It’s been more than 50 years since the release of Paul McCartney’s self-titled solo album on April 20, 1970, precipitating the break-up of The Beatles. Thirty years later McCartney II was released as his solo group Wings were splintering.
Pretty much panned by critics, both McCartney and McCartney II have since become forerunners of the currently fashionable lo-fi and bedroom-pop genres, the former producing “Maybe I’m Amazed” (though never officially released as a single) and the synth-pop-ish latter the chart-topping “Coming Up” and the playful, left-field cult hit “Temporary Secretary”
Like those two, McCartney III, is a solo album in every sense, with him singing and playing all the instruments at a social distanced recording studio 20 minutes from his daughter’s farm in Sussex, England. There, McCartney conjured up the feel of that very first effort, inspired by the Scottish farm where he lived with his first wife Linda, then pregnant with Stella. He opens and closes the album with memories of those times. Like “Lovely Linda” from McCartney, McCartney III is filled with some not-so-silly love songs written for the incurable romantic’s third wife Nancy Shevell, to whom he’s been married for a decade.
As with similar late-in-life albums like Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways and Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You, McCartney III works as a look-back for an aging rock icon who might not be able to hit all those high notes with a voice that's dropped a few octaves, much like Elton John’s, but still manages to squeeze out emotion from the ravages of nostalgia and mortality.
• “Long Tailed Winter Bird”: The exquisite opener features Macca’s extended finger-picking on acoustic guitar, evolving into a barnyard hoedown, with him playfully asking, “Do you miss me?/ Do you doot-doo-doot-doot feel me?”
• “Find My Way”: The closest song to a single on the album, it’s full of McCartney pop flourishes as well as surprising falsetto vocals on the chorus.
• “Pretty Boys”: Another acoustic number, McCartney harkens back to his Beatles days on the streets of London when male models were subjects for certain handsy fashion photographers whom he warns, “You can look/ But you better not touch.”
• “Women and Wives”: A plaintive piano number about being on the gossip pages, but also our uncertain times (“Chasing tomorrow/ Many choices to make”).
• “Lavatory Lil”: This bluesy track recalls “Lovely Rita” and the funky horns of “Got to Get You into My Life.”
• “Deep Deep Feeling”: At eight-and-a-half-minutes, it’s the album’s brilliant centerpiece. Tribal percussion, falsetto vocals, stately piano, bass and wah-wah guitar merge as he sings over and over, "Emotion - sometimes I wish it would stay/ Sometimes I wish it would go away."
• “Slidin’”: A heavy, thudding rocker that evokes similar bangers like “Helter Skelter” and McCartney II’s similarly raucous “On the Way.”
• “The Kiss of Venus”: “Blackbird”-style guitar strumming, harpsichord and lyrics like, “This golden circle/Has a most harmonic sound.”
• “Seize the Day”: Once more retreating to the comfort of his domestic bliss, he observes, “When the cold days come and the old ways fade away/There’ll be no more sun and we’ll wish that we had held on to the day.”
• “Deep Down”: A funereal organ anchors this synth horn-driven track on which he sings, “We can throw a party every night” (just not during Covid).
• “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes”: Recording during the Flaming Pie sessions with George Martin in 1997, this is a lovely bookend with the stunning opener.
Like the first two installments of this trilogy, McCartney III engages. The cute Beatle is alive and well at 78. After a still-remarkable career, he still wants to hold our hand.