Sunday, 23 August 2015

Paul McCartney album by album

Paul McCartney is not my favourite musician. I think he is a decent tune smith who has, with the Beatles and as a solo artist, written a handful of really great songs - "I Saw Her Standing There", "Drive My Car", "Helter Skelter", and "Maybe I'm Amazed"  being among those. Other songs for which he is generally acclaimed are "Penny Lane", "Let It Be", "Eleanor Rigby", and  "Hey Jude"  - with his most acclaimed being "Yesterday". He also wrote a series of blistering songs with John Lennon in the early days of the Beatles, such as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", and "She Loves You" -  the last of which was "Day Tripper", But while he could write a good rocker, and a delicate ballad, he was not one for writing edgy, envelope pushing songs, unless, such as with "Helter Skelter", it was in response to criticism of his bland song-writing. He also had a tendency to pull the Beatles toward mediocrity and triviality with songs such as "When I'm Sixty Four" and "Yellow Submarine". So his reputation is somewhat mixed, and his image tends to be somewhat negative.

When he left the Beatles the series of solo albums he released (there is no important difference to the albums released under his own name or the Wings name), while popular, are fairly widely acknowledged as poor stuff. Apart from Band On The Run.  While critics vary in which of his albums they admire and hate, Band On The Run is universally seen as his best work, and the one on which his entire solo career rests. It contains most of his best post-Beatles songs, and is a unified work with the sum being greater than the parts - generally the mark of a great album.

He continues to work on music, collaborating with other artists such as choreographer Peter Martins, music mixer Roy Kerr, producer Martin Glover (Youth), and composer Carl Davis; creating a range of music styles from classic scores to experimental mashups.


McCartney's first solo album received a negative almost hostile critical reception. For many its arrogant banality sums up the whole of McCartney's solo output. Nobody doubts his ability to construct a fine melody, but most critics feel that he does little with that ability. It's not an unpleasant listen, but there's not much happening, other than the wonderful "Maybe I'm Amazed".

AllMusic Score: 8
My Score: 4

McCartney's second effort attempted to address complaints about his first album by having a proper band and  fulling producing all songs to give a more polished and professional feel. But this only succeeded in irking critics even more as it appeared to reveal the lack of any consequence or edge in his songs. I find the first album pleasant listening, but this one lacks charm and seems to repeat all the bad ideas of the Beatles, which just goes to enforce what the critics were saying, that the real talent in that band had been Lennon. Put Lennon and McCartney together and the resulting tension produced edgy, interesting, yet pleasant songs. All McCartney appeared capable of without Lennon was twee and pleasant - and after a while the twee becomes both boring and tiresome. Best song, even though overlong, trivial and slightly irritating, is "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey". It's Yellow Submarine part two!

AllMusic score: 10
My Score: 3

Wild Life  
Another tedious effort. McCartney's third, but the first to be credited to Wings.
There are no decent songs. Worse album so far.

AllMusic score: 5
My Score: 2

Red Rose Speedway  
Credited to Paul McCartney & Wings, this is the most polished and worked album McCartney had yet released after leaving the Beatles. Reviews ranged from such as Robert Christgas's,  which felt it was a dreadful album, McCartney's worse, to such as Rolling Stone's, which felt it was modestly pleasant, and possibly McCartney's best. Overall, despite the polish, it's another tedious album lacking in ideas. Best song "My Love".

AllMusic score: 8
My Score: 3

Band On The Run  
One of my Classic Albums.  I love this.

AllMusic score: 9
My Score: 8

Venus and Mars  

Following the success of the rocking Band on The Run, Venus and Mars starts off in cracking form with "Rock Show"  - which has elements of Ian Dury & the Blockheads in its sound, and continues in an upbeat rocking style, building on what people liked about Band On The Run. Critical and commercial reaction, however, wasn't as positive - after all this was simply more of the same, and somehow lacking the authenticity and edge of Band; indeed some critics disliked it a lot, while those who did like it, did so grudgingly; however, it's a listenable album, and - other than Band - better than anything else McCartney had done to date. The album contains the single, "Listen To What The Man Said".

AllMusic score: 6
My Score: 4.5

Wings At The Speed of Sound 
McCartney returns to the trite and superficial, as evidenced by the opening song, "Let 'Em In",  a reprise of the Yellow Submarine/Uncle Albert music hall nonsense that was never going to earn him the respect of critics, both because of its trivial whimsy, but also because it was looking backwards rather than forwards. The attempt to make his paid musicians feel part of a band by tossing them songs to sing, comes over as condescending rather than the groovy community spirited thing that McCartney possibly hoped it would be. Various Wings band members have reported that they disliked that they were session musicians in the band, while McCartney was paying lip service to them being integral members. You are either a band member or a hired professional. People should be treated with respect. Album contains the hit single "Silly Love Songs".

Score: 2

London Town 
Pleasant enough but instantly forgettable songs.

Score: 2

Back To The Egg 
Pretty dire. The last album to use the Wings name, pretending that there was a band.

Score: 1

McCartney II 

A return to using the Paul McCartney name alone. McCartney II is McCartney still trying unsuccessfully to find his voice. Credit to him for trying things out. but the experiment lacks ideas and shouldn't have been released. The Rolling Stone review sums it up well. Dreadful stuff.

Score: 1

Tug of War
Created after Lennon's murder, and with George Martin as producer, Tug of War was commercially successful, and has largely been accepted by the critics as a well crafted album and a return to melodic form for McCartney as a popular tune-smith. I find it rather trivial and over-produced.

Score: 2

Pipes of Peace 
Though not as commercially or critically successful as Tug of War, despite most of the songs coming from the same recording session, I find this a somewhat more satisfying album. The title track is reminiscent of  McCartney's whimsical melodic work with the Beatles - it's not cutting edge stuff, but is well crafted and pleasant. And the collaborations with Michael Jackson, "The Man", and "Say Say Say",  are rather more substantial and interesting than those with Stevie Wonder on Tug of War - the dreary and artificial "Ebony and Ivory",  and boring "What's That You're Doing?

Score: 3

Press To Play

Score: 1

Flowers In The Dirt  (1989)
Competent but empty.

Score: 2

Off The Ground  (1993)

Like Flowers In The Dirt - a competent but empty album. Toe-tapping melodies married with an attempt to write serious lyrics on "meaningful" topics. You can listen to it, but it's all quite forgettable.

Score: 2

Flaming Pie  (1997)

The return of George Martin as producer gives this a polished and distinctly Beatles feel. There are some pleasant acoustic tracks, and the album is quite listenable. But there's nothing  special going on here. Just another competent and pleasant McCartney album. Next please.

Score: 3

Liverpool Sound Collage  (2000)

Oh my fucking gawd. McCartney trying to catch up with Lennon's Revolution 9. It doesn't work.

Score: 1

Driving Rain (2001)
Starts off fresh and energetic, full of promise, but as the album progresses it becomes a tedious grind of McCartney's superficiality. Too much ego, not enough self-reflection.

Score: 2

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)

A solid and polished collection of songs. Listenable and well crafted, but lacking that touch of something special.

AllMusic: 8
Score: 3 1/2

Memory Almost Full  (2007)

There's a lack of ideas and imagination about this. You can listen to it, but it doesn't provide much in the way of pleasure. It's moire wallpaper than art.

Score: 2

New  (2013)

Fresh and lively, with some melodic, well crafted songs. The usual thing. It's a competent, well constructed piece of furniture. It simply doesn't excite.

Score: 2


It's a workable voice, it is clear and carries the lyrics. Rarely does it do anything more than that. Lacks, depth, character, warmth and emotion to really make ballads special. Was the best in the Beatles for belting out a rocker, but it's not a great voice. His best vocal is Maybe I'm Amazed when he leant his rocker voice to a ballad, and made it work effectively. 

Cute, superficial,  Sancho Panza to John Lennon's Don Quixote. Seen as workmanlike, professional, a great tunesmith, but lacking in art and style. Earnest, well meaning, a little boring. Not cool.

Efficient and workmanlike middle of the road lyrics which rarely rise above the mediocre, but can do it on occasion, such as Baby You Can Drive My Car.

Very good tunesmith, though lacks true ambition, so music rarely soars or does anything special or unusual. However, music is better than lyrics, and is above average.

Gosh. As a significant part of The Beatles his impact and influence is potentially huge. Difficult to separate him from the rest of the band, but his instrument was the bass, and he was effective at that, rather than did anything special. It was the songs that he and Lennon wrote, and the huge social impact of the band that was the influence, so that has to be given to the band as a whole. His solo work is unregarded.

He has struggled to remain artistically interesting since leaving the Beatles, while Lennon went on to become  godlike, and even Harrison and Ringo gained more attention and sales for a while.

Given that he was part of the most successful, well known and acclaimed band of all time, he has struggled to keep people paying attention, and especially to regard him as a musician worth taking seriously. His popularity seems to be mainly as an ex-Beatle rather than as a solo artists in his own right. Having said that, he has had sales.

Star quality
Down to earth. Earnest. A bit uncool and awkward. But as an ex-Beatle can still command some respect, even if that is now second-hand, worn-out and partly borrowed from Lennon.

Emotional appeal
He can write a moving ballad, such as Maybe I'm Amazed, Blackbird, Michelle, Yesterday.

As part of the Beatles will always be remembered.

Total: 48/100

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