Sure, last year's set of pre-rock pop standards (Kisses on the Bottom) was charming. But at 71, Paul McCartney has thankfully returned to the music of eternal youth. Recorded with a round robin of top-flight producers, including retro-modernist Mark Ronson, U.K. pop supersizer Paul Epworth and Giles (son of George) Martin, New feels energized and full of joyous rock & roll invention. More than a sentimental journey, it's an album that wants to be part of the 21st-century pop dialogue.
The most Beatles-ish track is the Martin-produced "On My Way to Work," whose daydream-y commuter narrative recalls "A Day in the Life"; the boldest is "Queenie Eye," a glam-rockish stadium singalong. But the head turner is "Early Days," a wistful, mostly acoustic memoir-reverie echoing George Harrison's "All Those Years Ago," albeit with some genteel bitchiness, presumably about Paul's Fab Four past: "Everybody seems to have their own opinions/Of who did this and who did that," he sings, "but as for me, I don't see how they can remember/When they weren't where it was at."
The Ronson collaborations are the best moments, splitting the difference between then and now: the Sgt. Pepper-y "New" and "Alligator," which shuffles White Album guitar grit with stoner synth-pop ambience. "I need a place where I can rest my weary bones and have a conversation not too deep," McCartney sings in the latter, which sounds par for the course. But, hell, if it's this catchy, we're in.