Album Review: Paul McCartney - McCartney III

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.

The strange thing about McCartney III, however, is how not strange it is. There are no Temporary Secretarys here, or even little off-the-cuff numbers like The Lovely Linda and Valentine Day; Electric Arguments – Paul’s third collaboration with producer Youth as The Fireman – is a far better successor to that side of the McCartney series. The songs on McCartney III are much more crafted and mostly draw from his own vast back catalogue rather than prophesying the next DIY indie sensation. The main trait it shares with its predecessors is a disregard for overall cohesiveness, with an eclectic jumble of styles and moods knocking up against each other. The surprisingly potent stoner rock of Slidin’ coexists with the fluffy inspiration-pop of Seize the Day, just as the ludicrously beautiful Waterfalls sat alongside the merely ludicrous Bogey Music on McCartney II. Fortunately, Paul can still write a tune. Highlights include Pretty Boys, a dreamy string of musings on modern stardom, and The Kiss of Venus, a lovely acoustic ballad wrapped up in the stars.

The songs on McCartney III are much more crafted and mostly draw from his own vast back catalogue rather than prophesying the next DIY indie sensation.
– Nathan Brooks

Sometimes, however, the bits around the edges of songs are more interesting than the songs themselves. The outro of Find Your Way, with off-kilter guitar noodlings weaving around a rumbling bassline, overshadows the lightweight verses which fail to lock into a convincing melody. In fact, McCartney III is often at its best when straying away from the typical pop song structure, such as on Deep Down, a groovy and indulgent R&B jam drenched in hypnotic moog synths, and Long Tail Winter Bird, the expansive instrumental that bursts open the album with drums stomping and layers of guitar blasting out like a brass band. McCartney III’s best song, Deep Deep Feeling, spends most of its 8-minutes in the fringes, winding through a mass of orchestra-mimicking guitars, weird vocal distortions and trippy tempo shifts worthy of Magical Mystery Tour. The benefits of the McCartney series’ looseness are strongly felt here; Paul considered cutting the song down and on one of his more self-conscious albums he probably would have.

Although the lack of oversight lets Deep Deep Feeling sprawl, it also unfortunately meant no one went, “Paul, please, you can’t sing ‘She’s acting like a starlet / But she’s looking like a harlot’ in 2020”, resulting in the album’s obligatory lapse in taste: Lavatory Lil. Paul assures us the song’s subject is someone he worked with that “turned out to be a bit of a baddie” but without context – and with that ghastly line – it just sounds bitter and misogynistic. It’s not as much of a musical train wreck as 2018’s Ryan Tedder collaboration Fuh You and it mercifully lasts barely over two minutes, but it does leave something of a stain on the album. The gender politics of Abbey Road track Polythene PamLavatory Lil’s closest ancestor – have not aged spectacularly, but at least it tried to endear us to its titular character.

When he’s not complaining about gold diggers, Paul…dispenses wisdom to the young’uns…It does sometimes feel like being stuck in a perplexing conversation with a great-grandparent at Christmas dinner.
– Nathan Brooks

When he’s not complaining about gold diggers, Paul spends a lot of McCartney III dispensing wisdom to the young’uns. The sentiment can be sweet, but it does sometimes feel like being stuck in a perplexing conversation with a great-grandparent at Christmas dinner. I’m not overly inspired by the vague exhortations on Women and Wives (“Now hear me mothers and men / Hear me sisters and brothers / Teach your children and then / They can pass it to others”) nor the trite, climate change adjacent calls to make the most of life on Seize the Day. McCartney’s lyrics are far more effective when he lets himself be vulnerable, tossed between emotional extremes on Deep Deep Feeling – “Sometimes I wish it would stay / Sometimes I wish it would go away” – or domestic, preparing his farm for the cold on When Winter Comes. Endearing details like “Must fix the fence by the acre plot / Two young foxes have been nosing around” ring of 1971 indie pop progenitor RAM, McCartney’s finest post-Beatles record.

McCartney III is no RAM, or even a compelling oddity like its predecessors. Instead it’s just solid. There are fantastic tunes here and even some relatively ambitious experimenting but there’s also a decent bit of filler and lyrics that quickly wear thin. It feels like an album stuck between two urges, unable to fully commit to either the weirdness of the rest of the series or the cohesiveness of a fully polished album. That said, McCartney’s innate melodic gifts shine through as always and his production is vivid and intricate. For all its faults, McCartney III proves that at 78 Paul still has an awful lot of creativity left to give. I for one hope he keeps at it.