Paul McCartney turned 80 years old two days ago and he is five days away from headlining Glastonbury next Saturday evening. “New” was Paul McCartney’s first studio album of original material for six years when it was released in 2013. He has subsequently released two further albums, “Egypt Station” and “McCartney III“.
Paul McCartney has always been someone who liked to push the boundaries and extend his musical horizons. To inject different viewpoints into this album, he employed four producers on this album: Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Giles Martin. He said that “the idea was that during recording, one of them would reveal himself as the ‘proper’ producer of the album. But I liked them all.” He explained the difference between them: Paul Epworth made him write songs on the spot, Mark Ronson was enthusiastic and willing to play around, Ethan Johns went with the first take, even though McCartney’s voice wasn’t perfect and Giles Martin was good with “Beatles sounds”.
The title track, “New” was produced by Mark Ronson, whose father is Mick Jones, the guitarist with Foreigner (who played on George Harrison’s “Dark Horse” album, having been befriended by The Beatles in Paris in 1964 when his wife Sylvie Varton played on the same bill). Mark Ronson has produced work by Duran Duran, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, Miley Cyrus, Queens of the Stone Age, and Bruno Mars. “New” is the only song from this album that Paul McCartney played live at Boston last week. A common theme of the album is looking back to the past. The first verse of “New” includes these lyrics “All my life I never knew what I could be, what I could do. Then we were new”. The song is a classic tuneful melodic Paul McCartney pop song.
“On My Way To Work” was produced by Giles Martin, son of George Martin who had produced “A Day In Life”. The lyrics of “On My Way To Work” paint a different perspective of Paul McCartney’s middle section of the classic beatles song. “On my way to work, I rode a big green bus. I could see everything from the upper deck. People came and went, smoking cigarettes. I picked the packets up, when the people left.” This starts off as an acoustic song but Rusty Anderson plays some dirty electric guitar during the instrumental break. Rusty Anderson has been playing in Paul McCartney’s band since 2001 and he has also played on albums by Matthew Sweet, Carole King, Lana Del Rey, Neil Diamond, Joe Cocker, k. d. lang and Elton John.
Paul McCartney described the song. “That’s all remembrances from Liverpool. The bus, top deck, me going to work. The specific work I was thinking of was my first job, as a second man on a lorry. The second man helps the driver unload when you get to the destination; the driver is the first man. He was very nice, my first man, because I was always knackered, and he would let me sleep. I would help load up the lorry, then get in and just sleep until we got half an hour from the destination, when he’d wake me up: ‘Oi, look lively!’ So, that was one of my jobs. I was also a coil winder in a factory. But there was always the bus involved to get there, you know; nobody had a car. Big green buses, always the upper deck, for a ciggie, getting to work, clocking on.”
“Early Days” was produced by Ethan Johns, son of Glyn Johns, who, along with George Martin, was the original producer for “Let It Be”, before Phil Spector overproduced it. The song looks back at his younger self and wonders how it is that everybody has an opinion of what happened to him when “as for me I don’t see how they can remember when they weren’t where it was at.”
“Queenie Eye” was produced by Paul Epworth after some studio improvisation (although that looks like Giles Martin in the video). It’s based on a children’s chant. “‘Queenie Eye, Queenie Eye, who’s got the ball? I haven’t got it, it isn’t in my pocket, O-U-T spells OUT!’ Someone stood with their back to the group and you had to approach gingerly, and if they looked around and saw you moving, you were out.” The video is notable for the array of famous people that appear in it including: actors Johnny Depp, George Ezra, Jeremy Irons, Chris Pine, Jude Law, Sean Penn, Alice Eve, James Corden, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman, Kate Moss, Lily Cole, Laura Bailey, Jack Savoretti, Gary Barlow, Peter Blake, Tom Ford, Howard Long, and many others who are shown dancing to the lyrics. Despite this, the most famous person in the video is Paul McCartney.
“Hosanna” shows that Paul McCartney has never been afraid to attempt something new. The song contains a typically gorgeous melody with lyrics that acknowledge that time is running out for him to express his love, but the instrumentation (produced by Giles Martin) contains repetitive psychedelic washes of keyboards and drum samples.
“New” would be heralded as a magnificent album with amazing melodies, original instrumentation and memorable pop songs if it had been released by any other human being in the history of mankind. Some people feel a need to criticise. Jesse Cataldo of the website Slant Magazine identified the album’s “defining condition” as the same “middling, innocuous quality” typical of McCartney’s solo career, and bemoaned that none of the four producers had “any real idea of how to adequately update his sound“. That’s a shame for Jesse because he is missing out on the hours of enjoyment, fun, admiration and awe that Paul McCartney can provide.