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Spins: Paul McCartney • McCartney III

| March 3, 2021

Paul McCartney



III is compelling and worthwhile, even if that’s more because of what the album represents as an artifact of its time and Paul McCartney’s artistic resilience than it is for the songs themselves. The album was built upon the back of its most fully-realized song, a lovely chestnut from the vault called “When Winter Comes” (recorded by George Martin alongside Flaming Pie’s “Calico Skies,” and dusted off to accompany an animated film project). The remainder of the record finds McCartney returning to the roots of 1970’s McCartney and 1980’s McCartney II, writing quickly and performing all instruments himself. Rather than the pure experimentation of those predecessor albums, III allowed McCartney to make productive use of prolonged isolation due to pandemic lockdown. The high points aren’t bright as the best spots of the painstakingly curated Egypt Station, but any fan should be thrilled that McCartney decided to heed his muse’s advice to take the lemons and make lemonade.

The joy of creation, like a kid making castles in the sandbox, is audible in tracks like the expansive “Long Tailed Winter Bird.” The song connects most closely to the exploratory ethos of the original McCartney from five decades ago. Yes, it’s Paul McCartney we’re examining, but maybe that adventurousness isn’t something we should take for granted in a commercially mega-successful artist at age 78. “Find My Way” maintains the loose spirit, but it’s off the cuff of someone who’s got piles of pop savvy tucked up his sleeves. McCartney offers a timely chin-up message. “You never used to be afraid of days like these, but now you’re overwhelmed by your anxieties,” he sings, offering to deploy his unerring inner sensibilities to help a friend reclaim a more positive outlook.

The arpeggiated pop of “The Pretty Boys” sketches a portrait of objectified male objects of desire. “You can look, but you’d better not touch,” warns McCartney with a wink. The dark mood of “Women and Wives” is underpinned by rumbling acoustic double bass. “Slidin’” rides a deliciously heavy riff, with echoes of “Come Together” in the chorus. “Deep Deep Feeling” builds a pensive mood into its ode to the pain of love, with loops of falsetto harmonies and understated mellotron layered atop a restrained and subterranean beat.

“The Kiss of Venus” is charming acoustic folk-pop that would be a tuneful concert addition in McCartney’s solo segment alongside “Blackbird.” Even with its harmonized guitars reminiscent of Queen’s Brian May, McCartney has admitted the obvious observation about “Seize the Day.” The carnivalesque song veers into an obviously Beatle-y direction, but ultimately its writer decided that he just had to “let it be” (rim shot, please). Ultimately, only “Deep Down” seems to overstay its welcome as an idea than could have benefited from an editor. The aforementioned “When Winter Comes” concludes III with homespun imagery of simple country life on the farm, recalling the setting that nurtured the original McCartney album.

Is there another enduring pop staple like “Maybe I’m Amazed” (see McCartney) or “Coming Up” (see McCartney II) here? Well, no. But the easy rhymes and simple musical arrangements on III feel confident and captivatingly of-the-moment. Most importantly, III is joyful and fun. It’s uncontrived, with no tracks like the Ryan Tedder-produced “Fuh You” trying overly hard to sound contemporary. Ask any Beatle fan whether they’d rather hear a daffy pop stomper warning us of the cartoonishly wicked “Lavatory Lil,” or a track that tries to make the undisputed king of pop songwriters sound more like OneRepublic.


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– Jeff Elbel

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Category: Spins, Weekly

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