McCartney is an album that wants desperately to convince. Its explicit and uniform message is that Paul McCartney, his wife Linda and family have found peace and happiness in a quiet home away from the city and away from the hassle of the music business. This is a beautiful vision and, like most listeners, I wanted very much to believe it was true. On the basis of the music alone I was entirely persuaded. The 14 cuts on McCartney are masterful examples of happiness, relaxation and contentment.
Unfortunately, there is more to this album than just music. Accompanying the release of McCartney was a mass of external information — all of it coming directly from Paul himself — which casts real doubt on the beautiful picture which the songs create. The album jacket with dozens of family snapshots proclaims that Paul and Linda have found peace and happiness in a way that seems redundant and overdone. Numerous stories in the world press made the same message a headline event just three days before the album went on sale — PAUL AND LINDA FIND HAPPINESS AWAY FROM THE BEATLES. Last week’s Ed Sullivan Show announced that “Paul McCartney would introduce his new record for the American audience.” As millions of viewers tuned in, the show flashed more pictures of the happy family on the screen while one of the songs from the album played in the background. It was not convincing.
Most disturbing of all, however, are the four information sheets written for the album — sheets which, despite Paul’s wishes, are not included in the American release. The sheets contain even more assertions about how happy and peaceful Paul and Linda are these days, and some interview statement from Paul concerning his relationship to the Beatles — statements which drip a kind of unsavory vindictiveness.
Although it is a painful question to ask, why did Paul choose to cover a very beautiful and pleasing record with such tawdry propaganda? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we must start by considering the music in its own terms.
In both the quality of its songs and the character of its production McCartney will no doubt be a disappointment to many Beatles fans. Most people probably hoped that Paul’s album would be a gigantic leap “beyond the Beatles,” a super mind-blowing extravaganza with songs which would make “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” seem pale by comparison. This did not happen. When compared to the best of the Beatles’ previous work, the songs on McCartney are distinctly second rate.
Rather than adopt the role of “Super Paul,” McCartney chose to keep things very personal and straightforward — “light and loose,” as he mentions in the official interview. Both the melodies and lyrics on the album are sparse and uncomplicated. The first two songs on side one, for example, have virtually no verbal or melodic content whatsoever. “The Lovely Linda” starts out, “La-la-la-la the lovely Linda, with the lovely flowers in her hair.” Paul repeats this once, giggles and then stops. “That Would Be Something” gives us the lines “That would be something / To meet you in the falling rain, momma, meet you in the falling rain” over and over again.
This emphasis on simplicity is the keynote of the whole album. Surprisingly enough, it manages to overcome our expectations of something more monumental and works very well. For while there are no songs of truly classic Beatles proportion, most of the cuts are very tasteful and fun to listen to. “Junk” and “Teddy Boy” are low pressure compositions with gentle, poignant lessons to convey. “Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window. Why? Why? says the junk in the yard.”
“Maybe I’m Amazed” is a very powerful song which states one of the main sub-themes of the record, that the terrible burden of loneliness can be dispelled by love. “Baby, I’m a man / Maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something / That he really doesn’t understand / Baby I’m a man / Maybe you’re the only woman who could ever help me / Baby won’t you help me to understand.” This is the only song on the album that even comes close to McCartney’s best efforts of the past. It succeeds marvelously.
The low key formula carries over into the five (that’s right, five) instrumentals on the record. For reasons that only he knows, Paul plays none of the spectacular bass lines of his Abbey Road period. Neither does he grace us with the marvelous piano work that highlights the white Beatles album and many of the hit Beatles singles. Playing and overdubbing the drums, lead guitar, bass, organ and so forth by himself, Paul sticks to lines and rhythms which pacify rather than amaze.
“Valentine Day,” for example, was recorded at his home and sounds very much like some boys in your neighborhood trying out their new guitars. “Hot As Sun” is a delightful south of the border piece which reminds one of the stunning mariachi bands in Mexico City. “Momma Miss America” gives us Paul McCartney as surf music star, grinding out those hoary old Ventures-esque riffs with a perfectly distorted surf guitar. In all of the instrumentals there is a slight tendency for Paul’s drumming to be just a little off beat. But given the mood of the album, this creates no problems. It enhances the relaxation.
The most pleasing feature of the album is that it gives us a chance to hear Paul’s voice in its pure and unaltered form. Ever since Rubber Soul the Beatles had insisted on putting miles of echo chamber between their voices and the ear of the listener. This became so irritating to me that I refused to buy the last two Beatles albums in futile protest. I just couldn’t listen to another one of those echoed and compressed Lennon-McCartney “Ahhhhhhhh-ahhhhhhh’s” or one more of the sounds-like-a-giant-basketball- landing in-a pile-of-oatmeal slightly-phased drum beats (Thump-Plop, echo, echo). In McCartney all of the fancy neo-Stock-hausen electronics is cast aside. The only thing that separates us from Paul’s voice are the two inches between his lips and the microphone. The sound is a genuine improvement — clean, crisp, warm and definitely human.
In brief, if one can accept the album in its own terms, McCartney stands as a very good, although not astounding, piece of work. My problem is that all of the publicity surrounding the record makes it difficult for me to believe that McCartney is what it appears to be. In the special package of information which Paul wanted to include with the album we find startlingly harsh statements.
You won’t find these comments in your copy of the record. Beatles manager Allen Klein deleted the four sheets labeled “General Information,” “Information,” “Lyrics,” and “Interview” from the American version. He could not have done Paul a bigger favor. For the overall effect of the McCartney literature is to turn the package into an undisguised power play involving Paul’s status relative to the other Beatles. What this material is saying is that Beatles fans should recognize that the group is totally defunct and now follow the man who was the real genius of the outfit in the first place, namely, Paul McCartney.
Implicit in Paul’s writings and interview statements are all sorts of thinly veiled recriminations and put downs, e.g., John’s work “doesn’t give me any pleasure,” and: “Wish Ringo was here for this break?” “No.” Remember, this is all stuff that Paul himself deliberately included, not just some idle comments he let slip to a probing journalist. If one wanted to extend speculation on what it all means, the possibilities are endless. Why, for example, did Paul involve Linda in this album? Was it his vain attempt to do John and Yoko one better?
The lasting effect of this publicity campaign is to cast a dark shadow on an otherwise beautiful record. Listening to it now I cannot help but ask if Paul is really as together as the music indicates, how could he have sunk to such bizarre tactics? I like McCartney very much. But I remember that the people of Troy also liked that wooden horse they wheeled through their gates until they discovered that it was hollow inside and full of hostile warriors.