
The title track is probably the best example of this. ‘New’ sounds like the work of a younger McCartney – 47 years younger, if the ‘Revolver’-ish brass arrangement and melodic cap-doff to ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ are anything to go by – and Ronson’s retro-modernist production talents, far from sounding gimmicky, serve the song well. Indeed, it’s a shame that he only worked on two of the 13 tracks (there’s a ‘hidden’ track called ‘Scared’), particularly when the other one – the psychedelic whirligig of ‘Alligator’ – is better still. Likewise, you’ll hear echoes of ‘Blackbird’ on ‘Early Days’, although that song’s sentimental look back to the beginning of The Beatles is marred by McCartney’s longstanding preoccupation with ensuring everyone knows he was John Lennon’s equal, and not his junior partner. “Everybody seems to have their own opinion of who did this and who did that”, he grumbles, before asserting “they can’t take it from me”.
By now you’ve probably guessed that the album’s title is something of a misnomer, and that much of ‘New’ sounds quite familiar. But the track in which McCartney takes the title literally is one of the album’s few misfires. ‘Appreciate’, with its synthetic R&B drums and light-industrial guitars, is the sort of thing everyone involved probably congratulated themselves for, but it sits awkwardly with the rest of the songs.
There are a few others that don’t quite work – ‘Looking At Her’ tries to enliven a rote and unremarkable melody by punctuating it with strangled synth ululations, while ‘Hosanna’ is every bit as predictable as its title would suggest – and it goes without saying that any homage to the past never comes anywhere close to bettering it.
Still, if anyone has earned the right to stop being judged by his own superhuman body of work, surely it’s Paul McCartney. Don’t be misled by the title: ‘New’ is the sound of an old dog having fun with some old tricks.