McCartney II is an album of aural doodles designed for the amusement of very young children. Recorded at home, with the instruments plugged into a sixteen-track tape machine, it’s a crude affair that depends more on synthesizers than do Paul McCartney’s previous discs. As his own one-man band, McCartney doesn’t try to imitate Wings or re-create the precious atmosphere of his first solo LP, now ten years old. Most of the songs are merely sound effects. Instead of developing melodic themes, the star simply supplies hypnotic little hooks, which are then played off one another and “treated” — i.e., filtered, reverbed, phased — to make strident electronic junk music.
It should hardly be a surprise that McCartney II is really about pop sound and nothing else. Ever since “Silly Love Songs,” his 1976 manifesto proclaiming rock’s essence to be frivolous. Paul McCartney has acted on his beliefs with a vengeance. Both Back to the Egg and the new album imply that, for this ex-Beatle, silliness — no longer even the love song! — is the only worthwhile pop form. And as novelties go. McCartney II is passable. Its catchiest numbers make the singer’s voice sound like a cross between an insect and a windup toy.
“Coming Up,” a push-button paean to the future, outdoes Abba in nervous, hook-filled mechanization. Even if you hate it, it’s liable to stick to your mind like chewing gum to the bottom of a shoe. In “Temporary Secretary,” the title phrase is robotically chirped until the syllables become a computer abstraction. “Frozen Jap” suggests Orientalflavored Muzak piped into a prison in outer space. (Japanese music torture?) “Summer’s Day Song” frames a fragment of an old English air in Eno-style wooziness. In the more conventional cuts — the slow and bluesy “On the Way,” the funereal “Waterfalls” — McCartney’s vocals still sound disembodied, as if they were phoned in from far away.
Does McCartney II advance the cause of the novelty tune? Alas, no. “Bogey Music,” which stretches the pun on boogie ad nauseum, isn’t half so clever or terse as Sheb Wooley’s classic “Purple People Eater.” “Darkroom” is cluttered compared to its immortal prototypes. “The Chipmunk Song” and “Alvin’s Harmonica,” by David Seville and the Chipmunks. But perhaps that’s the point. Nonsense being nonsense, the novelty track is theoretically the most timeless of all pop idioms. There are no ideas to worry about if all you have to say is “goo-goo” and “da-da.” Or, in McCartney-ese: “Everybody bogey/Dig that bogey beat.”