Listen to the title track of Paul McCartney's latest solo effort, NEW, come on the radio and you immediately wonder if a rare Beatles number has been unearthed, with its sprightly "Hello Goodbye" meets "Penny Lane" feel and McCartney’s typical self-effacing winsome charm. "All my life/ I never knew/ What I could do," he sings. "Then we were new/ Now we are new."
Indeed, for his first album in nearly seven years (since 2007’s Memory Almost Full) and 16th in his career - if you don’t count the eight Wings releases - the 71-year-old rocker looks both backwards and forwards while proving pretty deft in the present, using four producers: Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns, the latter two sons of previous Beatles collaborators George and Glyn, respectively.
The strongest songs hint back at his role in that other band, including the slightly acerbic, Johns-produced acoustic highlight, "Early Days," a rather petulant jibe at anyone who wasn’t there attempting to rewrite history: "They can’t take it from me/ If they tried/ I lived through those early days." "On My Way to Work" offers the keen everyday observations of "A Day in the Life," with its memories of a gal from Chichester who "removed her clothes for the likes of me," as McCartney picks up the discarded cigarette packets left by fellow bus passengers.
The Epworth-produced "Queenie Eye" (see below), with its orchestral/electronic flourish, has the thump of vintage Wings, along with a bouncing Ringo-style drum solo, to accompany its fortune cookie-like homilies. "Play the game/ Take your chances/ Every dance/ Is much the same," Macca warbles. He wheels out an impressive falsetto on the psychedelic "Alligator," while "Everybody Out There" combines Eastern raga guitars with a Little Richard howl in its plea for social activism.
A backwards masked intro and a dreamy instrumental interlude make the Johns-produced "Hosanna," a love song to his wife Nancy Shevell that very well could have come right off his very first solo album, stand out, while Moog and Wurlitzer organ enliven the Martin-helmed "I Can Bet." McCartney shows he’s not only been listening to EDM, but also incorporates it into "Looking at Her" along with the modern bass drops on Epworth’s "Road," while the acoustic delta blues of the tongue-in-cheek "Get Me Out of Here," with its "Oh Boy" Buddy Holly back-up harmonies, offers yet another White Album-ish stylistic sidebar.
By the time we get to the naked sentiments of the hidden 15th track, "Scared," in which McCartney admits, "I’m scared to say I love you," he's demonstrated once again his seemingly effortless facility with melody and the tropes of modern rock & roll. Never mind the Beatles, Paul McCartney has long since proven the "early days" were merely the beginning of what has turned out to be a historic run that shows no signs of letting up any time soon.