At the ripe old age of 78 years of age, the ex-Beatle is back with an album that is him to the core. A minor masterpiece written during the difficult months of the lockdown that still manages to be a hymn to life
Let’s roll out a few numbers here. McCartney III from Paul McCartney is the eighteenth solo album from the ex-Beatle and it just so happens that it comes out a week before Christmas – on 18th December – exactly forty years after McCartney II (1980) and actually half a century after McCartney (1970) which came out at the time of the dramatic breakup of the Fab Four in the spring which also saw the release of “Let It Be”.
This third chapter, exactly like the other two, shows us a Macca who is utterly self-sufficient, busily shifting between production and musical instruments. A “private” album in the true sense of the word which will now be listened to and judged by the entire world. Sorry for bursting in like that, Paul.
The main excuse for recording an album of this kind about two years after the excellent Egypt Station (which by the way was the first record from McCartney to get to number one in the US charts since Tug Of War in 1982) was the hard, sad and rocky year that we are finally getting to bid farewell. The year of Covid-19. The year of the pandemic and global lockdown in homes imposed just about everywhere and on everyone. Rock legends included.
In the words of Paul: “Every single day of the lockdown I would start to record a new song using the instrument I had written it on and then, bit by bit, add on all the rest. The end result was really fun. It was me making music for myself rather than seeing the entire operation as a “job” that had to be done. So I started to build up one track after another and at the same time I was having a great time! I never suspected I was going to end up with a finished album…”.
So McCartney III remains a joy of a record as well as a solo album in the true sense of the word. A warm, homely, homespun record that maybe has something of Ram, the album Paul put out in 1971 with his beloved wife Linda. A minor masterpiece closer to the acoustic delights of the McCartney of fifty years back than the synth-pop daftness of the unexpected McCartney II in 1980. There’s no noodling on the keyboard here, at the most an enjoyable overload of folky guitar with old-style fingerpicking, something Macca was always rather fond of.
And yet “this farmer playing the guitar” (which was how Paul was described at one time by a one-time member of Wings) can still surprise us with some weird and wonderful stuff such as “Lavatory Lil” which sounds like something from a recording session for Abbey Road (1969) not to mention the creative climax of “The Kiss of Venus” which, thanks to its pastoral mood, is akin to the classic “Mother Nature’s Son” by the Beatles.
Here McCartney’s voice is decanted like fine wine, the fruit of such a lengthy career, and goes straight to the heart with the splendid opening track “Long Tailed Winter Bird” (which begins after two minutes of classical arpeggios) or the closing track “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” which is pure homely warmth.
Two bodies in an embrace in front of the fireplace. A love song of such intimacy that perhaps it clashes with the rock that emerges here and there on the album or with the more conventional, radio-friendly ballad “Women and Wives”. And yet, believe us, the beauty of McCartney III lies in the silences rather than the explosions. In the whispers rather than the shouts. The wait before sowing rather than the tumult of the harvest.
Joy, candour, inventiveness. A peaceful collective feeling that winter will bring more joy than distress: that’s all there is right now in the mind of the seventy-eight year-old Paul McCartney. Which makes McCartney III the sweetest and most hopeful way of bidding adieu to a year where we have learned a lot but which we will not be sorry to see the back of.