October 14, 2013

The Generic Genius of Paul McCartney in "New"

For Paul McCartney to name an album “New” in 2013 is almost as oblivious—or as brash—as the band Asia naming an album “XXX,” which they did last year. Try searching for information about either of those: in the latter case, you’ll suddenly find yourself looking at a tremendous amount of Japanese pornography; in the former, you’ll get articles about every McCartney project from the past fifteen years. But “New” is something more specific: it’s McCartney’s first collection of original material since “Memory Almost Full,” from 2007.

In the half decade since then, he hasn’t exactly been idle: there’s been a ballet score (“Ocean’s Kingdom”), a collection of standards (“Kisses on the Bottom”), soundtrack-only songs (“(I Want to) Come Home,” from “Everybody’s Fine”), collaborations (“Cut Me Some Slack,” with the two surviving members of Nirvana), and a series of lavish rereleases (most recently, a multi-disk set of the mid-seventies concert “Wings Over America”). The McCartney industry is enjoying such a boom that there is a legitimate question as to the necessity of new material. When there’s so much traffic in what’s old, who needs “New”? The lead single and title track attempt an answer, with instantly loveable Beatle harmonies, a touch of harpsichord, and bright backing vocals. But saying that Paul McCartney wrote a bouncy, prepossessing song on the high side of passable is like saying that a bird laid an egg.

McCartney has been famous at an unimaginable level longer for than nearly anyone else alive. But as he has headed into old age, he has addressed the matter with a kind of relentless professionalism that borders on impersonality. He isn’t Paul Simon, using rueful humor to get a foothold on mortality. He isn’t Bob Dylan, grizzling his way to the grave. He isn’t Neil Young, hurtling from primal enthusiasm to primal enthusiasm, or Leonard Cohen, wisely dissipating into a mist of erotic Buddhism. He’s Paul McCartney, and he’s Paul McCartney now the way that he was Paul McCartney ten years ago, or thirty, generically exhorting listeners to action or reminding them of glory of love or sketching the outlines of a less pleasant emotion (fear, sadness, unregulated anger) without any real specifics. On album after album, McCartney has been content to be a rock star seen from the outside rather than an artist seen from the inside. Fronting Nirvana was only ever going to be a style exercise that yielded a muscular song, quickly forgotten. When he performed at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, last week, his closing remarks to the students were laughably generic, in the Paul McCartney way: “You rock on. You be great. You be lovely in your careers.”

In that sense, “New” is a perfect Paul McCartney album. It’s filled with songs that are without meaning but not meaningless. Whether in the wonderfully eerie “Appreciate,” the lovely, Indian-inflected “Hosanna,” or the happily crack-brained nursery rhyme “Queenie Eye,” McCartney makes songs that work extremely well on their own terms while remaining largely sealed off from anything approaching real or raw emotion. “Alligator” is a sharp, bluesy song whose lyrics, about love’s liberating power, are defiantly characterless: “Could you be that person for me? / Would you feel right setting me free? / Could you dare to find my key?” And “Everybody Out There,” which deploys a full arsenal of McCartneyisms—a descending melody line, spiralling guitar, squiggles of keyboard, and background chanting that will remind people of Mumford & Sons but should remind them of “Mrs. Vanderbilt”—exerts a tremendous amount of energy to put across a platitude: “Do some good before you say goodbye.” The title track might be a love song for his third wife, Nancy Shevell, unless it’s a broad statement regarding universal optimism. “Save Us” (packed with guitar and at least one brilliant rhyme, “battle” and “that’ll”) might be a political manifesto, unless it’s a broad statement about hope. The songs aren’t especially irritating until you think too much about them, at which point you may start to feel foolish—not as a result of their limits but as a result of your own. If you come to a Paul McCartney album looking for ragged candor, you will be left wanting, and that’s not a koan so much as it is a warning label.

Much has been made of the fact that, on “New,” McCartney worked with a series of young producers: Mark Ronson (best known for his work with Amy Winehouse), Paul Epworth (best known for his work with Adele), Ethan Johns (whose father, Glyn, took a crack at early versions of the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” before it was turned over to Phil Spector), and Giles Martin (whose father, George, also had some passing acquaintance with McCartney’s former band). The four of them are responsible for the sound of McCartney’s record, but only in the sense that, when they made it, they made it in his image. “I Can Bet,” produced by Martin, is lightly funky and heavily orchestrated, the kind of thing that Wings was doing around “Back to the Egg.” The dark piano chords of “Road” have nothing on “1985.” And even those rare songs that don’t sound like by-the-numbers extensions of his earlier hits sound like extensions of his earlier experiments—remember, McCartney has been toying with circular composition, atonality, and ambient soundscapes for longer than his producers have been alive. The title of the album is almost comically inaccurate.

That’s especially clear in the record’s most interesting and least characteristic song, “Early Days,” an overt memoir of his Beatle past. Here, the rose-colored glasses come off entirely, as McCartney confesses that he’s wounded that others feel entitled to retell his history. “They can’t take it from me if they try,” he sings. “I lived through those early days / So many times I had to change the pain to laughter / Just to keep from getting crazed.” The details are spare and specific, anchored in time and place: “Dressed from head to toe / Two guitars across our back / We would walk the city road / Seeking someone who would listen to the music / That we were writing down at home.” Wounded, melancholy, and even a little defensive—the melodic callbacks to “Blackbird” are especially confusing (are life rights civil rights?)—“Early Days” is also the rare McCartney song that feels as though it was created honestly, by a real human, rather than strategically, by a corporate director interested primarily in promoting (or at least preserving) his brand. What’s most notable about “Early Days” is how it presents McCartney’s vocals. Johns has stripped away all the artificial sweeteners and busy arrangements and exposed McCartney’s voice for what it really is these days: frail and aged, able to convey sadness not as an effect but as a fact.

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/10/the-generic-genius-of-paul-mccartney.html

Photograph: Christopher Polk/Getty for Clear Channel

Track Listing:
October 14th (15th in the US) will see the release of Paul’s first album of brand NEW solo material in six years. 

The track listing has been revealed:

1. Save Us (produced by Paul Epworth)
2. Alligator (produced by Mark Ronson)
3. On My Way To Work (produced by Giles Martin)
4. Queenie Eye (produced by Paul Epworth)
5. Early Days (produced by Ethan Johns)
6. New (produced by Mark Ronson)
7. Appreciate (produced by Giles Martin)
8. Everybody Out There (produced by Giles Martin)
9. Hosanna (produced by Ethan Johns)
10. I Can Bet (produced by Giles Martin)
11. Looking At Her (produced by Giles Martin)
12. Road (produced by Paul Epworth)
13. Turned Out (Deluxe)
14. Get Me Out Of Here (Deluxe)

Executive Producers: Paul McCartney and Giles Martin
Mixed by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent

Total Running Time: 46:11

Talking about the album, Paul said: “It's funny, when I play people the album they’re surprised it’s me. A lot of the tracks are quite varied and not necessarily in a style you'd recognise as mine. I didn't want it to all sound the same. I really enjoyed making this album. It's always great to get a chance to get into the studio with a bunch of new songs and I was lucky to work with some very cool producers. We had a lot of fun.”

Paul worked on the album with producers Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Giles Martin.Commenting on the process, Paul said: “The original idea was to go to a couple of producers whose work I loved, to see who I got on with best - but it turned out I got on with all of them! We made something really different with each producer, so I couldn’t choose and ended up working with all four. We just had a good time in different ways.”

The album was recorded at Henson Recording Studios, Los Angeles;
Avatar Studios, New York; Abbey Road Studios, London; Air Studios,
London; Wolf Tone Studios, London and Hog Hill Mill, East Sussex.
Source: http://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/27639-paul-reveals-tracklisting-for-new-album

From Wikipedia:


McCartney had initially intended to trial four of his favourite producers and select the best to record the whole album with.[5] McCartney ended up recording with all four: Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin.[3][5] Martin produced the majority of the tracks and acted as executive producer on the album. Recording took place at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles; Avatar Studios in New York; Abbey Road Studios, Air Studios and Wolf Tone Studios in London; and The Mill in East Sussex.

Ronson had been selected following his set as DJ at McCartney's wedding to Nancy Shevell two years before production began. The producer noted that he was preoccupied with his own wedding occurring at about the same time as McCartney's, and had nearly forgotten to call him back to accept the offer. A few months after Ronson served as DJ for another McCartney event in New York, Ronson received a call inviting him into the studio. In total Ronson recorded three tracks: "New", "Alligator" and "Secret Life of a Party Girl", although the third track does not appear on the album.[6]


"I just started knocking something out on the piano, he started drumming to it, and I stuck a bit of bass on it and we had the basis of the song worked out."[7]
—McCartney on songwriting with Epworth, BBC News, August 2013

McCartney has said that the album would be "very varied. I worked with four producers and each of them brought something different".[7] The songs produced by Paul Epworth "weren't written" but improvised.[7] The title track, "New", is a "love song but it's saying don't look at me I haven't got any answers. It says I don't know what's happening, I don't know how it's all happening, but it's good and I love you."[7]

Other tracks are biographical: "On My Way to Work" was written about his pre-fame past alluding to his time working as a driver's mate for Speedy Prompt Delivery in Liverpool.[8] Similarly on the day McCartney composed "Early Days", he had been reminiscing about his past in Liverpool with John Lennon: "I started to get images of us in the record shop listening to early rock and roll and looking at the posters and the joy that that gave me remembering all those moments."[9]

Regarding contemporary inspirations, McCartney expressed that the album had been influenced by his marriage to Shevell: "This is a happy period in my life, having a new woman — so you get new songs when you get a new woman." He felt that New is generally joyful, but with an undercurrent of "pain getting changed to laughter".[9] Ronson referred to the song "Alligator" in particular as being "brooding" and "quite tough".[6] McCartney wrote "Everybody Out There" specifically to "get the audience singing along" and that he was particularly proud of "Early Days" and the hidden track "Scared".[10]


A "drive-in" listening event took place at the Open Road car dealership in Manhattan.

"New" was released as a single to the iTunes Store and SoundCloud on 28 August 2013.[3] The single came with the announcement that the album would be released on 14 October in the United Kingdom, and a day later in the United States.[7] A deluxe edition was also announced featuring two bonus tracks.[3] An official McCartney Instagram account launched at the same time the album was revealed.[11] McCartney debuted the songs "Save Us" and "Everybody Out There" at the third annual iHeartRadio Music Festival.[12]

On 23 September 2013, McCartney's news blog unveiled the final artwork for New, replacing the earlier minimal black and white logo used as a placeholder for online retailers. The logo and cover concept was conceived by UK art and design team Rebecca and Mike, with CGI created by Ben Ib. The imagery of fluorescent lights was inspired by the sculptural work of Dan Flavin.[13][14] The titles of the deluxe edition bonus tracks were also announced: "Turned Out" and "Get Me Out of Here".[13] Promotion later included a Twitter interview on 4 October, when McCartney answered fan questions related to the album.[10]

On 6 October, full-album listening events took place in the form of drive-ins: in the Los Angeles area fans brought their vehicles to the Vinland Drive-In, whereas in New York City listeners were taken to the rooftop of an Open Road Volkswagen dealership to sit in new cars belonging to the company.[15] The drive-in idea came about late into the promotional campaign, when McCartney had been listening to the album in his own car about a week before the event took place.[16]

On 10 October, McCartney and his band performed a surprise concert in Times Square after posting two short tweets announcing the event about an hour before it occurred.[17] The brief performance consisted of four tracks off the album ("New," "Save Us," "Everybody Out There," and "Queenie Eye"), lasting about fifteen minutes. The event gathered a large crowd and came a day after another surprise concert to 400 students at Frank Sinatra School for the Arts in Queens, New York. The performance at the school was filmed and will be streamed on Yahoo! on October 14.[18]


The first track to be released, "New", was greeted positively by critics and the musical press. As well as being selected as BBC Radio 2's Record of the Week[7][26] and placed on their A-list,[27] the track was greeted as the 'Track of the Day' by Mojo which praised its "doe-eyed optimism, irresistible melody" and "orchestrated pop arrangements".[28] Rolling Stone's Will Hermes, praised its "bouncy harpsichord-laden melody", giving it a four-star rating and drawing comparisons to the Beatles' "Got to Get You into My Life",[29] a view shared by The Daily Telegraph which described it as a "jaunty, Beatles-esque stomp".[30]

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_%28album%29