Review: Paul McCartney's experimental 'McCartney III' ends 2020 on a high note
Fortunately for music fans, he ends this dismal year on a high note with "McCartney III," out Friday. The album is a long-awaited sequel in his trilogy of self-titled albums: 1970's "McCartney" and 1980's "McCartney II," both of which received mostly negative reviews upon their releases. The Beatles icon recorded this new album completely solo in lockdown, and like its predecessors, plays all the instruments.
Keeping in the spirit of those first two albums, "McCartney III" is largely experimental, and is less interested in delivering easily digestible, radio-friendly hits than it is expanding McCartney's sonic palette. "Deep Deep Feeling," a heady album standout, is an eight-and-a-half-minute meditation on the "deep, deep pain" of falling helplessly in love. The song frequently shifts tempo, layering piano loops, foreboding drums and hazy electric guitar with McCartney's frenzied falsetto. The result is unnerving and transfixing in equal parts.
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A sense of danger lurks on other songs as well, such as the funky flirtation "Deep Down," and the deceptively cheery "Pretty Boys." McCartney, 78, wrote the latter about male models, he told The New York Times, although its darkly cynical lyrics make it hard to glean whether he envies or pities them, or both. ("Strike another pose / try to feel the light / Hey, the camera loves you / don't put up a fight"). It's hard not to make parallels to McCartney's younger Beatles days, with references to "objects of desire" who will "set the world on fire," which adds another level of poignancy.
The jocular "Lavatory Lil" adds some welcome lightness to the album, as does the ebullient "Find My Way," which McCartney wrote at the start of lockdown and finds him searching for hope amid warm horn blasts and a rumbling bass line: "You never used to be afraid of days like this / and now you’re overwhelmed to your anxiety," he tells a partner. "Let me help you round / let me be your guy."
The album ends with the melancholy "Winter Bird – When Winter Comes," a previously unreleased track from the early '90s that was produced by the late George Martin. The dulcet, mostly acoustic track is a beautiful ode to farm life, but also takes on haunting new meaning in the twilight of McCartney's career: "When summer's gone / we'll fly away / and find the sun / when winter comes."
Whether you're a fan of the Beatles, Wings or his solo work, "McCartney III" is a welcome return for the rock legend, with sophisticated songwriting and admirable willingness to venture down new sonic pathways.