Back at the start of 2003, Paul McCartney was stuck in a rut. As a solo artist he was better known to anyone under the age of 25 as the Beatle who did ‘The Frog Chorus’ or ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ than any of the 19 albums he put out after the Fab Four split. ‘Live And Let Die’ was by Guns N’ Roses and ‘Jet’ was just the soundtrack to a funny sketch in Alan Partridge (a stereotypical McCartney fan). When his last solo album ‘Driving Rain’ limped outside of the Top 40 there was no sign that his creative flatline would change anytime soon, or that the public at large would give a toss if it did. McCartney was a nostalgia act. Something had to give.
With that in mind, his 2004 headline appearance at Glasto kick-started a renaissance. Then, this year, he rocked up at the ShockWaves NME Awards and hung out with the next generation of bands. He was treated as a godfather, not a grandad, by Franz, the Kaisers et al. McCartney was cool.
Finally, at the recommendation of Beatles producer George Martin, McCartney called Nigel Godrich, the man behind the desk when Radiohead made ‘OK Computer’ and ‘Kid A’ and the man who helped Beck transform from cartoon funk monkey to acoustic troubadour with ‘Sea Change’. Macca says that Godrich didn’t take any shit and told him which songs he didn’t like. He talked him into getting rid of his band and recording most of the instruments himself.
Despite all of this, ‘Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard’ is frustrating. Comeback single ‘Fine Line’ is a catchy but pretty inoffensive pop song, while ‘Jenny Wren’ is a nod to ‘Blackbird’ from The Beatles’ classic ‘White Album’.
‘English Tea’ and ‘How Kind Of You’ are as twee as their titles suggest but, when all appears lost, Macca pulls a couple of great ballads out of the bag which hint there’s still fire in his belly somewhere. ‘Promise To You Girl’ is a psychedelic ditty in the vein of ‘Because’ from ‘Abbey Road’, while ‘This Never Happened Before’ is on a par with many of his late-Beatles hits.
Sadly, as an album it still doesn’t quite work. By teaming up with Godrich, McCartney has come out of his safety zone and challenged himself in a way not seen since his first solo album way back in 1970. But the feeling remains that the one person who could really inspire him to write one final classic record was tragically murdered in 1980.