Chaos And Creation In The Backyard
Why does Paul McCartney continue to record new albums? Here’s a guy who’s pretty much done it all – dozens of hit singles, best-selling, trend-setting albums, stadium tours, movies and television specials, children’s books and oratorios. Is there truly anything else he needs to accomplish? Can’t he just sit back, collect royalties and knighthoods, and be content with his young, class-act wife? Doesn’t he realize he’s approaching his 64th birthday? He’s supposed to be doing the garden and digging the weeds! Instead, Paul McCartney, like his pals the Rolling Stones, still plays the game, generating massive concert grosses that put most of his peers and a slew of challenging newcomers to shame.
Perhaps as a gesture to their longevity, both the Stones and McCartney are touring for the second time this century and promoting new records. And the 2005 Battle of the Sixties Rock Stars in their Sixties rages on with the Rolling Stones, reinvigorated by A Bigger Bang in one corner, and Sir Paul McCartney, burrowing down deep and heartfelt on Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, in another corner.
And that’s the whole spin on the former Beatle’s record. Producer Nigel Godrich, whose shape and shifting techniques have graced the grooves for the likes of Radiohead and Beck, apparently sent the backing band packing, insisting the artist formerly known as The Cute One handle all the instrumental duties himself. Having done an adequate background check, Godrich undoubtedly knew his client had previous experience in that department and set about to mold the archetypal solo Paul McCartney album. But an outside producer can only do so much.
To his credit, McCartney has routinely planted ominous, bespeckled jewels in the crevices of his numerous mediocre platters from the past 25 years or so. Even so, a new Paul McCartney album is practically doomed from the start. It’s never going to be as earth-shattering as the Beatles. It couldn't possibly be as inspiring as what he did with Wings. What the hell does he have to prove by making another album anyway?
The short answer is that there are nice little nuggets like “Jenny Wren,” blessed with a simple melody, a light touch on the acoustic and a vibrant voice that warms the cockles and momentarily washes away the cloudy skies of reality. There are earnest, paternal exercises like “Friends To Go” and ‘English Tea,” tingling with McCartneyesque trollop and tenderness. Still, by the time you get to “Riding To Vanity Fair,” the meandering pace starts to wear a bit thin. Even “Anyway,” hinging on a “People Get Ready” riff in between various flights of fancy, falls short of making the entire affair much more than a murmur on a mammogram meter.
In the end, Sir Paul’s integrity and artistry stay afloat without making much of a leap beyond the expected – a fair-to-medium-to-pretty-good group of straightforward, clear-thinking tunes. Paul McCartney obviously feels the need to validate himself by touring behind new albums, and there probably isn’t any reason he should be discouraged from doing so. But really – working with what he has, what he’s done and who he is – making great records should be the least of his worries.
~ Shawn Perry