Masterful ‘McCartney III’ Hits the Right Notes

When COVID put a halt to Paul McCartney’s touring schedule, he retired to his Sussex farm and soon found himself working on a song he had put aside in 1992.  Enjoying the end result, he began working on some more numbers and, before he knew it, he had a new album.  The final product is McCartney III.

McCartney III marks the third part of a trilogy that began 50 years ago with the release of McCartney in 1970 and was followed by McCartney II in 1980.  On these self-titled albums, McCartney is the sole creative force as he wrote and performed all the songs, played all the instruments and produced the albums. 

The albums are also unique in that they’re not commercial work.  These albums are just Sir Paul playing around, experimenting and writing solely for himself.  As such, McCartney III was the first album where my excitement was tempered with a bit of caution.

Of his previous two DIY endeavors, McCartney is an OK album, but definitely feels more like a private work with its little song snippets.  But it did produce the instant classic “Maybe I’m Amazed”.  McCartney II was a grave disappointment relieved by two great instrumental numbers and the brilliant “One of These Days”.

After listening to the album’s opener, “Long Tailed Winter Bird”, I knew I had nothing to fear as McCartney clearly had another quality work on his hands.  The opener begins with McCartney playing a catchy riff on acoustic guitar and the song slowly layers up as more instruments are added until the song becomes a gem of an instrumental.

Each song of the album has that fine layered quality which gives each number a lot of texture and nuance.  Even the album’s weakest tune, “Deep Down”, is still an enjoyable listen due to the depth of McCartney’s melodies on this work.

McCartney III is definitely Macca’s most contemplative effort since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.  Many of the songs strike an unusually somber and reflective tone for the usually optimistic and cheerful performer.  But these songs also happen to be some of the album’s finest moments. 

“Pretty Boys” sounds like a reflection on the darker side of Beatlemania when mega-fame put the Beatles in a box where people could “look, but you better not touch”.  “Women and Wives” is a haunting lecture on the trials of love and marriage from the viewpoint of an experienced sage.   “Lavatory Lil” is a guilty pleasure song featuring a character who is the second cousin of “Polythene Pam” and “Mean Mr. Mustard”.  “Deep, Deep Feeling” is a heavy song about the deep feeling of love wrapped in one of McCartney’s most ethereal melodies since Electric Arguments.

Of course the album still has songs featuring Sir Paul’s classic energy and pep.  McCartney reminds us that he still lives life to the fullest with “Seize the Day”.  “Find My Way” finds a man still confident of his path while “The Kiss of Venus” is a beautiful love song enhanced by Sir Paul’s raspy falsetto making it sound like a grandfather telling his grandchildren the story of how he met their grandmother.  “Slidin” has McCartney revisiting the White Album days with a hard rocker akin to a slightly mellower “Helter Skelter”.  And the album is nicely framed with its closer “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” where the album’s opener segues into a simple song about getting the farm ready for winter.

Even at the age of 78, Paul McCartney still has an impressive set of pipes though the passage of time has thinned them a bit.  But it also has the flip side of adding an aura of experience and life lived that add an inexplicable x factor to his songs. 

With McCartney III, Macca has reached the full potential of his DIY work and produced a great record that could be a candidate for Album of the Year.  More importantly, he’s shared the gift of joy with a world ready for a little positivity and ends 2020 on a very high note indeed.

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