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Paul McCartney

Music From "The Family Way" - McCartney - Ram - Wild Life - Red Rose Speedway - Band On The Run - Venus And Mars - Wings At The Speed Of Sound - Wings Over America - London Town - Back To The Egg - McCartney II - Tug Of War - Pipes Of Peace - Press To Play - Flowers In The Dirt - Back In The USSR - Off The Ground - Flaming Pie - Run Devil Run - Chaos And Creation In The Backyard - Electric Arguments

Paul McCartney continued to sell records like crazy for a decade and a half after the Beatles broke up, but his 70s work has basically been written off by critics as pap. Actually, though he never again pushed boundaries the way he did in the 60s, Paul's solo work is solidly enjoyable, with plenty of tuneful ballads, loud rockers, and bizarre ephemera. In the mid-80s he lost his magic touch, and has seen his sales decline into former star territory, though he's still capable of creating fan frenzy, as with his widely-bootlegged Back In The USSR album. (DBW)

Poor Paul: thanks to a few high-profile lapses of taste in the 70s and early 80s, he managed to squander most of the good will he'd curried with rock critics. Too bad they didn't stop long enough to really listen to "lightweight" records like Red Rose Speedway and London Town that show just how sincerely McCartney wanted not to just write silly love songs. Dig into his catalogue with care, however, as his work is highly variable in terms of musical personnel, style, and quality.

All we know about the death of Linda McCartney is what you probably already know anyway: she passed away on 19 April, 1998, of breast cancer while she and her husband were on vacation in Santa Barbara (or perhaps at their ranch near Tucson; reports conflict).

Some guy who's even crazier than us runs a terrifyingly detailed Paul McCartney web site in Germany called PLUGGED. (JA)

Music From "The Family Way" (George Martin: 1967)
The first extracurricular Beatles recording project; score "composed" by McCartney. It's a collection of doodles: one run-of-the-mill theme present in seven or eight variations, and a handful of other ditties, mostly arranged for orchestra although there's some rock and roll. A tossoff, and doubtless no less than the film deserved, but embarrassing compared to Harrison's soundtrack effort the following year. If you pay a lot for this one, you'll be pissed. Alert: an unscrupulous record company has put out a rerecording of this score on CD - the box says it's "McCartney's first solo project, available for the first time on CD" but doesn't reveal that it's not in fact the original project but a 1994 recording Paul had nothing to do with. As far as I know, the real 1967 score hasn't been released on CD yet. (DBW)

McCartney (1970)
- A mess, but McCartney was so talented that even this sloppy bunch of half-baked demos and one-man jams is entertaining - and being a debut, it's extraordinarily close to the Beatles' late-period sound. With Paul more worried about proving quickly that he could go solo than with making music per se, the record's full of frustratingly incomplete fragments ("The Lovely Linda") and instrumentals ("Hot As Sun/Glasses"; "Momma Miss America"; "Singalong Junk," a reprise of another song). But the few finished products are marvelous: "Maybe I'm Amazed," a classic that's best appreciated in its original, stripped-down studio form; two charming little Beatle-esque ballads ("Every Night" and "Junk"); a nice mid-tempo rocker ("Oo You"); and "Teddy Boy," a loopy Get Back leftover. Macca also deserves credit for playing all the instruments himself - Steve Winwood had come close to doing so on John Barleycorn, and Stevie Wonder would later make his name that way. Strangely, none of the tracks were released as singles. (JA)
- This rambling, bootleg-style release has a lot of off-the-cuff charm, plus some rocking lead guitar ("Valentines Day"), fine melodies ("Hot As Sun"), and a really funny, disorganized instrumental suite ("Kreen-Akrore"). "Maybe I'm Amazed" is so much more thought-out than anything else here it hardly seems like it belongs on the same record. (DBW)

Ram (1971)
- This is a pretty solid record, but the lyrical shallowness makes it much more forgettable than contemporaneous Lennon releases. McCartney had expanded his one-man act slightly by tapping a lead guitarist (Hugh McCracken) and a drummer (Denny Seiwell, who then joined the newly formed Wings), and he was much more serious about putting across real songs. "Too Many People" works the McCartney pop symphony formula to a hilt, even dragging in some classy horn parts. The title track and "The Back Seat Of My Car" are charming late-period Beach Boys tributes. And the high point is pretty high - the brilliantly orchestrated sing-along number "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." But there's just too much light-hearted nostalgia here, like the 1920's jazz numbers "3 Legs" and "Heart Of The Country," the reverb-drenched Eddie Cochran-esque "Eat At Home," and the thumping 50's doo-wopper "Smile Away." And ironically, McCartney's genius is at its most obvious when he wastes a huge effort on a collection of dumb, goofy riffs called "Long Haired Lady," which he somehow transforms into a creepy masterpiece - and that about says it for the whole record. All of the elaborate nonsense points to McCartney's approach on the next few albums. "Another Day," a second major hit from this era that Lennon savaged on "How Do You Sleep?," wasn't originally on the album but is (I believe) available on the CD as a bonus track. (JA)
- To me this sounds like a tossoff: clever as it is, "Uncle Albert" is just a novelty number, and there are too many other one-joke tunes like "Smile Away." The high-voltage rockers are sloppy and incoherent; the best pieces are the gentle melodic masterpieces "Dear Boy" and "Heart Of The Country" - he strews great snatches of melody elsewhere ("Ram On," "Too Many People") but the record drifts too much to be really engaging. (DBW)

Thrillington (Percy "Thrills" Thrillington: rec. 1971, rel. 1977)
An orchestral version of Ram arranged by Richard Hewson and produced by Paul, this was shelved for several years after Paul and Linda decided to form Wings, then was released in 1977 to little acclaim. (DBW)

Wild Life (1971)
Most critics dismiss this hastily recorded Wings debut, but they're missing the point: as mass entertainment the record is a flop, sure, but the rough, unrehearsed tunes function as an official bootleg documenting Paul and Linda's first weeks in the studio with drummer Denny Seiwell and Denny Laine trying to cook up a new band identity. For instance, the low-key "Tomorrow" sets the mold for a string of hit Wings soft-rockers, and the title track is a blueprint for future uptempo numbers. On the other hand, the country blues "Bip Bop" points out a direction that wisely was not followed. But in sharp contrast to the two previous records, there are no unforgettable melodies: the closest is the AM ballad "Dear Friend," with a simple but charming piano line and lovely falsetto vocals. (DBW)
The first, and reportedly worst Wings record, thrown together as the newly formed band was just getting its act worked out - at this point, it's just Paul, Linda, Denny Laine, and drummer Denny Seiwell. Not one track from this record hit the Top 40 on either side of the Atlantic, although Paul released a reasonably successful, uncharacteristically political single a couple months later ("Give Ireland Back To The Irish"). (JA)

Red Rose Speedway (1973)
- Paul rebounded in every respect: the rockers have huge hooks ("Big Barn Bed," "When The Night"), love songs have memorable melodies ("My Love"), and the experiments with structure and arrangement work (the instrumental "Loup," the bizarre "Little Lamb Dragonfly"). Despite the mediocre lyrics and overlong album closer, this is the closest thing to a post-Beatles Beatles album I've ever heard. The CD release includes three worthwhile B-sides: "I Lie Around," "Country Dreamer" and "The Mess." (DBW)
- Tracks like "Little Lamb Dragonfly" have some things in common with, say, Abbey Road, but Speedway is far lighter and far less substantial. Like Ram, it actually sounds most like the late 60s Beach Boys ("When The Night"; "Loup"; closing medley). There is a lot of experimentation, but not coincidentally there's also a lot of that on Smiley Smile (which featured McCartney on vegetables [literally]). Despite being panned, was the first of five consecutive #1 albums by Wings (this mark has been exceeded by only a handful of artists like Elton John, the Rolling Stones [counting new studio albums only], and, of course, the Beatles). Paul added ex-Joe Cocker guitarist Henry McCullough just for this record. The liner notes beg the question of why "Live And Let Die" didn't get included as a CD bonus track (legal hassles??). (JA)

Band On The Run (1973)
- Certainly Paul's best solo effort. The lurching, thudding "Let Me Roll It" is one of his best rockers; "Jet" speeds along with soaring harmonies and tons of hooks; the title track, with a memorable slide guitar part, is both like an intricate mini-pop-symphony and a good-natured, live-in-the-studio sing-along joke tune. Some of the material is gimmicky (the "reprise" section close to the end of the record) or just shallow (the lyrics throughout), and Paul's fragmentary band at this point (himself, Linda in some capacity, and guitarist Denny Laine) sounds thin. But it's a good listen all the way through, with even the humorous numbers being enjoyable and fully-fleshed out ("Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me)," whose drunken atmosphere is downright theatrical). You'll want to put this on whenever you're in the mood for catchy, melodic, mid-tempo, medium-volume 70s rock. Paul cut this in Nigeria after Seiwell and McCullough left the band, so all the instrumentation was handled by the threesome. (JA)
- Some terrific songs ("Let Me Roll It," the title track), some mindless fun ("Jet," "Helen Wheels") and some forgettable tunes. Not as heartfelt or experimental as Red Rose, but it's worth hearing. (DBW)

Venus And Mars (1975)
The McCartney formula's showing here: more reprises, piano driven rockers, drippy love songs (including a 20's number, "You Gave Me The Answer" that replays "Honey Pie"). But it's also got his incredible sense of melody working (the huge hit "Listen To What The Man Said", "Treat Her Gently"), the rockers are good ("Letting Go"), and he pulls off some arranging tricks that will blow you away (the coda that ends "Rockshow"). This time the bonus tracks are weak; the best is a fun synth-led instrumental, "Lunch Box Odd Sox." (DBW)
Having proved on the last record that he could do without a full band in the studio, Paul still needed one for touring, so he recruited Jimmy McCulloch (guitar) and Joe English (drums; he actually replaced the fly-by-night Wing Geoff Britain). This second Wings lineup appeared on all the records from here to London Town. (JA)

Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976)
More huge hit singles ("Let 'Em In", "Silly Love Songs"), but they're unsatisfying, partly because he'd done it all before, partly because his lyrics are getting increasingly inane. Can't knock the melodies, though, or the production values: the bass line on "Silly Love Songs" is a wonder. There's also the creepy "Beware My Love," the bizarrely catchy "She's My Baby," and a bodacious guitar solo on "The Note You Never Wrote." Otherwise, the record is loaded with problems: there are two weak numbers contributed by fellow Wings, and even a lead vocal by Linda ("Cook Of The House" - I think it's supposed to be humorous but it comes across as grating). The three bonus tracks are completely uninteresting. (DBW)

Wings Over America (1976)
A collection of good performances and most of his best post-Beatles tunes, but the subtleties that make McCartney's work so enjoyable are mostly lost in live performance. Still a decent value, with three LP's on two CD's. (DBW)
At this point, McCartney was close to his peak of post-Beatles popularity, and was making a mint on products like this live album, his fifth #1 in a row. Paul pissed off a lot of fans (and the other Beatles) by including a half-dozen Beatles covers. However, doing so made a lot of other fans quite happy, and Paul has continued with this tactic on all his later live albums, as well as Give My Regards To Broad Street. (JA)

London Town (1978)
A well-crafted record full of light, tuneful pop songs like the title track and the over-long, but popular hit "With A Little Luck" - but what else would you expect? Occasionally the production is downright clever ("I'm Carrying"), and even when the lyrics are trite, the tunes are insidiously likeable ("Girlfriend," with an amazing falsetto vocal). But the main lesson here is that for better or worse, McCartney was still eager to experiment: amusingly crazy synth parts on "Backwards Traveller"; massive phasing on "Don't Let It Bring You Down"; pure silliness on "Famous Groupies"; disastrous weirdness on the endless, disco-ified "Morse Moose And The Grey Goose." Once again, an album proving mostly what a damn shame it was that McCartney's boundless creativity was no longer tempered by Lennon's acid wit and brutal realism. The only CD bonus track is the chugging, by-the-book 70s rocker "Girls School." (JA)

Wings Greatest (1978)
Several hit singles were first collected on LP here: "Another Day," "Hi Hi Hi," "Live And Let Die," "Junior's Farm," and "Mull Of Kintyre," which was the biggest selling single in UK history until the all-star charity effort "Do They Know It's Christmas." Largely irrelevant since the release of All The Best!. (DBW)

Back To The Egg (1979)
Reversing the trend towards sophisticated production, this is very off-the-cuff: several tunes are just fragments (the tantalizing funk-rock "Reception"), and many of the harder-rocking tracks sound like home recordings ("We're Open Tonight"). All of which has a certain charm, and the thumping "Old Siam, Sir" and gorgeous "Arrow Through Me" (a flop single) are among his best work. But most of the songwriting is way below par: the rockers are nearly tuneless (the other flop single "Getting Closer," Laine's "Again And Again And Again") and the ballads are nearly tasteless ("After The Ball," "Baby's Request"). At this point McCulloch and English were already gone, replaced by Laurence Juber and Steve Holly, though as it turned out this was the last Wings record anyway. Two tracks feature Rockestra, an all-dinosaur lineup featuring Zepsters John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Pete Townshend and Kenney Jones from the Who, plus Ronnie Lane, David Gilmour, Ray Cooper, Gary Brooker, etc. Paul produced with Chris Thomas. The dance single "Goodnight Tonight" backed with "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" was a major hit around this time, but neither track was included on the album. (DBW)

McCartney II (1980)
Paul was bored or fed up with Wings by now, and he went back into the studio by himself to recapture his muse (Linda does sing some backups as on McCartney). It's a weird mix of studio gimmicks and demo-style offhandedness: "On The Way" is a simple blues with massively echoed vocals; on several tunes, sped-up vocals reappear for the first time since 1968. As his last attempt to vary from mainstream formulas, this marks a turning point in his career. But the record lacks even one truly great song: best are the catchy, elaborate hit single "Coming Up" and the intentionally annoying "Temporary Secretary," a hilarious New Wave sendup. The rest of the disc is taken up with wandering instrumentals ("Front Parlour") and uninspiring ballads ("Waterfalls," an unsuccessful single; "One Of Those Days"). The CD rerelease contains two bonus tracks, both repetitive, disco-induced numbers with varisped vocals: "Check My Machine" and the dull, 10-minute "Secret Friend." (DBW)

Tug Of War (1982)
A reunion with George Martin, and the production was Paul's slickest to date. It's often dull, as rockers ("Ballroom Dancing"), pop ("Take It Away," a single) and ballads ("Someone Who Cares") all sound like reruns. Plus, he sinks into pseudo-political MOR on "Ebony & Ivory" featuring Stevie Wonder; things get better on the Wonder/McCartney-written "What's That You're Doing" and Paul's sweet, low-key Lennon tribute "Here Today," with a string quartet. But since he's stopped experimenting, there's just not much to listen for. (DBW)
This was Macca's last #1 album; "Ebony And Ivory" also topped the charts. Denny Laine made a final appearance on the LP, and Paul's new collaborator Eric Stewart made his debut. (JA)

Pipes Of Peace (1983)
It's as if McCartney was trying to prove his harshest critics right: he's sappier, less imaginative and challenging himself less than ever before. Even his sense of melody has deserted him... for the first time, he really sounds like a Paul imitator rather than the real thing ("So Bad" could've been written by Dan Fogelberg). George Martin's production is super-smooth and AM-ready, keeping anything interesting from happening. The disc starts off with the incredibly banal title track (which became Paul's last #1 hit in the UK, but wasn't even a single in the US), and there's also a servicable but routine duet with Michael Jackson ("Say Say Say"), another #1 which is at least a cut above "The Girl Is Mine." The only marginally interesting piece is a medley of the title tracks from the two most recent LPs ("Tug Of Peace"), and the most excitement is generated in an instrumental jam with Stanley Clarke ("Hey Hey"). Musicians include Ringo, Steve Gadd, Eric Stewart and Andy McKay. I don't know about the UK, but in the States it was the worst charting album he'd ever had. (DBW)

Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984)
Rerecordings of Paul's Beatles hits reveal that his vocal range is eroding rapidly, and the few new songs aren't worth writing home about. (The hit is "No More Lonely Nights" with an interminable guitar solo by Pink Floydster David Gilmour.) (DBW)
First time I heard the Beatles covers ("Yesterday"; "Eleanor Rigby"), I hated 'em. But after a decade they seem kind of quaint. Harmless for McCartney fans, but the track listing consists mostly of the Beatles covers and alternate takes of "Lonely Nights." There are a million guest artists, including John Paul Jones on "Ballroom Dancing," Ringo Starr in a lot of places, and Dave Edmunds and Elton John session man Chris Spedding on several of the more hard-rocking tracks. (JA)

Press To Play (1986)
After nearly a quarter-century of endless success, this set a new pattern for Paul's later releases. It's full of wild, hi-tech experimentation ("Pretty Little Head"), but so intricately produced that there's hardly an ounce of passion or fury - the closest thing is a couple of insincere, 50's-sounding rockers like "Move Over Busker." There are zillions of catchy, pointless riffs and refrains, as on the orchestrated "However Absurd" and the defensive ode to Linda "It's Not True," but none of it will make much of an impression on any but the most devoted fans. Guitarist Eric Stewart, who was dumped well before the next album, shared most of the writing credits - since Paul hadn't felt a strong need to collaborate on songwriting for 15 years, this points again to his lack of enthusiasm. Guests include a low-key Pete Townshend ("Angry") and Phil Collins, among many others; Carlos Alomar handled a lot of the guitar parts. Paul put out four singles that either flopped or did poorly ("Only Love Remains" barely dented the Top 40 in the U.S., and "Press" did the same in the U.K.). But some CD pressings of the record do also include the slightly earlier Top 10 hit "Spies Like Us." (JA)

All The Best! (1987)
Again, a greatest hits featuring several otherwise uncollected singles including "Goodnight Tonight," "C Moon," etc. The US version is missing "Mull," so if you need to have that you'd better search out Wings Greatest, or a UK import; on the other hand, if you need "Junior's Farm," it's only on the US version. (DBW)

Flowers In The Dirt (1989)
It's not bad or anything - the melodies are pretty, the arrangements are professional and occasionally interesting - but there's no vitality here, and plenty of clichés. Elvis Costello co-wrote and played on several tracks, but his influence on McCartney's sound is negligible. (DBW)
Paul put out four singles ("My Brave Face"; "Put It There"; "Figure Of Eight"; "This One"), all of which were equally moderate hits - it's kind of surprising that none of them broke the Top Ten. Other guest stars include David Gilmour. (JA)

Tripping The Live Fantastic (1990)
The track selection is endless here, about 50% being old Beatles songs (as with Paul's more recent live albums). The solo material includes a few Flowers In The Dirt tunes and some old solo favorites like "Band On The Run," "Live And Let Die," and "Ebony And Ivory," but I'm not familiar with a lot of the titles; it concentrates on the Beatles' late period more than the other two live records did ("Hey Jude"; "The Fool On The Hill"; "Birthday"). (JA)

Back In The USSR (1991)
A live-in-the-studio album of tried-and-true 50's rock 'n' roll standards, it was originally released in 1988 in the USSR under the title Snova V SSSR; that means "Back In The USSR," of course. Extensive bootlegging later forced its world-wide release - years later there are so many bootlegs still running around that I myself accidentally picked one up thinking it was the real thing. The track listing consists entirely of non-Beatle, non-McCartney tunes like "Kansas City," "Lucille," "Summertime," "That's Alright Mama," "Ain't That A Shame," and a pile of lesser examples. The performances are crisp and convincingly retro, so you'll never be bored if you like roots rock; but artistically it's a hiccup at best. It was recorded in the studio over just two days in 1987, using a different pickup band on each day. Both lineups feature pianist Mick Gallagher, and ex-Johnny Kidd & the Pirates guitarist Mick Green is on most tracks, although Paul does play lead guitar occasionally. (JA)

Unplugged (1991)
As far as I can tell, Paul was the first of what soon became a mob of ancient rockers rushing to relegitimize themselves by pumping out an album based on an all-acoustic MTV show - later victims include Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, and Neil Young. Paul focuses here on the mid-60s in his numerous Beatle selections ("We Can Work It Out"; "And I Love Her"; etc.), and on familiar rock 'n' roll tunes elsewhere ("Be-Bop-A-Lula"; "Hi-Heel Sneakers"), mostly laying off his rich catalogue of solo hits (except "Junk," "Every Night," and "That Would Be Something," all of which are from McCartney). (JA)

Liverpool Oratorio (1991)
This isn't a rock record and we're not going to review it, but for better or worse, fans should be forewarned that they'll end up with a straightlaced classical workout if they blow money on it. (JA)

Off The Ground (1993)
On this release, Paul no longer sounds like he's going through the motions: he gets loose and even raucous on "Looking For Changes" (an uninspiring animal rights anthem), "Get Out Of My Way" and the wonderful story-song "Biker Like An Icon," a wistful downbeat number that recalls but doesn't imitate earlier works like "Eleanor Rigby." Other standout tracks include "Mistress And Maid" - an updated version of Ibsen's "A Doll's House," and the tender "Golden Earth Girl" (note to Paul: that's an animal rights song that works). He tends throughout to rely on platitudes ("C'mon People," "Peace In The Neighborhood") and occasionally cranks up the power chords to disguise a lack of musical ideas (the title track, "Winedark Open Sea"). (DBW)
I've got this and I'm totally unimpressed. The production isn't as excessive as on his 80s records, but it only occasionally sounds like his 70s work, and it's still overblown - especially on the orchestrated numbers ("C'mon People"). As for the rockers, they're barely mid-tempo and have pedestrian vocals, bass lines, and dynamics. There's almost nothing here hinting at McCartney's pop genius; I'm amazed that Wilson rates it equally to Ram. Two more Elvis Costello collaborations here: "Mistress And Maid" and "The Lovers That Never Were." (JA)

Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (The Fireman: 1993)
Initially released with no clue as to the artist involved, this is a collection of sounds from Off The Ground reimagined and reconstructed by producer Youth, plus new music recorded by Paul. The end result is electronica, basically. (DBW)

Paul Is Live (1993)
A live record with a 50-50 split between Beatles numbers and solo material. With a long, long track selection, there are numerous obscure-to-only moderately well-known tunes like "I Wanna Be Your Man" and "Let Me Roll It," which softens the blow of Paul covering sacred idols like "Michelle" and "Penny Lane." He also performs several tunes from the recent Off The Ground, e.g., "C'mon People" and "Biker Like An Icon." Only a few of the tracks are repeated from Unplugged ("Here There And Everywhere"), but you still have to wonder why Paul felt he now owed the fans four live discs in four years, when they'd settled for just one in the preceding twenty. (JA)

Flaming Pie (1997)
A long-awaited studio album whose very lyrics ("The Song We Were Singing") glory in the distant past. Lucky us. There's no hint of McCartney's super-tweaked 1980s approach, and instead he eerily recreates the early 70s sound of Wings: one- or two-man-band lineups (it's mostly him on bass, drums, etc.), semi-spontaneous performances, light touches of humor, and stylistic variety ranging from roots rock (the plodding tossoff "Really Love You") and blues (the formulaic "Used To Be Bad") to solo acoustic folk (the lilting "Calico Skies"; "Great Day," which sounds like a lost McCartney gem). Jeff Lynne co-produces and adds harmony vocals and guitar to about half the tunes, but doesn't do much damage ("Song We Were Singing," indeed an acoustic sing-along; title track, with a pounding piano part; the soul number "Souvenir," which could almost be an Abbey Road reject) - although the lullabye "Little Willow" is mawkish, and "Heaven On A Sunday," the only "updated" tune on the record, is just as corny as any of McCartney's late-70s AOR confections. Elsewhere, McCartney milks fresh, good-natured contributions out of guests Ringo Starr ("Really Love You"); Steve Miller ("Used To Be Bad," where they duet; the remarkably Band On The Run-like "If You Wanna" and "Young Boy," with bouncing bass lines and sprawling, leads that recall Denny Laine); and even George Martin (who scored the bombastic love song "Beautiful Night" and the slightly sappy, down-tempo orchestrated balled "Somedays" - vaguely reminiscent of "Yesterday"). None of this stuff is earth-shattering, and it's often so mellow it's downright soporific. But McCartney's vocals are excellent, a couple mock-Wings tunes like "The World Tonight" are keepers, and the record's intimate, antiquarian sound is an irresistable hit of sweet nostalgia. (JA)
After the massive commercial success of the Anthology series, the pump was primed for this release, which debuted at #2 in the US, his best solo debut yet. (DBW)

Paul McCartney's Standing Stone (1997)
Another classical piece along the lines of Liverpool Oratorio. (DBW)

Rushes (The Fireman: 1998)
Another Macca/Youth project, this time it's all new recordings rather than samples but it's still electronica on the ambient side. (DBW)

Run Devil Run (1999)
Apparently having decided that repeating yourself is perfectly excuseable as long as you're Sir Paul McCartney, Macca knocked off an entertaining but pointless CD stuffed with 50's tunes by obvious suspects like Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Chucky Berry, Ricky Nelson, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, etc., and most of all Elvis Presley ("All Shook Up"). The blues- and I-vi-IV-V-based rock 'n' roll ballads sound antiquated (the Vipers' "No Other Baby"; Richards' "Shake A Hand") or even trite (Nelson's hit "Lonesome Town"; Vincent's genteel dance tune "Blue Jean Bop"), and McCartney just seems ridiculous moaning Perkins' lonesome cowboy anthem "Movie Magg" or putting on blackface to do Domino's B-side "Coquette." As with Back In The USSR, there's a small backing band that happens to include David Gilmour on guitar - don't worry, there's no Floyd aftertaste. But this time the performances are even more authentic and enthusiastic (the zydeco arrangement of Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man"; the hard-pounding "I Got Stung," a hit for Elvis; Larry Williams' ranting, raving "She Said Yeah"). Paul literally belts out the rockers like it was 1964 all over again ("Honey Hush"). And there are three new, fun originals (the Wings-style title track; "Try Not To Cry"; the striding, ecstatic "What It Is") that just make you wish he'd put as much raw energy into Flaming Pie. "Party" indeed. The rest of the band is Back In The USSR guitarist Mick Green, Pete Wingfield (piano, some organ), and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, replaced on a couple of cuts by Dave Mattacks; Geraint Watkins guests on keyboards. Co-produced by Paul and Chris Thomas. (JA)

Working Classical (1999)
Yes, more classical music, but this time including reworked versions of earlier hits like "My Love" and "She's My Baby." (DBW)

Liverpool Sound Collage (2000)
Whipped up to accompany a Peter Blake art exhibit, McCartney, Youth and Super Furry Animals mixed together segments of Liverpool Oratorio, Beatle studio chatter, musique concrete and who knows what else. (DBW)

Driving Rain (2001)
A new, 16-track studio album co-produced by David Kahne, and featuring a small-band, mostly no-name lineup: Rusty Anderson (guitar), Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), and Gabe Dixon (keyboards). Paul's son James appears on two tracks he co-wrote, and there's a string quartet on one song. The disc ends with a studio version of McCartney's jingoistic jingle "Freedom," which he whipped together and debuted at the Concert For New York; it features Eric Clapton. (JA)

Back In The U.S. Live 2002 (2002)
A really lengthy live double record documenting his 2002 tour. The backing band is extremely competent and well-practiced, with keyboard player Paul "Wix" Wickens aping the original orchestral parts of complex pieces like "Live And Let Die," so you always feel like you're getting your money's worth. However, it's hard to see why anyone needs to hear such a big pile of Beatles and early 70s Wings hits for the millionth time - much less "Let It Be," "Hey Jude," and "The Long And Winding Road" in succession. Practically the only surprises (sort of) are his obscure Wings single side "C Moon," and some recent tunes like "Vanilla Sky," "Your Loving Flame," "Driving Rain," and of course "Freedom." He also pays homage to Harrison with a version of "Something" and to Lennon with a revival of "Here Today," from Tug Of War. The rest of the band is Anderson (guitar), Brian Ray (guitar, or bass when McCartney is on guitar or keyboards), and Laboriel (drums). (JA)
A few months later, a new configuration of the album was released as Back In The World Live, without "Vanilla Sky" or "Freedom" but with "Calico Skies," "Michelle," "Let 'Em In" and "She's Leaving Home." (DBW)

Twin Freaks (Paul McCartney/Freelance Hellraiser: 2005)
Paul tunes ("Temporary Secretary"; "Maybe I'm Amazed") remixed into electronica, this time courtesy of DJ Freelance Hellraiser. (DBW)

Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005)
Mostly self-performed, for the first time since McCartney II, and unusually heavy on piano ("Fine Line," one of the hardest rockers on this mostly mellow disc). Apparently producer Nigel Godrich pushed Sir Paul in the studio, and the result is closer to the 70s Wings sound - not too pristine, not too loose - than he's gotten in many years. Strings (mostly performed by the Millennia Ensemble) are used with a light, creative hand (the melancholy "Riding To Vanity Fair"), and there are sly touches like the Queen-style a cappella section in "Promise To You Girl." As with concurrent Elton, even the most minor tracks are so well crafted they get more interesting with repeated listens ("This Never Happened Before"; the "Blackbird"-style acoustic folk "Jenny Wren"). Compositionally, it's the same old McCartney, with brilliant fragments (the grab bag of unrelated mini-melodies "At The Mercy") next to drippy fare like "How Kind Of You," as if he just plain can't tell the difference. The low point is "Anyway," which rips off the "People Get Ready" melody better ripped off by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Musicians include Anderson, Laboriel, James Gadson and Joey Waronker (percussion), Jason Falkner (guitar). (DBW)
Wilson is right about all the references here - Queen, "People Get Ready," "Blackbird" - and it's true that his endless layers of overdubs include some interesting instrumentation like flügelhorn, cello, and recorder. But in light of all that, the record strikes me as much less interesting than you'd think. McCartney's mood is consistently melancholy or even grim, not just mellow, he never really rocks out, and the melodies are rarely arresting. He doesn't really sound like Wings at all, and almost everything outside of the chugging "Promise To You Girl" (also Beach Boys-influenced) is mid- or down-tempo. He's only even vaguely abrasive on a psychedelic hidden bonus track that's nicely reminiscent of, say, "Strawberry Fields Forever," but at the same time entirely contemporary - it's only really here that you hear any connection to Radiohead via Godrich. A serious effort with real artistic ambitions, unlike (say) anything recent by Eric Clapton, but not nearly as entertaining as Flaming Pie. Brian Ray is also in the mix. (JA)

Ecce Cor Meum (2006)
Another oratorio, originally performed in 2001. (DBW)

Memory Almost Full (2007)
Paul can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to musically, but his default setting is catchy, slightly sappy pop songs, the kind of song that's easy to dismiss but not easy to forget. That's mostly what he serves up here, from the gentle, homespun "You Tell Me" to "Dance Tonight," a nursery rhyme along the lines of "All Together Now"... no concepts, no attempt to be current or challenging, either in the songwriting or Kahne's production. The mini-suite "Only Mama Knows" is the most ambitious track, veering from strings to distorted guitar and back again, while the lush, romantic "See Your Sunshine" is a marvel. McCartney's voice sounds terrific, though he only rolls out his gravelly rock voice on one track ("Gratitude"). Nostalgia - with a touch of defensiveness ("Vintage Clothes") - is the overriding theme of the lyrics: "That Was Me"; the bouncy, midtempo single "Ever Present Past." So this won't make you the cool kid on your block , but let the cool kids have Arcade Fire - I'd rather have timeless pleasures like the jaunty piano line on "Mister Bellamy" and the Vocoder break in "Feet In The Clouds." There's a bonus disc with three extra tracks: "In Private" is an interesting instrumental, but "222" is a simple riff that never develops, and "Why So Blue" is a forgettable love song. (DBW)

Amoeba's Secret (2007)
A four-song live EP from an appearance at LA's Amoeba Music. (DBW)

Electric Arguments (The Fireman: 2008)
Though classified as a Fireman project (the third, unless you count Liverpool Sound Collage), it's really a solo McCartney rock record produced with Youth: unmistakably song-based and covering Paul's usual genre map from ballads ("Sing The Changes") to rauc 'n' roll ("Highway"). In places, it actually recalls McCartney (singalong melody meets busker guitar licks on "Sun Is Shining"). There is some weirdness along the way - stuttering synths and pseudo-Gregorian chanting on "Lovers In A Dream"; Bee Gees falsetto and a classic Paul bass line on "Don't Stop Running" - but not as much as you might expect. The song material too is underwhelming, as everything's sorta catchy ("Dance 'Til We're High") but nothing's really gripping. (DBW)

Ocean's Kingdom (2011)
More classical music, this time an orchestral ballet score. (DBW)

Kisses On The Bottom (2012)
Mostly Great American Songbook material ("Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive") plus two new songs ("My Valentine"), backed by Diana Krall and band with assists from Clapton and Wonder. (DBW)

New (2013)

I feel like letting go...

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