Capitol (CD, LP)
Recorded all by his lonesome at his home in England (and with the world in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic), McCartney III is Paul McCartney’s third solo album proper: as most are aware, it was preceded by 1970’s somewhat tentative, fresh-out-of-the-Beatles McCartney and the often off the wall experimentation of 1980’s slightly stoned-sounding McCartney II.
Now 40 years down the road comes McCartney III, and while it’s not going to conjure up fond memories of “Maybe I’m Amazed” or even “Coming Up,” it’s still a damned fine record. Factor in that McCartney is approaching 80-years-old and this spirited, loose, and lighthearted effort becomes even more remarkable.
Right out of the chute, McCartney throws the listener a curveball—albeit an enjoyable one—with “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” a 5:17 (mostly) instrumental number with a feathery, funky repetitive groove that sounds like something of a cross between the feel of McCartney and McCartney II. Next up is “Find My Way,” which seems as if it could have been an Egypt Station outtake. (Portions of this one also sound vaguely reminiscent of “The World Tonight,” from Flaming Pie.) It’s one of several songs here that find its creator layering multiple vocal tracks and instruments atop each other to create something memorable—and having a good time while doing so.
Both the casual, affecting “Pretty Boys” and “The Kiss of Venus” lay bare McCartney’s slightly weathered lead vocals, which detract ever-so-slightly from each tune; curiously, the disc-closing mini-medley “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes”—a typically gorgeous ballad where the bucolic lyrics harken back to Ram—finds him traversing a similar acoustic-based path with a sweetly pure vocal showing no signs of age whatsoever. (Note: a bit of research has uncovered the fact that this song was actually partially tracked in 1992, hence the clarity of the lead vocal.)
Other tracks build on the sonic experimentation that defined McCartney II, minus most of that record’s electronic weirdness. “Deep Deep Feeling” is 8:26 worth of all-over-the-place goodness, with left-field tempo shifts, bits of loud percussion, some tribal drums, patches of falsetto vocals, a false ending, and a beautifully hypnotic mid-song sequence highlighted by a memorable piano figure and some nicely understated lead guitar. It sounds casual yet well thought out at the same time, as does the nearly six-minute groove of “Deep Down,” which weds some soulful vocal histrionics, slinky organ, and faux horns to a simple, insistent 4/4 groove.
Another fine, Egypt Station-styled pop tune (and one that might have been considered for a single back when singles were a thing) is the immediately catchy “Seize the Day”— it’s a classic McCartney pop ditty, the likes of which he can probably churn out in his sleep at this point. Equally poppy (but not nearly as good) is “Women and Wives,” which is notable for some irritating vocal affectations as well as a disturbing melodic similarity to Coldplay’s “Clocks.”
Overall, McCartney III doesn’t hitch itself to any sort of high concept; rather, it seems like a collection of completely random tunes that allows Paul McCartney to stretch out, have a bit of fun (“Lavatory Lil” is a hoot), and fire up that creative spark yet again. As he sings in the bluesy rocker, “Slidin’”: “This is what I want to do/who I want to be.” Rock on, Paul.
—John M. Borack