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Paul McCartney’s solo career is an unwieldy beast. Spanning half a century, the quality of the ex-Beatle’s music varies wildly across and within albums (or even within individual songs). No albums exemplify Paul’s work outside of the Beatles better than McCartney and McCartney II. Both released at the beginning of a decade and at the end of his time in a chart-conquering band, Paul’s first two solo efforts are bizarre little artefacts that seem to deliberately ignore the fact that he was once in the biggest group in the world. Rough, experimental and a tad unfinished, they’re certainly no Abbey Road, but they are fascinating insights into the artistic process of one of the greatest living songwriters. In hindsight, they’ve also proven surprisingly influential in the world of lo-fi music. I was naturally excited and intrigued then, when Paul announced his return to the series with McCartney III, a new album “Made in Rockdown”, as he has playfully dubbed his COVID-19 isolation.
There’s a misconception surrounding Róisín Murphy that’s followed her for a number of years now, something that sounds nice when written down but is ultimately a completely empty statement. Critics like to point out the unfair way in which Róisín Murphy hasn’t become a global superstar. Off the back of 2007’s impeccable pop masterpiece Overpowered, many jumped on the bandwagon that this would propel her to deserved universal acknowledgment and acclaim. Whether Overpowered should’ve done so is irrelevant. A truer assessment of Murphy’s career is that she has always been destined to be a cult favourite, always leftfield in some way. Murphy has been on an inexorable path throughout her career; from Moloko’s Statues to 2016’s Take Her Up to Monto, she has been honing a notably uncommercial strain of nu-disco, each release perfecting the previous’ imperfections. Róisín Machine is Murphy incarnate: relentlessly danceable and relentlessly uncommercial and relentlessly her.
The last couple of releases from American pop superstar Taylor Swift have been patchy to say the least. 2017’s Reputation attempted to lean into all the controversies that had plagued her in the preceding years, but its bombastic edginess too often tripped over itself into absurdity. Then there was last year’s Lover, which should’ve been a glorious return to the buoyant synthpop that made 2014’s 1989 so appealing but a bloated tracklist and some truly dire singles bogged it down. Neither of these albums were without their high points but any glimpse of a return to form ultimately felt suffocated by all of the context, be that the exhausting tabloid drama or the excessive promotional hype.
In the age of music as content, churned out to fill playlists on streaming services, the album has had a bit of a crisis. What’s the point of arranging songs this way if they don’t have to fit onto a disc with a limited amount of space? The responses to this question have been varied but, as a trend, albums have become more bloated. R&B superstar Drake’s 2018 album Scorpion is an excellent example of an album dragged to nearly an hour and a half long to provide as many playlist-ready tracks as possible. The lengthy double-album is nothing new, of course, but these days an artist doesn’t tend to release one to make an artistic statement – like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde or The Beatles’ White Album – so much as to have as much content to satisfy the greedy streaming ecosystem. More alternative musicians may have a higher motive – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ masterpiece Ghosteen was a double LP for a clear artistic reason – but for the most part popular music pursues length for the sake of it.
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