Talk From The Rock Room: Paul McCartney – McCartney III - ‘It's Still Alright To Be Nice'

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Paul McCartney – McCartney III - ‘It's Still Alright To Be Nice'

Paul McCartney’s announcement of a new album recorded in ‘rock down’ sent excitement tremors through rock fans around the globe. In the spirit of 1970’s McCartney I and 1980’s McCartney II Paul used his allotted free time due to coronavirus restrictions to record a new album with all instrumentation, vocals, and production done by himself. The thematic connections between McCartney III and the other previous records are time, family, and creativity. I still need time to soak up the lyrical content, but will say I discern Macca’s usual optimism, but touched with an tension felt in the music as well. What makes this release even more thrilling is that this album wasn't planned. It's free and creative and there is no preconceived standard to adhere to for McCartney. The ‘rock room’ has listened to Macca’s new record and assert that once again McCartney has used an opportunity to create on his own terms and has come up in spades. Or in the case of McCartney III …. ‘Snake eyes’.

The album takes flight with the opening track ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ which is one bookend to the record with the closing track ‘Winter Bird (When Winter Comes) enveloping the other half. The opener focuses on a brisk acoustic riff which develops the songs internal melody. Displayed on acoustic guitar with rhythmic palm mutes, the song brings to mind lush mountainous highlands. The main lick midway becomes electrified while surrounded by drums and Mellotron wings. In what will be a theme for the recording McCartney uses stacked guitars and multi tracked vocals which call out from here and there to greet his avian companion. An airy opener and fine encapsulation of the rest of the record. 

Things stay up-tempo with ‘Find My Way’, a song that opens with a fuzzy keyboard and gated drums and that doesn’t take long to seep into your pores. Dual Macca guitars and dizzying overlapping waves of horns keep the alternating chord changes exciting. The middle eight of the song with Paul’s falsetto is an absolute joy. The song lands in a false ending and then restarts with some trippy cloud guitars before concluding. This one could and should be the single.

McCartney’s hallmark melodies have become more poignant over the years and with ‘Pretty Boys’ as well as ‘Woman and Wives’ he pulls from the well another sparkling plethora of unique twists on ageless McCartney lines. ‘Pretty Boys’ makes the ‘rock room’ think the songs inspiration possibly came from McCartney’s visit to one of daughter Stella’s shows. Acoustic based with a tapping percussion, McCartney’s well-worn breathy voice slips into the melody with a perfect fit. On second and third listen the song really started to take shape with nuance and detail revealing itself.

‘Woman and Wives’ follows, a piano based mid tempo shuffle grabs me by the collar immediately. While constructed with a churning snare there is a clandestine atmospheric sadness underneath the songs moving foundation. Macca acts as the town crier issuing advice and warning.  I can discern the famous reverberation of Bill Black’s standup bass on this song and like all of McCartney’s best tunes, I am left with a feeling of wonder when the song concludes. His vocals are hearty and rich, a matured ‘Lady Madonna’ vibe, singing with the back of the throat.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

‘Lavatory Lil’ is a quick and fun character assassination with a funky instrumentation reminiscent of the best McCartney I instrumentals. The track is a guitar driven syncopated thump with some stinky descending basslines. Additionally, in my opinion it contains some of the finest ‘Mod Macca’ vocals this side of 2010. Paul sounds like he’s playing loose, singing free and enjoying himself, and that is really all that matters. Great song, content and attitude.

‘Slidin’ closes side one and you know it! A bombastic and crushing central riff complete with 1966 sounding bass, thick fuzzed lead guitar and rock and roll Paul. This icy cut is stellar, featuring a thumping instrumental break with slippery lead guitar lines and the aforementioned big bass. Definitely one of the weightiest tracks Paul has made, and a hefty rocker for a 78 year old man! Would love to see this one come alive on a concert stage. Actually, blast this one on the hi fi and get the neighbors going if you can.

‘Deep Deep Feeling’ opens side two and whereas ‘Lavatory Lil’ remembered McCartney I, ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ reflects the heady experimentation undertaken on McCartney II. ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ is extended, complex and very cool. Multiple variations on a theme are delivered in multifarious packages. Macca begins the song vocally with only drum accompaniment. Then throughout the track he stratifies vocals, guitars, and all of the instruments at his disposal. The song stays in flux with tension while the foundation remains steady. Compartments are opened and shut, layers are peeled back and then returned. A Mellotron pulses over the rhythmic diversity as choruses of Paul weave deftly in and out of the creation. A centerpiece of the record and a definite highlight as it defies adequate description. The song is of its own creation and adheres to previous McCartney I and II aesthetics.

Perfection follows with ‘Kiss of Venus’ an acoustic song cut from the same historical quilt as ‘Jenny Wren’ and ‘Blackbird’. Lyrically mature, crystalline picking contrasts with Paul’s wrinkly inspired falsetto. The conclusion of the song highlights a surprising and resplendent harpsicord spot. Otherwise, just Paul and an acoustic here, that’s just enough.

‘Seize the Day’ immediately felt anthemic to the ‘rock room’. The verses reminded me of ‘People Want Peace’ from 2018’s Egypt Station. Dual guitars line the chorus which is as moving and catchy that only Paul McCartney could have birthed it. In addition, the middle eight spotlights some classic Macca vocals (imo), as I know this has been a bone of contention for many Paul fans.

The penultimate song on the eleven track LP is ‘Deep Down’. Beginning with an extended falsetto note, the song falls in around the vocal. The groove is reminiscent of ‘Spinning on an Axis’ off of Driving Rain, with a Fender Rhodes and a splashy snare. Soon the horns and guitar grab onto a slick line as a diversion from the song proper. This is the one song on the LP that may be lacking lyrically and may slightly overstay its welcome. I feel the reason is that the song is more about a groove than anything ‘deeper down’. It's not a bad track. It may grow on me more, that being said, it does feature some great Macca vocals at the end.

                                           Photo: Mary McCartney

The record closes with ‘Winter Bird/When Winter Comes’ bringing the collection full circle. During promotion for the record McCartney stated that the impetus for McCartney III was of the song ‘Winter Bird’. McCartney had recorded the track during sessions for Flaming Pie and the song was left to languish in the vaults. When revisiting his tapes for the Flaming Pie deluxe edition Paul decided to use the original song and develop it for an animated feature he was working on. Suddenly he was inspired and the idea of recording a McCartney III album fell in around it. George Martin produced the original session and what you will hear on McCartney III is a hybrid of the original recording and Paul’s new theme used for the opener. 'When Winter Comes' is a lost classic and its obvious why Paul wanted to use it and how it inspired the rest of the record.(Note his 1997 vocals)

While any news of a new Paul McCartney record elicits the usual cheers from his long time admirers and stoic acknowledgement from music fans in general; the usual flurry of interpretations and criticisms will be soon to follow. Your humble ‘rock room’ is included in part of this chaos. In the end, all that can be said is that one of the finest musicians of any genre has released a collection of song at 78 years of age. He is playing and producing it all and in the midst of a pandemic. If that is not cause for celebration I do not know what is. The bonus? The music is wonderful and the creativity is muffin topping out of the package. I don’t have to tell you to check out Paul McCartney, if you dig him, you know what to expect, and it’s gonna be good. Just like 2020's Dylan release, there's still plenty to be thankful for in the world of rock. McCartney III will be released on December 18.

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