Look, Paul McCartney's getting to be an old dude, and he's pretty much shot his creative wad. Don't expect the guy to make the earth move at this point. Nothing he's going to do now is going to make you forget Tug of War, much less Sgt Pepper.
Still, on a slightly less exalted level, this is a pretty good album. It has at least one classic song, and a number of other interesting songs. You could be a notch below Venus and Mars and still make a worthwhile album.
"Riding to Vanity Fair" has been working on my brain for a couple of weeks, so that's a good start of justifying the album right there. He wrote a real haunting melody, with a strong and unique moody emotional tone that really works.
The simple chimes and the whole quiet undertow of the arrangement sell this. This doesn't sound quite like any other record I ever heard- and I've heard a lot of damned records. This is a production worthy of his name.
Indeed, the song is so good as to motivate me to ponder the lyrics for clues in deciphering that crazy vibe. It seems that the narrator is expressing regrets for a lost love who was too busy "riding to vanity fair" to be his friend. The words would probably look like something of a rebuke on the page, fairly unusual for McCartney.
But then the melody conveying them, and the arrangement, and most of all McCartney's vocal performance make it much more an expression of empathy than rebuke. Sort of like he's in "Hey Jude" mode, but with a slight emotional edge. "Riding to Vanity Fair" is worthy of McCartney's name.
There's nothing else on the album quite up there, but the whole album is well constructed. You can clearly tell that Sir Paul McCartney seriously sat down and spent the time and concentration to write real songs. For starters, this album reconfirms that he's capable of constructing a decent batch of pop songs at will just by pure craft.
My other favorite on this so far has been "English Tea." This has a very distinctive British flavor, and it's quite catchy really. As a sentimental invocation of place, I'd personally take this over "Mull of Kintyre." At 2:12, this song gets bonus points for brevity. Economy is an underappreciated value in art. He makes his point and gets out, rather than milking two minutes worth of song for five or six minutes. He even gets in a little pennywhistle solo, or something like that. This is a proud, stately little tune.
Other songs aren't quite as inspired as those best couple, but by pure craft the single "Fine Line" comes out a good, gently pounding midtempo rock grabber. There's at least minimally a decent song here, and the whole arrangement helps to sell the thing- especially that pounding piano. There are lots of these little touches in all these arrangements that help him get the most out of his basic tunes.
"Jenny Wren" sounds a bit like "Blackbird," though not nearly in that exalted league, but still a fair standout.
Putting it in terms of the geezer sweepstakes, this rates ten to one as an album over the contemporary Rolling Stones album A Bigger Bang. Unlike the strolling bones, Sir Paul actually put forth the proper compositional elbow grease to sit down and make his best effort. Some of these songs are more inspired than others, but all of them will repay your effort to actually sit still and listen carefully and critically.
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The Beatles Are Masters of the Universe
Music Sustains the Soul
Culpepper Log [updated frequently]