Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: 18th December 2020
"Paul McCartney is one of the most successful and prolific living musicians. Without him, the terrain of popular music would be unrecognisable. How is it that with each release he ventures further into the Dad Rock abyss?"
If you’ve ever spent time at Britain’s small music venues, you’ll have probably encountered bands that have been on the circuit for a while. Undeterred lack of success, they grace the same seven or eight pubs well into their golden years, apparently deaf to any hints that the ship may have sailed, turned around, come back and sailed again. If that’s the case, then you may feel a weird sense of Déjà vu listening to McCartney III.
This comes as a surprise. Paul McCartney is one of the most successful and prolific living musicians. Without him, the terrain of popular music would be unrecognisable. How is it that with each release he ventures further into the Dad Rock abyss?
Sgt Paul’s Lonely Hearts One-Man-Band summarises everything frustrating and redeeming about the record in its opening number. On ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’, McCartney showcases the proficiency of his multi-instrumentalism. But my heart sank when I first heard that blues lick. Neither it nor his wispy vocal melody sound as good as he thinks they do. The longer the track meanders for, the more its positives are undercut.
We must also address the elephant in the room. More often than not, McCartney’s voice sounds like Prince Philip looks. No more is this true than on ‘Women and Wives’, in what is supposed to be a soulful ballad, but ends up closer to your divorced uncle’s drunk rendition of Jonny Cash’s ‘Hurt’.
McCartney III’s midpoint, eight minutes and twenty-six-second marathon ‘Deep Deep Feeling’, is a blues-psych mush that isn’t interesting enough to justify its length. Each refrain becomes progressively more agitating. McCartney’s lyrical craftsmanship is also at its weakest, not only because of its repetitiveness but because of a shocking lack of imagination. Secondary-school stanzas like “sometimes I wish it would stay // sometimes I wish it would go away // emotion” are almost funny in how awkwardly they sit alongside the song’s melancholy tone.
It’s important to remember that this is a lockdown album. Many of this year’s releases use the unique limitations of various lockdowns as a creative opportunity. Once you remember this, it starts to explain much of the album’s simple, wintery lyrical themes and overwritten songs.
For the same reason, however, its softer numbers like ‘The Kiss Of Venus’ stand out as highlights. Here, McCartney’s nimble finger-picking compliments the frailty of his voice, now that it is not having to compete with overcrowded home production. Just him and his guitar, it feels honest.
‘Seize The Day’ is also a pleasant surprise. I caught myself humming along to its White Album-esque hook and felt a pang of sadness over its aptly resonant lyrics. “When the cold days come, and the old ways fade away / There’ll be no more sun, and we’ll wish that we had held on to the day” goes the refrain, sung in sweet, multitracked harmonies.
After a mercifully short reprise of his opening blues lick, McCartney finishes off with another acoustic number, singing about the work he has done on his farm. Like a handful of tracks from the back end of McCartney III, it is an honest statement of McCartney as he is now; a “farmer who plays guitar”, as his Wings bandmates once referred to him.
Paul McCartney will always be a titan of British musical history. But The Beatles aren’t about anymore, and neither do they need to be for his music to be impactful. He clearly cares about what he’s doing, and this latest album is making a lot of people happy during the darkest of times. So good on him. But unless you’re already a Macca fan, it’s unlikely this will make your best of the year list.
Words by Charlie Ridler.
22nd December 2020.