BEST OF 2013: 17. Paul McCartney – New

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.

New Music Monday: The Drums ‘The Drums’

You’ll know the opening track, ‘Best Friend’, by now, all twee and eighties with its thin guitars, plastic drum sound and what appears to be somebody repeatedly whispering “arse” during the instrumental bit just after the two minute mark. It’s a classic indie singalong that gets better with each listen and sounds ludicrously good when paired with bright sunshine. But does the whole album stack up?

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Me And The Moon’ has a lovely, unassuming, diminutive ‘do-dee-do-dee-do’ bridge before the predictably enormous chorus comes along. Having said this, they need to be careful with their cheesy drum sounds, as the one that kicks off this particular track evokes fairly traumatic memories of Alphabeat’s ‘Fascination’. The unashamedly smooth pop sound is something that they carry off with admirable style but there is always the risk that it might get a little grating.

Next comes the slightly surprising presence of ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, known to all who purchased their superlative EP, ‘Summertime’, and ruthlessly recycled to keep up the early run of peppy, youthful, ludicrously invigorated tunes. It’s a marvellous track and one of the reasons I grew rather fond of them in the first place. Still, after telling everyone that the EP wasn’t representative of what the band truly sounded like now, it seems a little odd to carry both this and ‘Down By The Water’ over onto the debut album proper.

Book Of Stories’ is one of the absolute highlights of this clattering, hype-surfing, sensible-haircut eschewing album, sounding a little rougher round the edges, with the drums pushed back and a lovely childish plinky-plonky refrain floating across the verse before reaching a heavenly chorus of “I thought my life would get easier, instead it’s getting harder, instead it’s getting harder. I thought my life would get easier, instead it’s getting darker, instead it’s getting colder without you,” delivered with all the magnetic, swooning angst of a lonely indie boy. It’s magical, and if you heard it on the radio without knowing a thing about the band you would begin frantically scrapping around for a pen and a bit of paper ready to write down who it was.

Next up, ‘Skippin’ Town’ is, essentially, the first couple of tracks deconstructed and then rebuilt in a slightly different pattern. The upfront drums, frenetic jangle and wavering vocal is only half the deal. I need tunes. And by tunes, I mean different tunes. It’s far from awful, but that’s hardly the endorsement that anybody would be after. It’s like trying to pass off a particularly potent fart by pointing out that at least you didn’t shit yourself.

New single ‘Forever And Ever Amen’ sounds punchy and urgent on the radio, and rightly so. It’s another tremendous release, favouring the slightly restrained vocal style from Jonathan Pierce across the entire track to great effect. It features further deployment of the swooning chorus and a fine addition to what has gone before, but in the context of the whole album it’s slightly less potent, feeling, as it does, simply like a continuation of what has been before.

After the welcome and, let’s be absolutely fair, bloody lovely lull brought about by the eighties-power-ballad-in-skinny-jeans that is ‘Down By The River’, the accelerator is firmly applied once more. Indeed, the band are so desperate to resume the somewhat tiring pace that ‘It Will All End In Tears’ pretty much stutters into life as the last note of the previous song is struck. Another charming chorus, another fairly unremarkable musical backdrop.

We Tried’, slower, mournful and twinkly, is much more like it and comes at just the right time to stop any harrumphing becoming too pronounced. It strikes the perfect balance between the rickety, murky sound of mid-to-late eighties indie and their 21st century pop sensibilities. Across the dozen or so listens I’ve had to this album, it’s one of the songs that genuinely catches my attention every single time. And rightly so. A delight.

The Drums againGuess how ‘I Need Fun In My Life’ starts. Thumpy drum? Check. Twangy, wayward guitar part? Check. Understated verse before explosive chorus? Kind of. It’s all there apart from the enormo-refrain, opting instead for a quite deliberately one-paced chorus, offering some constant shade after far too much light. And then, just when you think it can’t possibly be safe to untense the muscles and anticipate something a little different, the next song starts with acoustic guitar. Acoustic fucking guitar. Not big drums. Not even small drums. I know, I know, it’s the name of the bloody band but it’s not a hard and fast rule otherwise the Stereophonics would be called The Interminable, One-tuned, Guitar-taunting Twats. Still, acoustic guitar, spacey synths and a beguiling anti-chorus using the song’s title as the main refrain: “I’ll Never Drop My Sword.”

Album closer, ‘The Future’, ironically enough, starts like eighties New Order, slowly layers in some lovely chiming percussion and roams around with a spectral elegance that I’d have enjoyed hearing a little more of. It matches ‘We Tried’ and ‘Book Of Stories’ for quality and sheer class and is a strong, confident way to wrap up a debut record. It doesn’t just sound like another one of their songs and it simply serves to underline the lack of variety that renders the middle chunk of this record a little underwhelming. A largely successful debut, then, but a band with much more to give, I suspect. Don’t be surprised if it receives a raft of 9/10 ratings though.

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