When a rock icon like Paul McCartney releases a new album, it always presents a dilemma for music reviewers like me. What the hell are you gonna say negative about Paul McCartney? It’s friggin’ Paul McCartney! See my point? If you listen to the album and don’t think it’s awesome, it would almost be better to gloss over it than to actually review it.
Thankfully, with his sixteenth (!) solo album New, Sir Paul has eliminated that dilemma for me; in fact, I couldn’t wait to write my review.
Turns out that unlike so many celebrities today whose only claim to fame is, um, being famous (or shaking their ass on the VMAs), Paul McCartney is an icon for a real reason: he’s a masterful musician, and he’s got decades of history to prove it. And he’s proven it yet again here. At 71, he could easily rest on his ample laurels and coast into retirement, and no one would think any the worse. Instead, with the help of a-list producers such as Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Ethan Johns, the former Beatle has crafted an album that easily stands toe to toe with any of his earlier work.
Rather than striving to prove its own relevance, New plays to McCartney’s strengths as an artist, effortlessly walking the line between classic Beatlesque melodies and modern arrangements. Nothing seems contrived, in my opinion; the nostalgic piano-driven pop of title track “New” somehow seems equally at home on the tracklist alongside the moody, loop-driven electro-groove of “Appreciate.” The production team wisely avoided any perceived effort to “re-tool” McCartney for the twenty-teens. Rather, they created a diverse sonic palate as a backdrop to showcase what has always been Paul McCartney’s greatest strength: the songwriting. In this regard, Sir Paul remains ever the innovator, masterfully combining thoughtful lyricism with creative chord changes and equally creative arrangements, yet somehow keeping it accessible to the masses. Whether he’s belting out rock anthems like “Save Us” and “I Can Bet”, or captivating us with the mundane in the reflective “On My Way to Work,” he once again shows himself to be both storyteller and showman.
Part of McCartney’s staying power over the years has come from the fact that he has been a musical influencer. From the early days of The Beatles onward, countless young and emerging musical artists over several decades have cited him as a creative influence. While New certainly tips its hat to the past at times, the most remarkable aspect of it (and to me, the true meaning behind the title) is that it comes across as Paul McCartney continuing to charting his own path musically. He’s not copying anyone, nor is he trying to keep up; he is still setting the pace. At an age when most artists spend more time looking backward, McCartney is still looking forward. As a result, I have no doubt that New will continue Paul McCartney’s legacy of influencing and inspiring countless musicians and songwriters yet to come.