Thursday, May 24, 2007

Macca the knife

By now, you already know the back catalogue for Paul McCartney (or 'Macca,' as he's affectionately known,) has finally made it into digital distribution circles (just in time for the buzziest Macca release in ages, Memory Almost Full.) It adds a lot of great music to the library, but it also unfortunately adds some real waste as well. Wild Life (1971,) Wings at the Speed of Sound (1976,) Back to the Egg (1979,) Pipes of Peace (1983) and that dogs of all dogs, Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984,) all need some desperate cutting.

I am, however, excited to have his first two solo releases, as both them, while critically panned at the time, feel ahead of their time in scope and feel. The minimal/nearly lo-fi approach of Paul McCartney (1970) and Ram (1971) seemed like a reaction to the wall-of-sound treatment that Phil Spector gave Let it Be's "The Long and Winding Road." In fact McCartney started his first recording in his home-built studio at the same time Spector was bringing in his opulence to those fated Let it Be mixes. The lack of production turned a lot of people off at the time, but the intimacy of the songs help close Macca's emotional distance, and, more importantly, they don't sound dated like some of his later fuller production with Wings (and moreso with his solo reboot in the 80s.)

Macca's self-titled debut was also the perfect reaction to being in a band for so long, as he plays every frackin' instrument. While there's little emotional impact from the songs (as his often the chink in Macca's armor,) the melodies are all there. "Junk" is recorded like a throwaway track (indeed it wasn't deemed worthy for The White Album or Abbey Road) but contains one of his most memorable melodies, and "Maybe I'm Amazed" might very well be the best song he's ever written.

His second album, Ram, was recorded in a real studio with some help, but still retained much of the minimalist production that Macca was toying with at the time. "Too Many People" and "Smile Away" are two of the most underheard Macca gems. "The Back Seat of My Car" signaled a move back to higher production value, and "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" was a precursor a lot of the work he'd do with Wings. The reviews continued to be poor, and forming Wings helped served as a way to not have to take the brunt of the critics anymore. That's too bad, 'cause while Band on the Run was truly great, the rest of McCartney's work in that period is a mixed bag. It's fun to imagine what a solo McCartney would've sounded like through the rest of the 70's... without sheltering himself behind the Wings moniker, would he have been so willing to go so sickingly sentimental? Or was he just Linda-whipped and the rest was inevitable.

There's something to the Linda angle, as it took her tragic death to get him to back on track with the post-Linda trilogy (Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run, and Driving Rain.) Chaos and Creation in the Backyard furthered a necessary maturation in Macca, as he finally let go and let someone besides himself behind the board to co-produce (Nigel Godrich.) Now he's given up the reigns (almost) entirely with the forthcoming Memory in Full, which works very well.

The lead single ("Dance Tonight") is probably the simplist track on the album, but having Michel Gondry direct and Mackenzie Crook in your video more than makes up for it.

Here's the EPK for Memory in Full.

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