With a title as bold as Moby's Pilko/Bod-like head, you would expect its content to be either futuristically defining to the now, or playing a game of pun fun - this album title is typical British chalk and cheese. Paul McCartney knows his past, as do the millions, literally millions, of fans awaiting his releases with open arms and open ears. Though McCartney's post-Beatles career hasn't all been a taxi ride to the bank of acclaim. There's always a sense of intrigue and excitement surrounding McCartney's releases. It's not a feeling devoted to purchasing power like with the fab-five of today, it's a feeling of self-expression and personal desire to listen and understand why and how McCartney is releasing. His reception in the states is far more inaccurate and extravagant, thanks to their perceived quality of his rock god status. A song-writing idol, yes, but not in the range of today’s indie rock/pop bands, who have taken The Beatles sombre aspects a step too far. It’s a completely different reception in the UK. McCartney's solo output has been different strokes for different folks since Wild Life. The pure fact McCartney continues to release music comes down to his life experiences and personal life. Speaking about New, McCartney said: "This is a happy period in my life, having a new woman — so you get new songs when you get a new woman." He's absolutely right.
The Beatles were so defining in the 60s, not just because of George Martin's production, but because of the song-writing partnership of Lennon-McCartney. It was songs like "Love Me Do" and "Can't Buy Me Love" that set The Beatles apart from the early-60s drivel governmental radio was putting out. It was still relatively 'new', in 64', as Beatlemania took place. A young Daniel Johnston was just three years old, and soon to be acknowledged as the greatest ever outsider musician. 'Inspired by The Beatles’, it’s become a common saying. Musicians are inspired by the sound, the song-writing, the stature of what The Beatles were and what they have become. McCartney carried on the great Beatles stardom with Wings, albeit not as successful. They still had the archetypical singles needed to withstand media pressures and trans-Atlantic critics. McCartney's own solo career has been less about the single and more about the album product. He's been releasing solid albums throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. At the turn of the millennium, McCartney's quality dropped off with Driving Rain and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. There’s a fine line between success and commercial failure, however McCartney's solo albums have never faired this ying/yang fate, because let's face it - he's McCartney. His name is universally recognised - Sir Paul McCartney MBE - an artist that must be respected, no matter what your tastes suggest. The success of McCartney in both his solo and Beatles career cannot be compared to the successes of Simon Cowell, or a Mumford & Sons. New is the album where the inspiring becomes the inspired.
McCartney's 'new' sound is attributed to his use of four producers. "Alligator", though refined with the extensive use of harpsichords, it sounds too overbearing. Mark Ronson takes credit for this track, and it's clear where the focus lies - on the deafening electric guitar. The dinky digital keyboard riffs occur from time to time, like on "Queenie Eye", but you're always expecting more than just the regular accompaniment keys. McCartney's sound is grounded; it never quite takes off on New. It's still got the hooks and the song-writing structures, just without the push and cinematic vision needed for this sound to be substantial. The opening track "Save Us" is a perfect example of McCartney's flawed sound. Though impressive with gritty electric guitars and a thumping bass riff, nothing dominates the recording. Production wise, it's commercially viable, but as a stand-alone track, there's nothing to focus on but this guitar riff which only comes into the fray partially. The track is over before you know it and just like that, the listener is introduced to New.
The Giles Martin produced third track "On My Way To Work" is the weakest track on the album. It starts as a predictable acoustic track with poor vocal delivery. It continues with McCartney telling a story of his distant past as a driver's mate for Speedy Prompt Delivery in Liverpool. Take out all autobiographical elements of this track, and there’s bland instrumentation, off-putting vocals, and a progression not fit enough for an ex-Beatle. "Hosanna" has a similar effect on the listener. Without a defining instrument, or excerpt, McCartney's sound falls flat on itself. New's back album tracks are the stereotypical average recordings, standard enough for an album, but no way near interesting or distinctive enough to play live. "I Can Bet" differs due to its refrain, but again enters a confusing territory because the structure gets lost in the short verse.
New can be interpreted in a number of ways. Like many McCartney albums, you either like it, or don't like it. There’s no hating in McCartney's discography, he's never released a terrible album. Some critics pick the back album stories as standout tracks, other choose the C-list singles, either/or. This is a matter of taste and preferences. New isn't a comeback album, like Bowie's Mercury Prize nominee album The Next Day - a good album, but doesn’t merit a award nominee. Bowie's album failed to grab the full attention an artist of his nature should deserve. New doesn’t progress McCartney's career in any way. It's a simple album with love at the heart of all recordings. The self-titled pre-release single happens to be one of the better tracks, as expected. The recurring use of the harpsichord is one of the more interesting features on New. There's never a dull moment on this track, which is why it was released as a single. New's standout track is the Fleetwood Mac-esque "Early Days". With its lovely acoustic guitar progression and ballad-like sound, "Early Days" is easily recognised as the key track. McCartney's voice sounds mournful, something New lacks in general. This is generally a happy album with a happy man behind it all. Nobody can deconstruct New and say it's a sad album, because these songs are meant for the best of times, and to help you in your worst of times.
There's enough room for McCartney to experiment with "Appreciate". It's not electronic, as the modern genre goes, but it differs from the rock 'n' roll distinction so many fans have with McCartney's music. With "Appreciate", McCartney peels back from the general aesthetics of generic rock and depends on Martin's production skills to give his sound a far out reach. Martin also produced "Looking At Her", which features an electronic percussion riff, and the best rhythm guitar sounds on New. McCartney's sixteenth solo album has been lacking reverb, but "Looking At Her" makes up for what lacks. New is completed by the final track "Road", produced by famed producer Paul Epworth. Taking the electronics heard on the previous two tracks, Epworth does a good job at keeping the balance between electronics and studio stringed instruments.
New compares well to other McCartney releases this side of Run Devil Run. It has the energy and happiness of a warm gun, but lacks the innovation and distinction of a helter skelter in a Merseyside playground. "Early Days" is the one true highlight, with "Appreciate" and "New" acting as back-ups. The majority of New sounds rather dull, missing a hidden ingredient only McCartney can find. With or without this album, he's still Paul McCartney, and still one of the most recognised musicians on the planet. His voice is aging, but aging well compared to recent albums by Bowie, Dylan, and Cohen. New brings back memories of McCartney's past, both with The Beatles, and as a young adolescent in Liverpool. It's an interesting album because of the latter electronic fused tracks, but still crashes down with mediocrity on one too many occasions. New is an album worth the listen, and worth keeping in your library, with "Early Days" poised to be one of McCartney's best ever solo singles.