As you can probably tell from the title, when I decide I like an album, I tend to overstate that fact. I do. I remember going around for a short time in 2002 or so, telling people that “By the Way” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers was the greatest album of all time. We all probably listen to new releases from our favorites with rose-colored ear buds.
But let’s not do that with McCartney III.
I will say that for me it is about III times better than McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980) combined, but really the title of this post comes from the fact that it’s taken 40 years for the third installment. Critics felt the same way I do upon the releases of the first two, but over time, both of eponymous records have achieved cult classic status, the first among the lo-fi crowd, the second with electronica fans. McCartney III is a more complete album for me, in that there are no instrumentals, and it isn’t a niche album in the way it’s two predecessors were. It’s a very straightforward Paul McCartney pop rock album. The only thing that makes this album “McCartney III” is that it’s the first time he’s recorded totally alone since 1980. In 1970 he did it because he didn’t have a band anymore, with the Beatles’ recent demise. In 1980 he went back to the drawing board as a solo act because Wings had recently broken up. With McCartney III, we find Paul going it alone because with Covid-19 raging, he’s had nowhere to play this year with his current band.
“Long Tailed Winter Bird” is almost an instrumental, aside from a droning vocal bit at the end. The musicianship on this song is fresh and exciting, but still a few minutes into it I began to wonder if this album was going to be heavy on the guitar jam sessions, like McCartney (1970).
“Find My Way” sounds, at first, like the story of an old man wandering around his house at night, celebrating knowing where he was. But the more I listened, the more it sounded like a spiritual guide who’d come and gone before and knew the way. But if my first interpretation of “Find My Way” were correct, then it was amusing to think that “Slidin’ ” suddenly found him skydiving. At least at first glance. Really, “Slidin'” is about taking risks and the rewards for doing so, along with the obligatory nod to caution. Take it for what you will.
While “Lavatory Lil” is one of those character sketches McCartney has been doing since “Eleanor Rigby”, this one about a gold digger/groupie type hurtling toward her expiration date, “Pretty Boys” too is a scathing if generic condemnation of materialism and superficiality.
“Kiss of Venus” has the feel of “Calico Skies” from McCartney’s album Flaming Pie mashed up with the reprise to “Venus and Mars” on the Wings album of the same title. Inspired by a book about the flight patterns of celestial bodies in our solar system, if anything “Kiss of Venus” is a love song to the cosmos.
I thought “Seize the Day” may turn out to be a sappy song about making every day count regardless of / because of 2020. I think it actually could be about the end of the world. I suppose at times this year, the differences between the two have been negligible. Casual observers may not realize that McCartney’s lyrics are often more complicated than they appear, and this and other McCartney III tracks demonstrate that.
“Deep Down” is a repetitive, bluesy groove, more like anything on McCartney (1970) than anything else on this new set. And oddly, for a fleeting moment it reminds me of “Rock of Ages” by Def Leopard. It’s sort of a return to McCartney’s “Dance Tonight” from 2007 in some ways, so it’s nice to hear Sir Paul still likes to party. “Deep Deep Feeling” is not just similarly named, but just like “Deep Down” it’s a long, sprawling meditation of a track. This one tackles the subject of devoted love, and mortality, and how the two intermingle. It’s like the more and more he considers both, the more they become a mashup in his mind.
“Women and Wives” is a cautionary tale about the choices we make, the legacy we leave behind and how they are connected. Similarly “Winter Bird / When Winter Comes” after a brief instrumental reprise of the album’s opening track, picks up on that same theme – preparation and planning ahead – not just for ourselves, but to leave something behind for others.
Ever since 2007’s “Memory Almost Full” McCartney has been dropping tracks here and there about how he and his listeners might be remembered when we’re gone. Themes that may not be quite as relevant to younger listeners. In that time he has always tried to reach across the generations with each successive album. Though this album could be enjoyed by anyone, it doesn’t feel like he went out of his way to do that on McCartney III. Maybe that is due to the fact that, he claims, he started laying down these tracks without the intention of an album. Maybe that’s the best way.