If you’d been sat next to me as I came to the end of my first listen to ‘Memory Almost Full’ and told me that Paul McCartney‘s next conventional studio album would be pretty high up my end of year list, I’d have laughed in your face. And asked why you were in my living room. The ludicrously twee sound of much of that record felt like a light going out. Here was a truly legendary artist wilfully and churlishly turning his back on the sound of the genuinely brilliant ‘Chaos & Creation In The Backyard’ because its producer wasn’t quite as deferential in the studio as other producers. It seemed that McCartney was happy to see out his career putting out hum-drum pleasantries safe in the knowledge that there were plenty of people who’ll buy anything with his name on it. By the time he was mugging his way through ‘Hey Jude’ at the Olympics, the game seemed almost up.
And yet, here we are. ‘Kisses On The Bottom’ was the first sign that he was still capable of being unpredictable, heartfelt swing covers sitting alongside the truly beautiful ‘My Valentine’. The lead single and title track initially had me fearing that ‘Memory Almost Full’ had been all too memorable in these sessions, but early listens were curiously reassuring. Several months on from the arrival of ‘New’ and I think I’m still liking it more each time I hear it. And I’m playing it a lot.
‘Save Us’ clatters in and out in under three minutes, with a nagging chorus, a great hook and decent production, a job shared by four people across this album. Paul Epworth takes charge for this powerful opener, recent single and chronic earworm ‘Queenie Eye’ and album closer proper ‘Road’ which barrels out in much the same fashion as ‘Save Us’ rumbled in. Mark Ronson oversees the fabulously slinky ‘Alligator’ and the really-actually-quite-lovely-once-get-to-know-it title track. Ethan Johns‘ production only makes the cut twice, but both ‘Hosanna’ and the charmingly fragile ‘Early Days’ are firm favourites. Giles Martin continues the family trade to predictably sound effect, with six credits to his name. ‘Everybody Out There’ is a corking mid-album pop-rocker, with a cascading melody and simple but affecting lyrics like “There, but for the Grace of God go you and I, do some good before you say goodbye.” But there are many such catchy tunes scattered all the way across ‘New’ and it wasn’t long before I found myself regularly reaching for these songs. It has been almost unshiftable from the car CD player.
It might require a slight deactivation of your cynical filter, but it’s a quite sincerely joyous listen. At the risk of criminal understatement, it’s perhaps best articulated by considering a good old plate of beans on toast. You can have your fancy meals, your adventurous combinations, your first tastes of exotic flavours, but often you have to settle for something practical. And damn it if that most simple of meals doesn’t feel pretty much perfect as it’s going down. Sometimes, all it takes is exposure to a tried and tested old favourite to realise just how great it can be.