Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Gift of the week...

I'm feeling a bit low when Philip bounds up to me and proffers a plastic bag containing, it would seem, something flat and 12 inches squared. "I can't remember if this is one of the ones you were looking for...", he says, as I retrieve a copy of this

from the plazzy bag. "Yes," I smile. "It is one of the ones I've been looking for".

"How much do I owe you?" I ask. Philip waves Thunderbird puppet arms horizontally and demurs, muttering something about only and 50 and pence. I buy him a coffee all the same. It's amazing how seemingly small gestures of kindness can have such a transformative effect. It's enough to restore my faith in humanity, anyway.

In the aftermath of the Beatles' split, Paul McCartney retreated to his Scottish farm and lapsed into something akin to a premature mid-life crisis. (He was 28.) Comparing himself to someone who'd been made redundant, his day job as a Beatle to all intents and purposes behind him, Paul grew, by his own account at least, listless, demotivated. In short, far from fab and, as Linda's cover image visually puns, life was no bowl of cherries either.

If he was able to raise himself from his bed at all, it was probably only to hit the Scotch - the baggy eyes on display in many of the photos collaged inside the sleeve's gatefold document the parlous state he'd been in and unwittingly bely the images of rusticity and family joy those snaps are intended to convey. His mood during that period is best summed up in the first few lines of 'Every night' [click here for MP3]

Every night I just want to go out, get out of my head
Every day I don't want to get up, get out of my bed...

It would be very easy to dismiss this collection of half-baked song ideas, only slightly more polished Beatle rejects and oddities ('Glasses', for example, is exactly what it says on the tin - presumably what with all the boozing, Macca had plenty of these hanging about to run his finger around the rim of...) But if you're looking for emotional honesty and an insight into the man behind the music, McCartney succeeds where the often better written and more carefully produced later solo work frequently disappoints.

The album's often willfully unfinished and hobbyist quality catches an intensely creative talent in mid-falter with polaroid immediacy. Apparently dead-in-the water self-jams as 'Oo You' and 'Valentine', which seem to run out of gas before they've got past the first few bars are object lessons in artistic frustration. It's almost as if the listener's empathy has been assumed and McCartney's thinking out loud, "'re frustrated by having to listen to this? Imagine how *I* ****ing well feel playing it..." By the end of side one, as the pub singalong of 'Man we was lonely' fades out, you're hoping that by some miracle, by the time you've flipped over to side two, the other three will have seen sense and realised that they can't possibly leave their old mucker (or you) in this state and by the time the needle drops down, the Beatles will have reformed.

But that was never an option, was it? So, like Macca, we've just got to get on with it. And so, in one of the most remarkable sides of music he's ever produced, we witness McCartney passing through his own version of Lennon's primal therapy, gradually hauling himself back to life, pushing the demons of inertia behind him. 'Momma Miss America' [click here for MP3] is an astonishing piece. The ridiculously primitive snare sound that graces most of the album is wound even more agonisingly taut and distorted to the maximum as McCartney's amateurish, teenage drummer in a Salvation Army band roll ushers in the genuine surprise of a cool, loping, funky reggae groove that sounds like a throwback from some white boys go all funky post-punk LP from 1979. It's quite miraculous - like coming out of a dark room into the light. But then, just as you're hoping that the vocal will come in, the song just sort of meanders into yet another bored twelve bar work out. Why? Before you can even tell yourself - "ah, but he doesn't have John there to edit him any more, does he??", you've surmised ", but he could have just got someone to snip the tape, couldn't he?..."

Gradually, it becomes so evident that he could, and habitually *would* have, got rid of not just this, but most of all the other indulgences on display here, that you begin to realise that Paul's creative listlessness - or rather, your being exposed to it - is not down to sloppiness but to strategy. In much the same way that on his first solo album, John Lennon took the axe to what he perceived as the 'inauthentic', 'dishonest' production filligree of the Beatles, McCartney forces himself and the listener to enter the post-Beatle world at even closer hand. If for Lennon the dream was over, welcome to McCartney's nightmare. Arguably, it's an even braver stylistic leap for McCartney; the suave, professional polisher of gems stripped of the finery of Abbey Road and George Martin's patient, schoolmasterly guidance.

The Beatles are an almost tangible absence in many parts of McCartney. 'Junk' and 'Teddy Boy' were held back from the 'White Album' and can be heard as almost apologetic embryos on the Anthology CD. The instrumental 'Hot as sun' dates back to their pre-fame days as a Liverpool club band. So you can't help but hear these songs in a new bittersweet light - Harrison's tex-mex guitar line on 'Hot as sun' gives way to a rueful McCartney organ solo. 'Junk' and 'Teddy boy', typical of the sort of 'songs about boring people' that used to so irritate John, are sung as if the only person listening is their composer. Even the 'boring people' take on a new complexity as Teddy's almost perverse attachment to his widowed Mum and disapproval of her new lover perhaps aludes to another famous and unwanted interloper who'd blown in from the east around the time the song was written. Here and there a harmony that John or George would have sung rises up, or a laconic, Starr-like snare will shuffle and the dead-as-nature-intended, sound of the room production style starts to make sense. It's as if he's singing in and to a house full of ghosts.

Consequently, the voiceless, karaoke reprise of Junk, 'Singalong junk' [click here for MP3] comes over as a haunting elegy to the Beatles and their decade. Indeed, you could easily imagine it playing quietly in the background of the film Withnail & I, just as the Hendrix gives way and it's realised that there's only enough stuff left for one more Canberwell carrot ...and then the greatest dceade known to human history will be over...

Kreen - Akore ends the album in a puzzling, red Indian drum-driven approximation of the night sweats. But it's the preceeding 'Maybe I'm amazed' [click here for MP3] that presents the pinnacle of the album's emotional arc. It's a definitively cathartic song - no wonder he's amazed - and the fact that it still sounds like a demo of a great song doesn't in anyway diminish, but rather stands as a testament to, its greatness.

You can pick up a vinyl copy on ebay - probably for less than a tenner unless you want an early pressing, in which case there was one going for about £18. Oh, and that fluttering sound you can hear at the end is the birth of Wings.

Hope you enjoy the MP3s. Oh, and thanks again Philip!



  1. My brother gave me this album when it first came out. Strangely, I had no idea how good it was at the time - "Maybe I'm Amazed" now sound FABULOUS.

    Now that's what I call a "grower".

  2. We would have missed out on so much great music if the Beatles hadn't split up when they did.

  3. Hi Rog,

    Yes, it's a belter, isn't it? Very raw and honest music. I have this mental picture of him regressing to teenagerdom when he was making it. He tried again with McCartney II which is also very charming - must dust that down and have a listen. Has at least 2 classics on it - 'Coming up' (which was rumoured to have reactivated Lennon's muse) and 'Waterfalls'; one of his must gorgeous melodies set to a 'Low'-style synth track.

    Hi Geoff;

    Yep, splitting up aside, 1970 was a pretty good Beatle year wasn't it? This, All Things Must Pass, Plastic Ono Band. I'm trying to hunt down Ringo's country LP, "Beaucoups of Blues" (worth having for the title alone) without much joy.....if you come across a copy....)



  4. 'Small Gestures' from people really do make a fella feel good!
    Had a similar 'speery ense' recently when my bud sourced an old movie I had been searchin' out for the kids.