(First Solo Album, 4 out of 5 stars)
(1 ½ out of 5 stars)
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
It's a big Mac attack! Two of Paul McCartney's solo albums, his self-titled 1970 debut and its 1980 techno sequel, McCartney II
, have been turned into 2CD/1 DVD treasure troves with bonus tracks, rare in-studio footage, interviews and videos.
The four Beatles began working on solo projects even as the group's last two albums, Abbey Road and Let it Be were being prepared for release. Recorded in his home studio, McCartney's first solo album was finished in March 1970. The others asked McCartney to delay the release of the album until Let it Be was out; they even sent Ringo Starr to his house to make a personal request. (Uncharacteristically, the normally diplomatic McCartney kicked the affable drummer out.) Macca not only put the album out, he also made a public statement saying he was leaving the Beatles. Macca's announcement drove a stake through the Beatles' heart, but within days of its release, Paul McCartney was headed to #1 in the U.S.
Paul McCartney was packed with Beatle rejects (just as Lennon and especially Harrison's solos were), but just about any song The Beatles cut from their canon still qualifies as a classic. (It's the Beatles, kids, not Brownsville Station.) "Teddy Boy" had been earmarked for Let it Be; "Junk" had been written while The Beatles were navel gazing with the Maharishi in India in 1968 and "Maybe I'm Amazed," inspired by Paul's wife, Linda, was composed while the group was breaking up.
Some of the songs like the forty-two second "Lovely Linda" or the instrumental "Valentine Day" (a mere 1:40) are unfinished ideas or snippets (much like side two of Abbey Road). In retrospect, what makes Paul McCartney an amazing effort is that a) despite and probably because he was so prolific, Macca seldom reached such heights again; b) he played all the instruments himself, and c) the songs that are fully realized are among his best.
Forty years down the road "Maybe I'm Amazed" is still Macca's masterpiece. McCartney's chest busting vocal is saturated with sincerity (you can't say that about his "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "That Girl is Mine"). His guitar solos are biting, yet melodic and the arrangement builds to a dramatic peak riding atop a pounding piano and a hallowed organ undercurrent.
"Every Night" is the album's other song you'll want to play every day, a swaying acoustic ode that's actually an ode to domestic bliss ("But tonight I just want to stay in and be with you.")
Lyrics were never McCartney's meat (that was Lennon's legacy) but with Linda chirping along, the repetitive "Man We Was Lonely" bounces merrily along like a carriage ride in the country. "Oo You" is macho Macca, a growling tribute to his wife with Paul breaking out his Little Richard yelp ("Eat like a hunger Ooooo!") McCartney lacks Starr's subtlety as a drummer, but his raw enthusiasm gives "Oo You" an extra dose of dynamics.
"Teddy Boy" is the story of a mamma's boy told in the fable-like style of "Rocky Raccoon." McCartney's progression from folk to a gentle shuffle mid-song is a neat trick, as is ability to harmonize with novice vocalist Linda. "Junk" is melancholy without being to maudlin, with Macca comparing the debris in our hearts to the useless processions we collect.
Paul McCartney successfully launched the ex-Beatle's solo career, which continued even after Macca did the unthinkable by forming another band.
The second Paul McCartney CD has 24 minutes of bonus audio, including outtakes, demos and live performances.
"Suicide" was actually that elusive five seconds you first heard at the end of "Glasses/Hot as Sun." At its full 2:46, it's a peculiar piano based 30-ish piece of irony that recalls "Honey Pie" or one of Harry Nilsson's dark, pretty-on-the-surface tunes. "Nothin' doin' I call it suicide." All in all, Paul was right in leaving it off, there's nothin' doin' here.
Two sedate versions of "Maybe I'm Amazed" are included, the first, from the documentary One Hand Clapping, the second recorded live at Glasgow in 1979. Other Glasgow cuts include "Hot as Sun," which perks up thanks some Madi Gras horns. "Don't Cry Baby" is actually "Oo You" without the lyrics, which will give you a chance to listen to Paul's raw guitar work and snare-happy drumming; the previously unreleased "Woman Kind" won't make women's right's supporters very happy.
The archive footage is a forty-year old scrapbook and includes the origin of the baby in the jacket cover photo, the music video for "Maybe I'm Amazed" and film of Paul, the kids and his true love Linda in Scotland wrapped around a touching string ensemble version of "Junk."
The DVD's live performances of "Every Night" and "Hot as Sun" recorded at the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in 1979 have a little more energy than the audio takes on the second CD; "Singalong Junk" and "That Would Be Something" hail from an MTV unplugged performance in 1991. Nice to see Denny Laine (the guy who sang "Go Now" for the Moody Blues") and Hamish Stuart (singer/guitarist for the Average White Band) strumming away with Paul in their respective segments.
And Then There Were II
McCartney's puzzled "Say What?" expression of the cover of 1980's McCartney II says it all. McCartney II was a lark, a way for Macca to play around in the studio without pre-conceived material, which unfortunately means scattered ideas, toying around with 80s synthesizers and lame lyrics. As a result, it is a startlingly bad album for someone who was once a member of the world's greatest and most important band.
With its muted trumpets, mechanical vocal and waka-waka guitar, "Coming Up" is the album's best track. Too bad it's also the first; McCartney II is a marathon of bad judgment after that. The durable drumming in the bluesy "On the Way" shows that Macca paid close attention to Ringo's style. "Summer's Day Song" is short on words ("Someone's sleeping through a bad dream, tomorrow it will all be over for the world will soon be waking to a summer's day") but has a soothing synth as a string section backing.
"Bogey Music" is a good idea gone very bad thanks to too many special effects. And it's not called "boogie music" as you might suspect; Macca pronounces it "bogey music," like Humphrey Bogart's nickname. As they say in golf, Macca takes a bogey with this one.
Paul's cloying vocal, the garbage can beat and hornet's nest synths make "Temporary Secretary" permanently unemployable and "Nobody Knows" is drunken hillbilly music. Ironically, "Waterfalls," the one song McCartney wrote beforehand, is one of the worst: "Don't go jumping waterfalls, please keep to the lake. People who go jumping waterfalls can sometimes make mistakes." Indeed, Sir Paul.
McCartney II's value is enhanced by 47 minutes of extra audio (that's more than the length of the original album), although I'll never again waste ten minutes sitting through the synthesizer stank of "Secret Friend" or the egregious equestrian atrocity "All You Horse Riders." And why, for Tiny Tim's sake, did he include yet another version of that heinous holiday lump of coal "Wonderful Christmastime?" Well, at least you also get "Blue Sway," an orchestral film noir instrumental that should have replaced some of the smegma on the original release, plus "Check My Machine," which sounds like Frankie Valli in cahoots with the Parliament Funkadelic (which somehow works) and the live version of "Coming Up" we've come to cherish.
There's 52 minutes of bonus film, including three versions of "Coming Up." It's still a great inside joke to see Paulie sporting a Hitler moustache doing an imitation of Sparks' Russell Mael (look up Mael and you'll see) and describing the other rock icons he plays in the video. There's a 25-minute interview in which Macca admits that Paul McCartney II was a "mess around" that was made up as he went along that he didn't intend to release. Well, he got the mess right.
McCartney II may not be worth listening to, but the extras make it worth looking at. That would be something if two of Macca's best solo releases, Ram and Wings' first effort, Wildlife, get the same treatment. In the meantime, Oo you will be amazed with the remastered version of Paul McCartney.