When Paul McCartney finds himself in times of trouble he writes a McCartney album. As the Beatles were breaking apart he wrote McCartney. When Wings was coming to an end in 1980 he delivered some of his most eccentric material on McCartney II. In the wake of the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic McCartney once again found himself adrift.
Paul McCartney’s 2020
First, his multi-million dollar tour was postponed. A triumphant headline appearance at iconic UK festival Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary was also canceled. As McCartney bunkered down in his English country home, the woman he loved was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In July, the protests which followed the needless death of Black American George Floyd left him exasperated and wanting justice. And then there was the staggering death toll of the virus itself. One which McCartney at 78 was most at risk of fatally contracting.
Love in the Time of Lockdown
McCartney III is the former Beatle’s response. Putting on a brave face, Paul mixes the silliness of the previous two installments in the McCartney series with the reflective material of more recent albums like Egypt Station. Here McCartney explores the emotions which came with life in lockdown. McCartney III deals in musical themes of love, pain, and brief glimmers of ecstasy. As he puts it on ‘Deep Deep Feeling‘, that deep deep pain of feeling.
The keyboard part on ‘Deep Deep Feeling‘ ever so slightly evokes the mellotron flute sound of The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. McCartney III is full of these touches. He more directly reflects in the role of being The Cute Beatle in ‘Pretty Boys’. Being a Beatle, Paul McCartney is the kind of person who gets a round of applause just for showing up. He represents the hopes and aspirations of a generation and many that followed.
Paul’s Proggy Chops
‘Slidin‘ follows ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ and sees McCartney making an unlikely turn into heavy rock. In fact, it’s some of the heaviest material he has released since Beatles number ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ and Wings’ Venus and Mars. ‘Slidin” also sounds like former Beatle Paul McCartney trying to be the Arctic Monkeys who were (probably) only ever trying to be The Beatles in the first place. Very confusing. Though it must be said McCartney’s ever-present competitive edge has ensures he does a fantastic job of it.
Paul is Alive
One thing which may strike any not familiar with McCartney’s recent material is that his voice is not as good as it was in 1967. The album’s production compensates for the fact. His limitations show the most when he’s rolling out the kind of rock ‘n’ roll numbers he was playing with the Beatles in the German port city of Hamburg in 1961. (If somebody presented you a copy of Abbey Road and McCartney III to take to a desert island, and answer honestly here, which one would you take?) Then again sometimes the comfort comes not from what a person says but just the fact that they are there. McCartney arrives with a tremendous sense of presence. Rumored dead since 1967 Paul proves he is very much alive.
Love is All You Need
A theme McCartney returns to again and again throughout his career is love. John Lennon once sang that “love is all you need.” Now McCartney reminds fans that these difficult times have not diminished the human capacity for love. With ‘The Kiss of Venus’ he says, in his own words, that the circle never stops turning. Echoing George Harrison’s famous quotation of the Indian mantra “All Things Must Pass“, Paul offers his comforting assurance things will not always be as they now are. ‘Seize the Day’ sees Paul McCartney again return to the dominant theme of love. “Love was the greatest prize,” he sings, “I only had to open my mind.”
McCartney III is Eclectic
The Beatles’ approach to making albums was never to do the same thing twice. Each McCartney song offers a different musical idea. Often these stylistic directions tease a sound that could be fleshed out into an entire album within itself. At age 78 Paul brings the funk harder than Wings ever did. ‘Long Tailed Winter Bird’ pays a musical homage to White Album era classic ‘Black Bird‘ as well as folksy McCartney I numbers like ‘The Lovely Linda‘.
Paul McCartney’s Grand Finale
McCartney is well aware he has already written the most profound song for helping others through hard times. With ‘Let It Be‘, the song which famously came to him in a dream, he wrote the ultimate “Don’t worry too much, it will turn out OK” anthem. McCartney III very cleverly does not try to top it. Instead, The Beatle delves deeper into human nature itself. “We’re going to find the sun,” Paul sings in the album’s closing moments, “When winter comes.” (A move that will no doubt leave Beatles fans wondering whether he’s coyly referencing George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’ for years to come.)
His Inspiring Presence
McCartney III is at times silly. An 78-year-old man playing rock ‘n’ roll song titled ‘Lavatory Lil‘ or suggestively singing about “getting down tonight“? And yet somehow, it is also darn inspiring. Musically McCartney pays tribute to his rich musical past while lyrically urging listeners to make the most of the present. It would be dishonest to say his 18th solo album is his greatest achievement as a songwriter. Nevertheless, McCartney III is a warm reminder of why McCartney is considered by so many to be The World’s Greatest Living Artist. Let’s face it, his greatest competitor is himself.
An Important Message
A veteran entertainer, Paul McCartney is no doubt aware that music’s greatest power lays in bringing people together. While his fans are scattered across the globe and separated by circumstances beyond control, they can still tune in and turn on to McCartney III. He may not be able to change the world in any grandiose way, but he can make some of the people in it feel good. (Even if just for a moment.) And in that regard, his execution is perfect. McCartney spins affections for home, family, and kindness alongside the passionate love and wild energy of his Beatles days. McCartney III is no cash-in. It’s a statement record. And McCartney’s messages are as important as they are reassuring. “When tomorrow comes around,” he sings, “You’ll be looking at the future so keep your feet upon the ground. And get ready to run.”