Monday, 29 August 2016

Paul McCartney "Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard" (2005)




Paul McCartney "Chaos and Creation In The Backyard" (2005)

Fine Line/How Kind Of You/Jenny Wren/At The Mercy/Friends To Go/English Tea/Too Much Rain/A Certain Softness/Riding To Vanity Fair/Follow Me/Promise To You Girl/This Never Happened Before/Anyway

"It's a fine line between recklessness and courage, chaos and creation, profundity and nonsense, pop songs and nursery rhymes, simpleness and stupidity, paying homage to your past and merely and recycling it, get it wrong and you're making a big mistake..."

Well, I'm very sure this has never happened to me before. Reviewing a Paul McCartney album I can't stand, I mean. Usually I'll defend Macca and his records to anyone - even the records that nobody else would ever defend like 'Wildlife' (under-rated second side!) and 'Driving Rain' (emotional confessional). There are, though, times when it becomes clear that for all his novemdecillion (real word, honest) talents Paul has one almighty problem that prevents him from being greeted by everyone as one of the all-time greats he so surely is. Namely that Paul has no idea what his best work is and that he always tends to mess up somewhere with something twee and gauche, even when there are vaults full of classic recordings begging to be let out. The recent 'Pure McCartney' compilation is a case in point: most of the worst offenders are there (the Frog Song chorus, 'Ebony and Ivory' 'Mull Of Kintrye' 'Uncle Albert' 'Warm and Beautiful' 'Queenie Eye' and 'Bip Bop' - now that's a playlist to bring the true Maccaphile out in a cold sweat) as opposed to the real unsung classics in the McCartney canon (like 'Long Haired Lady' 'Dear Friend' 'Somebody Who Cares' and 'Through Our Love' and a million others - seriously, there's no shortage of classics out there). Paul needs someone to tell him 'no!' occasionally, when his twelfth idea of the day isn't up to the first eleven or when he suddenly has plans to record the Crossroads theme at the end of 'Venus and Mars' or songs about Koalas or Spies Likes Us or Wonderful Xmas Times or...well, anyway, the average McCartney fan has learnt to become immune over collecting McCartney's albums over time. We don't expect perfection (even 'Band On The Run' has the dreadful 'Picasso's Last Words' on it), we just get happy when the good stuff outweighs the bad. The good news is that up to 2005 it had every time, even on such slim victories as 'Pipes Of Peace' and 'Flaming Pie'.

'Chaos and Creation' though is simply dreadful, like listening to all those worst moments of the McCartney canon you've spent your life trying to avoid. Paul just sounds uninspired, too ready to cherry-pick his way through past classics (lots of these songs sound like something else he's written, though never as good) and throw a few cringe-worthy rhymes in there too. 'How twee how me!' he sings at one stage on 'English Tea' and it's true: this is a whole album that sounds the way ignorant reviewers are always complaining that McCartney sounds like but actually only does around once per album - twee and insincere. Only it's a whole album of this stuff. 'Fine Line' is the ugliest daftest most pointless single in the McCartney collection (seriously, even 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' has so much more soul). 'Jenny Wren' takes the optimistic, shoulder-to-cry-on spirit of racial equality that made 'Blackbird' such a masterpiece...and ignores it in favour of a lyric about a moping girl with a broken heart. Most of the other songs seem to be based on the flat piano bluesy style of 'Lady Madonna' without the gender equality, wit or talent. There are no great songs on this album, which is something that absolutely definitely has never happened before. Even the best song ('Anyway', you have to wait right till the end for it) would still be the weakest on most previous (and future) McCartney albums. Paul's voice is shot, for the first time (he'll find clever ways of covering up the fact on later albums but hasn't admitted it to himself just yet) so these songs don't even sound as good as they should do. He performs almost everything himself despite having one of his best bands all revved up from a world tour and ready to perform (not that I mind Paul on his own but this is the third album in a row and these aren't solo sounding songs: as one of the album lyrics puts it 'It's not as good when you're on your own'). 'Chaos and Creation' is the sort of album that would have ended lesser careers; instead typically it got better reviews than the truly daring and courageous albums like 'McCartney II' and 'Press To Play' because at least critics could understand it. Sadly that's nothing to boast about, in this case so could a two-year-old. And his dog. Or a Spice Girl.

If that sounds a bit brutal, bear in mind that this review comes after at least twenty other McCartney reviews more respectful than the average music fan. Everyone's allowed a bad album or two - this is it in McCartney terms. What's more even the people involved with this album didn't think much of it when they were making it: producer Nigel Godrich hated the material McCartney was bringing him and encouraged Paul to either change it on the spot or go away and try again. For a couple of years I assumed Godrich was the album's hero who rescued this record from becoming even more mind-numbingly awful than it was - but actually the release of the album's discarded material on 'Memory Almost Full' (2007) suggests that maybe some of the better moments got away. I'd love to hear the original un-cut version of the album tracks one day, but so far perhaps surprisingly the outtakes of 'Memory Almost Full' are some of the few McCartney sessions to have not yet leaked on bootleg. Not that I relish having another cup of 'English Tea' anytime soon mind...Paul too, though, seems to be in a bit of a downward writing spell judging by this album's lyrics and seems to have made it simply because it was four years since his last one than with any great urge to actually speak from his heart. 'How kind of you to think of me when I was out of sorts' the second track begins, 'I thought I was lost'. 'I can think of nothing more to say' says 'At The Mercy' early on and the song naturally runs out of ideas soon after. 'I don't know how long the storm will last' worries 'Friends To Go'. 'When did I begin to fall?' worries 'Anydays'. 'I guess you'd rather see me grow...but it's time to get on with the show' growls 'At The Mercy' again. Not half we wouldn't. 'Chaos and Creation' is the sound of talent standing still and often that's harder to take than no talent trying to move forwards. For perhaps the first time in his life Paul sounds as if he's suffering from writer's block and that's a tragedy for Paul even more than most writers, reliant as he is on sudden nuggets of inspiration and an instinctive understanding of where to develop that first sudden idea. No wonder, then, that he becomes so reliant on repeating past chord changes and themes or that he spends so many of these lyrics clumsily reaching out for the most suitable rhyme, whether it fits the songs or not.

Perhaps that's because, for the first time since his teens (the age he is on the rather splendid album cover, taken by brother Mike in the backyard amongst their dad's laundry - the official title is 'Our Kid Through Mum's Net Curtains', which might have been a better name for the record), Paul doesn't have a muse to write silly love songs to - or at least not till near the end of the album sessions. 'I'm so used to being on my own' Paul sighs on 'Friends To Go' but that's not strictly true. In the pre-Beatle days Paul had Cavern regular Dot Rhone (she even went to Hamburg to visit him, alongside Cynthia Lennon visiting John, and played a much bigger role in Beatle history than she's given credit for). In the early Beatle days Paul had Jane Asher. Between around 1968 and 1998 Paul was with Linda. And almost immediately with Heather Mills until their spectacular bust-up in public and official divorce in 2006. He'd been physically living on his own for a year by the time this album was made and clearly feeling sorry for himself and a little bit empty. After all, at the time the album came out the Mills debacle was all anybody wanted to talk about and any interviews weren't about the record so much as the marriage. In days to come the split with Heather will be enough to fuel some fascinating albums ('Memory Almost Full' and 'Electronic Arguments' especially) but for now, caught in the middle of it all, Paul doesn't want to go there. He had, after all, only just explored his darker side on parts of 'Driving Rain' (his under-rated album of soul-searching post-Linda) and didn't want to go there again so soon, especially if things still seemed like they might be repaired with Heather.  So 'Chaos and Creation' becomes the first McCartney album to feature love songs written to order rather than based on experience and feeling, written simply because they're the easiest things to write than because Paul desperately needs to write them. This album still works best, though, when there's a few hints of reality breaking through the prettyness: 'Riding To Vanity Fair' would be a strong candidate for a re-make one day, dealing as it does with an egotistical penny-pinching lover, though Paul is still just about in love enough to not want to pour his heart and soul into this lyric or vocal just yet, though you can tell he's itching to. 'Anyway' deals with loneliness and isolation from a man whose never had to deal with such things before, waiting for a phone-call instead of being the one to make it as in years past, though still with a hope that the call will come one day compared to future harrowing songs. 
'Promise To You Girl' makes one last plea towards the past: 'I made my promise to you girl, I don't want to take it back!' But take it back he will, not too far in the future, as the pair split further and further apart and a court-case seeking half of Paul's money (overseen by the lawyers behind the Charles and Diana split, no less) turns into the biggest media event of the century so far. In retrospect, 'Chaos and Creation' isn't the sound of a writer with nothing to say so much as one pretending that there's nothing to say and going 'la la la I can't hear you!', unwilling to face what is inevitably going to come. Even 'Fine Line', dumb single that it is, is a man caught at a crossroads trying to make an impossible decision, mocking his wife in song while also putting her first in the album credits.

There is, though, a bright light in the distance, just about visible through all the gloom and fog. Paul had known Nancy Shevell for years - she was one of Linda's friends really and spent a lot of time with the McCartneys particularly when Linda was ill. Though dark haired and quiet (in contrast to Linda's combative strawberry-blonde look), Nancy's strength and comfort reminded Paul greatly of his one true love. He'd chased Heather himself in the certainty that what he was looking for was another strong woman who could have her own career separate from his and who knew how to stand up to people who disagreed with her. That, though, was only part of Linda's character that he was missing so badly: Nancy represented the quieter, supportive side of Linda's personality whilst still being brave to say 'no!' to her millionaire husband occasionally (she does, after all, have millions herself thanks to her family's New England Motor Freight company so there was never any need for gold-digging and, anyway, money can't buy anyone love). However Paul felt awkward dating his exes' friend at first, however pleased Linda would surely have been about the fact, and had to learn the hard way what it was he really wanted. 'Chaos and Creation' seems to be the moment that Paul realises that he made the wrong choice and tries to make amends and come to terms with the fact that Heather isn't just off having a parallel career to his, she's gone and she's never coming back. Though Paul won't officially start dating Nancy until 2007 (when he finally admits her existence in interviews for the much more loved-up 'Memory Almost Full') she's clearly here in part of this album too - the better part by and large. 'This Never Happened Before' is one long agonising soliloquy as Paul wonders whether he has the nerve to ask his lover's friend out before realising that life is short and there's no real choice. 'This is the way it should be...now we can be what we want to be', he concludes, the slightly defensive tone of most of the rest of the album finally dropping away from his shoulders as he accepts that he does have a future. It's the one moment on this album where Paul sings from the heart - and he sings like a bird, just like the days of old (even if the melody is a direct crib from his superior and little known 1993 B-side 'I Can't Imagine'...).

Sadly it's too little too late to save the record as a whole (even with other album highlight 'Anyway' straight after). It speaks volumes to me that of all the McCartney records out there it's this one that comes with a silly fake-goldleaf inner CD tray, as if pretending to be more substantial than it is. Or that this is the only album to date that carries a nasty 'warning' saying that anyone who leaks this album on the internet or illegally downloads is going to be put in a darkened room and made to suffer 'We All Stand Together' on repeat for a year or something equally horrific (actually it just warns of 'severe and criminal penalties' but I'm sure that's what it means really). Or that this is the only studio album not to feature an up-to-date photo of Paul anywhere except a far-away shot on the back sleeve of the booklet (he was really sensitive about his new hair dye in this period it seems; Brian Clarke's pen-and-ink drawings of one of the most famous men in modern history are awful by the way: the profile of Paul has never made him look more like Michael Jackson, making you wonder if he copied the 'wrong' half of the 'Girl Is Mine' picture sleeve. And why do we need three drawings of his hands and a close-up of his watch?) McCartney's in a rare dark and nasty mood in his life for once and sadly rather than turn that bitterness into creativity he's in denial, with 'Chaos and Creation' is his only album to truly deliver less value to his fans rather than more (well, that and the crooning album 'Kisses On The Bottom'). On those terms it's quite an interesting album to hear - once anyway - in amongst McCartney's large back catalogue where no other record sounds quite like this one - so threadbare, so empty, so clichéd, so uninspired, so forced. The trouble is, there are so many McCartney and/or Wings albums out there bursting at the seams that you really don't need to pay this one more than merely a cursory glance. Now that Paul has moved on and is happily married again he probably hasn't paid this album a second thought - and nor, despite this typically lengthy review, should we. It's the Beatle album (Ringo's excepted) that sounds most like a Rutles album, with bits nicked from here, there and everywhere.

Of all the albums in the McCartney catalogue, this is the one Lennon would surely have hated most, full of songs about people characters that don't really exist and 'ordinary people living ordinary lives' (oddly John seems to have missed the very 'real' feeling in 'Ram', the record he confessed to hating most in his lifetime, though the timing of the Apple v Beatle court case probably didn't help his temper much). You could argue that Lennon wasn't always right: usually McCartney 'character' driven songs tend to be at worst well made and often highly revealing in an observational way (Eleanor Rigby wasn't a real person either, but she feels like she is the equal of any of Lennon's songs of autobiography or compositions for Yoko). However in this case you sense his anger would have been justified: for writers for whom their life is art and both are everything this is a wasted opportunity - the insecurity and loss of the late Heather Mills period would, you'd have thought, inspired Lennon to at least a 'Walls and Bridges' (his 'Lost Weekend' equivalent), maybe even a 'Lennon/Plastic Ono Band'. Instead 'Chaos and Creation' is kind of like 'Mind Games', an album that's trying to bury it's head in the sand and pretend everything's ok even after it isn't, simply because the writer doesn't want to admit to himself or us yet that everything isn't ok. It's not so much that this album is bad (although parts of it are very bad), more that Paul's writing through perspiration not inspiration and is more than ever before or since on the sort of automatic pilot that results in such clunky couplets as 'how twee, how me!' and 'You understand which road to take - get it wrong and it's a big mistake!' It is a fine line between chaos and creation sometimes and longterm McCartney fans know how close he comes to dancing between the two sometimes. 'Chaos and Creation' is the album that gets that balance wrong more times than most, but then we shouldn't be surprised - for the first time maybe ever (certainly since the post-Broad Street/Press To Play thumpings of the mid-1980s) Paul is unsure of himself as a writer and every choice he and his argumentative producer make appear to have been the wrong ones.

'Fine Line' is a weak opening to any album, but made all the worse by the fact that it's easily the weakest song on the first album single - glossy ballad 'Comfort Of Love' is a far stronger commercial song, while the experimental 'Growing Up Falling Down' has more invention across five fascinating minutes than the whole of 'Chaos and Creation' manages in forty-seven. When left to his own devices Paul often resorts to ugly wide open block piano chords (think 'Lady Madonna' crossed with B-side 'I'll Give You A Ring' and 'Temporary Secretary), but usually the basic motif allows Paul to add lots of interesting things on top. But not here: there's a melody that sounds like it belongs in a toddler's TV programme (maybe the birth of daughter Beatrice in October 2003 had a bigger impact on this album than we assumed? It's certainly smacks of 'Mary Had A Little Lamb', written for daughter Mart's toddler years, more than any other previous solo single). As for the lyrics, a strong start that recalls 'Waterfalls' (be brave, but be sensible say both lyrics) ends up a gobbledegook collection of nonsense lyrics that trip us up and confuse us with half-stories that are never explored. Who is the 'brother' who waits to come home, all forgiven? Why did we cry when he was 'driven away'? What is the topic that's 'more important to you'? What does the line 'every contradiction mean the same' even mean? 'Fine Line' crosses the fine line between reaching out for the lyrics from the air that make a pleasing surrealist tale (as per 'I Am The Walrus' or even most of the songs on 'McCartney II') and being lazy, sketching in a song so roughly that none of the dots are ever going to add up. Terrible in every department.

Paul revealed later that he based 'How Kind Of You' on an expression an elderly couple he knew often used as a substitute for the expression 'Thanks'. One of many McCartney songs about counting your blessings, even when things look bleak, it's one of the album's better moments with an intriguing backing of harmonium, flugelhorn and guerrero among other unusual sounding instruments all played by Paul. One of Godrich's better ideas, it was the producer who told the musician the song wasn't working when played on guitar and reminded him of a recent advert he'd made for Radio 2 based around the idea of 'music from a different angle' (for which Paul re-created 'Band On The Run' using wine glasses and tape loops). This certainly sounds adventurous - but sadly such production bravery is rather wasted on a song that has nothing whatsoever to say. It's on similar theme to 'Maybe I'm Amazed' in other words - but there the similarities between songs end, with this song full of ugly clunky rhymes ('During the final bout...I was counted out').  Paul's narrator was having a 'long dark night' and suffering 'the final bout' in a boxing match until someone turned up to cheer him on, which was nice of them. There's no real passion in the lyric or sense of gratitude heard later in songs like, err, 'Gratitude', as if Paul is reluctant to reveal just how dark the night was or how much he needed help. Many fans hearing this at the time assumed it was one of Paul's last love songs for Heather and her help in keeping Paul company in the difficult days post-Linda, but even at the time she didn't seem to fit the picture of a helpful, selfless soul. More likely, in retrospect, that this is an early song for Nancy and that this song is more about her helping Paul in the post-Heather days than Heather helping Paul post-Linda. For his part Paul rubbished the idea that the song was about Linda when the idea was put to him by a reviewer from Q Magazine, so I won't make that mistake, admitting that the idea was 'made up' and just came to him. Despite some woeful mistakes, 'How Kind Of You' is still amongst the best quarter of the album.

'Jenny Wren', though, is wretched. We fans had spent a long time longing for a sequel to 'Blackbird', a song of comfort and empathy that represents Paul's instinctive writing at its best - especially after he revealed it was written partly to bring a sense of peace and hope to both the race and feminist movements. One of Paul's more accessible yet deepest songs, 'Blackbird' works on every level. 'Jenny Wren', meanwhile, barely works on any: an ugly and forced melody is compounded by a wretched key change that comes out of nowhere and leaves the song sounding bloated and heavy. The lyrics deal with another girl waiting for her moment to arrive, but this one is unlikeable and unknowable, a broken heart finding her 'casting love aside' and wearily eyeing the poverty around her threatening to break up her home (though not trying to do anything about it). Paul named his character after not just the bird (said to be Paul's 'favourite' in Britain from his youth as an avid birdwatcher) but a character in Charles Dickens' 'Our Mutual Friend', which makes this sequel song even less original than that. 'Blackbird' managed to work as a metaphor, while 'Jenny Wren' is clearly a human despite the references to 'taking wing' she's clearly 'like the other girls' and has a bricks and mortar 'home', not a nest. The one heart-warming moment is the exotic solo, played by guest Pedro Eustache on a duduk (an Armenian flute that sounds like a cross between an oboe and a recorder), thought to be a first in Western music. The fact that it doesn't sound like a wren in anyway (whereas 'Blackbird' almost did sound like a blackbird, albeit a Spanish blackbird dancing on a flamenco guitar) in no ways interferes with the fact that this is by far the best moment of the song. Released as the second single 'Jenny Wren' limped into the top thirty (just behind 'Fine Line') even with a major publicity blaze about the similarities to 'Blackbird'. Once again the B-sides 'Summer Of '59' (silly nostalgia) and 'I Want You To Fly' (intriguing prog rock) beat the A-side hands down for inventiveness and originality.

'At The Mercy' of a McCartney cliche, how could this album go any other way? After two lines he admits he can't think of anything more to say. No, to be fair there is a good song fighting to get out here and though one of Paul's uglier songs in many ways, that might well be deliberate. Certainly this track sounds a lot better to me now than it did at the time of release. In many ways this is a sequel song to 'The Other Me' from 1983, with Paul looking at his darker uglier side and admitting how much he's learnt through difficult times ('To be a better man than the one you know'). There's also shades of other, deeper McCartney tracks such as 'Every Night' ('Sometimes I'd rather run and hide...') or the cosmic imbalance of 'Driving Rain' the album ('We can watch the universe explode!') before Paul wearily supposes that the best thing he can do isn't either, but to simply 'grow'.You can hear Paul trying to spark life and brightness into the song with every verse (the parts that generally start 'If you knew...'), but all too often he gets blown off-course and into one of the ugliest and clichéd choruses he's ever written. We even, unusually, get the chorus first as if Paul is showing us the caterpillar he was before he transformed into a musical butterfly, while the ending too throws us right back in the grips of the clichés ('I guess you'd rather see me grow' is followed, uncomfortably, by the Sgt Peppery line, 'But now it's time to get on with the show!'). We've commented a few times here about Paul being the ultimate Gemini, with several projects on the go at once and projects that are usual contradictory (breaking off from overseeing children's cartoons to write classical requiems about death and loss), but only occasionally do we hear both sides in the same track. 'At The Mercy' finds McCartney under the spell of two very different songs at once and even he can't separate them out the way he usually does so we end up with one half that's deep and emotive and one that's thumbs-aloft and commercial and only 'playing' at being sad and wise. It's typical of this rather schizophrenic period when Paul's heart wasn't in tandem with his head and fascinating to study, though sadly in practice all you really remember from this track is how many times you grown at the rhyming couplets or cringe at the C Major piano chords that make 'Chopsticks' sounds like the height of sophistication.

Paul said in interviews that 'Friends To Go' was his attempt at writing a George Harrisonesque song, this being the first McCartney album since his friend's untimely death in 2002. The piano chords do sound a little like a jollier version of 'Hear Me Lord' (the big finale to 'All Things Must Pass') and the glossy production is a little Travelling Wilburys, but really melodically this just sounds like a typical period McCartney song. Lyrically it's intriguingly Hollies-like, with a clean-cut polite grin covering up the fact that what the narrator is up to makes him out to be something of a naughty boy (especially 1967 period Hollies: 'When Your Lights Turned On' 'Step Inside' and especially 'The Games We Play' are all on similar lines). Paul's narrator is waiting for a girl's friends to go so he can see her privately, neither of them quite ready to announce their romance to the world just yet. It's clearly about Nancy, though Paul understandably wasn't going to let the cat out of the bag just yet and he still worries about whether he's doing the right thing. At one point he dodges out of sight of the 'friends' by literally hanging down a 'slippery rope', before explaining rather unconvincingly that he's alright on his own, honest he is, in such an unlikely '10cc I'm Not In Love' way you're already getting the tissues ready. There's also something deeply melancholic about the piano chords, especially when a sweet and nicely muted brass part starts up, even though this reads like it should be a happy and bouncy song based on happy and bouncy piano chords. Like we said, this is a very schizophrenic album at times, this song and the last especially. Unfortunately, again in practice that means putting up with a rather trying and silly pop beat as well as some very teenagery lyrics before they give away to depth again.

'English Tea' is the album's nadir - it would be McCartney's too if I hadn't heard 'Wonderful Xmas Time' and 'Baby's Request' again recently. A Noel Cowardesque parody, it's even more irritating and facile than similar parodies like 'You Gave Me The Answer' and 'Honey Pie', taking as it does the sillier side of this type of song. Macca sings in an upper class twit style voice which is deeply grating while the lyrics simply lists different types of English delicacies: a nanny baking fairy cakes, 'miles and miles' of English garden and games of croquet. All very colourful, but where is the point of all this? Are we meant to feel sorry for an innocent world that isn't there anymore? Are we meant to laugh at the narrator's eccentricities in the modern world? (there's no dating given in the lyrics, so it could be a hypothetical 'then' or an unlikely 'now'). How are we meant to view the chorus lines 'very twee, very me' - is it an in-joke or did Paul really not realise how that this song is indeed very twee and very, well, him? Equally are the lines 'very gay hip hip hooray' meant using the meaning of the word 'gay' then or now (ie as meaning happy)?  The worst aspects of McCartney all in one place - a feeble lyric, an ugly and obvious set of chord changes and a lyric seemingly cobbled together without any thought of logic and reason - this one would have had Lennon writing stern letters to the music magazines all over again. The only positive is that this song is probably the only AAA song to use the word 'peradventure' (simply meaning 'perhaps') and we like a good lexicon shuffle on our albums that leaves fans reaching for their dictionaries.

Feeling stuck for ideas for songs, for possibly the first time in his life, Paul reached for some of his favourite songs to see how 'they' were written. One of these was 'Smile', the Charlie Chaplin song, which is one part 'Let It Be' (without the gospel) to one part 'Smile Away' (without the punk rock). 'Too Much Rain' runs the original pretty close all the way through, with Paul trying to make someone happy (himself?) because life's too short to cry. Paul allegedly wrote this song about thinking about Heather's problems with losing her leg and the papers picking on her - yeah, right. This is about Heather but not in that sense - reading between the lines (as you have to do so often on this record) this is a naturally upbeat person getting fed up of a moaning partner, coupled with the sadness and anger that maybe they aren't right for each other after all.  On an album where Paul doesn't sound much like himself it's a relief to hear him going back to some strummed guitars and throw in chorus lines like 'Who wants a happy and peaceful life? You've got to learn to laff!' The whole idea of picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and looking forward to happier times is so McCartney it's perhaps surprising he hadn't written a song like this before (though some of his best compositions use similar ideas: 'Coming Up' 'Don't Let It Bring You Down' 'With A Little Luck' and 'Somebody Who Cares' among them). Sadly this song isn't quite in that same league, sharing this album's sense of detachment when it comes to emotion and being more pop record than shoulder-to-lean-on. Nevertheless there's a certain deliciousness in Paul's smile-through-tears vocal and - for once on this album - a melody that manages to stay likeable all the way through. You only have to play this song back to back with the fire and emotion of the similar tracks on last album 'Driving Rain', though, to see what a major change there's been in just a few short years. McCartney is no longer in touch with his emotions but trying to pretend that they don't exist.

'A Certain Softness' is a rare McCartney bossa nova written in a similar style to 'And I Love Her' and may well be one of Paul's last love songs for Heather (it's interesting how similar his love songs for Heather are to the stormy intense ones he wrote for Jane Asher and how much Nancy brings out his softer side, more like Linda). Paul sings about a 'certain softness' in his partner's eyes and a 'certain sadness' that's 'got me hooked' while he plucks up the courage to speak to her and ask her out - but is too afraid his voice will 'break the spell'. Like 'Magic' from 'Driving Rain' this song could be about the first meeting with either Heather or Linda, with Paul blocking both of his future partner's way and asking them to meet up with him somewhere else later. However the 'sadness' sounds more like Heather and Paul being impressed with the speech she gave about her life story the first time he met her at an awards show. It's easy to imagine Paul writing this song the night he got home while the image was still fresh in his mind - it may be that this song was left unfinished during the making of 'Driving Rain' as, rather unfortunately, the lines 'You know I could never betray her' (meant to be heartfelt here) take on a rather mocking tone in context given what was happening during and soon after this period. 'Softness' also makes for fascinating comparison with John's love songs for Yoko: both Beatles write about obsession and being unable to get a partner out of their mind, but whereas with John that obsession drives him mad and is powerful and often brutal (see 'Don't Let Me Down' and 'I Want You' especially), Paul's touch is softer: this love partner isn't a vampire so much as a ghost, flitting in and out of his consciousness haunting him and luring him onwards. Lennon would also have hated the retro stylings of this song and seen it as an artificial way of expressing love, but for Paul wooing a partner with romantic overtones is very much 'real' for him. You can hear a lot more of this sort of thing on the crooning covers album 'Kisses On The Bottom' (2012), if you really have to. Quite honestly Paul's smooching style becomes tiring across one song, never mind a whole album of songs sounding like this.

One of the album's highlights is 'Riding To Vanity Fair' which, not coincidentally, cuts a shade deeper than most other songs here. Paul wrote the song first as a bouncy jolly number about overcoming adversity until producer Godrich asked him to have another think and the song got slowed down and given a mournful, eerie orchestral backing (which is more 'I Am The Walrus' than 'Yesterday'). The change is needed because this is a song about seeing through people's disguises ('I'm Looking Through You' forty years on in fact) and telling the truth, however much it hurts. The first peek at the rift between Paul and Heather in song, Macca starts the song by admitting 'I bit my tongue' and that for most recent years he's been in denial. He's not yet angry - well not as angry as will be on 'Too Much Just Outtasite' on 'Electric Arguments' - but he does feel hurt. He thought 'she' (ie Heather) was his 'friend' first and foremost, 'but that's the trouble with friendship' he sighs', both sides have to feel it 'or it wouldn't be right'. He can no longer 'presume it's there' from Heather because he's now seen her in her true colours, as an egotist with no real feelings for him, 'riding to vanity fair'. It's worth bearing in mind how many of Paul and (especially) Linda's songs in the past have them 'riding' away together, usually to somewhere utopian in the heart of the country. Paul once gave Heather the same benefit of the doubt, with 'Riding To Jaipur' on 'Driving Rain' commemorating an early holiday together in India where the pair became close. Here, though, she's riding off on her own, to 'Vanity Fair', leaving her husband behind alone, wondering where she's gone. Many fans nowadays assume that Paul and Heather never really loved each other, that Paul was on the rebound and Heather was trying to pull a millionaire, but actually that's not true - at least on Paul's side. You don't write love songs like 'Your Loving Flame' for someone you don't really feel anything for. This song too tries to put the relationship in context: it was great, once. The sun shone (always a good sign in McCartney songs), The couple sang songs together and, tellingly, 'believed in every line'. But some relationships aren't built to last and much as Paul's narrator tries to act as if he doesn't care and hopes the relationship can be repaired ('I don't mind, do what you have to do') he knows in his heart of hearts that this relationship is over. The pair aren't even friends anymore (Paul's handy definition of which is 'showing support to the ones that you love') and he's beginning to wonder: were they ever? The most complex song on the album lyrically is, fittingly, given the most complex arrangement musically with a lovely string arrangement and a brilliant McCartney vocal, desperate to show off his usual exuberant happy-go-lucky self but with just enough of a tear in his eye to suggest he's only acting it. Though not a masterpiece the way that all other McCartney albums have at least one (five minutes without much variation is a bit much), this is a good song salvaged by a memorable arrangement and the best performance on the album.

'Follow Me' is a sweet little song that sounded quite promising when Paul premiered it in concert as early as 2002. Clearly written at the high point of his relationship with Heather, it's similar to 'Your Loving Flame' in that it compares the emptiness and loneliness of life lived solo and the hope and comfort her words bring to Paul. On the evidence of these two songs alone you'd have to say that there was something in the McCartney-Mills marriage, but even this early on there's also something a little upsetting about the lyrics to 'Follow Me'. The song is clearly modelled on 'Maybe I'm Amazed' again, but whereas Linda was right there in the thick of things suffering along with her new husband, Heather (or her equivalent in the song at least) is holding up signs and pointing out directions. She's not suffering every sling and arrow that pierces his skin as if it were her own or walking through the valley of evil side by side, she's more off in the sides pointing out why he should be over his sadness by now. Note too that Macca never uses the word 'love' here, even though it's arguably the most over-used word in his discography and he's never usually afraid to use it. Instead he's looking for a 'friend'. Lasting just two and a half minutes, what sounded like a good introduction to a song sadly ends all too soon, before the track has really got going. The rather over-cooked band performance (well, a band of overdubbed McCartneys anyway) also rather takes away from what sounded like a courageously simple and direct song in concert, making it sound like a typical McCartney epic from years past that's had its Wings clipped, in all senses of the word. Sadly too the bad blood between Paul and Heather at the time of recording results in a slightly uncomfortable performance (at least compared to the live ones of the period), perhaps the difference between experiencing a love at the time and a mere memory.

'Promise To You Girl' is a weird song even for this album. Part thankyou, part kissoff, it varies between typical shallow McCartney piano rocker (see the 'Tug Of War' and 'Pipes Of Peace' albums especially) and a Queen/10cc style a capella 'production' vocal that makes you think Pauk's about to burst into 'Beatlian Rhapsody'. The two parts never quite settle and are at war with each other, so that you're never quite sure what you're meant to think about things. Should we believe the occasionally bitter lyrics which are by far the most self-aware and outwardly confessional on the album? ('I gave my promise to you girl and I don't want to take it back!' 'Time to sweep the fallen leaves away') Or should we believe the maniacal grin Paul seems to be wearing throughout this song, which on first hearing sounds like the most typically gleeful melody on the album? In truth both are right - this is a song about denial, with a song that starts with a clearly impossible promise to chase any dark clouds in the sky and ends with a sad declaration that 'there's no more barking up this tree'. It's over, the narrator knows it and the girl he's chasing realised it long before he does, but still he can't resist chasing her one more time, just in case. It's as if Paul tried to write a sad and gloomy ballad about his very real feelings of despair (that Queen bit at the beginning), but his sub-conscious wouldn't let him as long as there still was a glimmer of hope left in him. In retrospect that makes 'Promise' even sadder to hear these many years on than the rest of the album. Listen out too for a peculiar noise towards the end of the song, which long-term collectors of CDs from the 1980s will recognise as the sound of an ancient disc 'sticking' in the player as they get worn and the laser in the player doesn't work as well (early CDs weren't built to last). It's actually quite a fitting effect, perhaps more than Paul and Nigel realised when they chose it (probably to 'modernise' the track up a bit), suggesting that Paul is holding something back and refusing to let go.

'This Never Happened Before' is one of the album's better songs with more of that traditional McCartney 'melody so rounded and perfect and obvious it must have been existed for centuries'. Actually it has existed for a few decades, in part at least, with the melody recalling 'Did We Meet Somewhere Before?', a similarly moody piano-with-strings ballad from the late Wings era that's one of the few tracks once intended for outtakes set 'Cold Cutz' still unreleased today. Unfortunately the lyrics needs a bit of work. Paul's at a crossroads between Heather and Nancy and weighing up his options. Though he'd left girlfriends before, he'd never left a wife before and certainly not one with a child (Beatrice being born in 2003). Suddenly he's met a new, more tender love and her warmth feels 'right' in a way his cold hard one of years recent doesn't. Paul still feels guilty though, persuading himself in the tones of all his past songs about love - that if love feels right then it is right, isn't it?! It's hard not to feel sympathy for Macca as he croons 'Life's not so good when you're on your own, this is the way it should be!' However he sounds far from sure, torn as he is on much of the album between giving the past one final go or moving on to the future. Oddly Paul admitted later that he'd 'borrowed' the main idea from listening to Burt Bacharach's songwriting and trying to come up with something in a similar vein. In truth it's one of the most McCartney-like moments on the record, recalling 'Only Love Remains' in particular. Though not inventive or original enough to be a true classic and with one oh so McCartney verse (rhyming 'be' and 'see' over and over), this heartfelt song is easily a cut above most of the songs included here and one of the few that would make the grade on any other McCartney set.

The album closes, sort of, with 'Anyway', another strong song. It's a sort of mixed message ending, with Paul apparently giving his 'old' love a final chance - but it's one she's not taking, leaving him waiting by the phone wondering why she isn't in contact with him. The opening is ponderous and sulky but as Paul's narrator gradually realises the call isn't going to home he gets deeper into his thoughts and the song transforms into something really quite special. 'Only love is strong enough' he vows, determined not to crack under all the waiting, before wondering how on earth he became the chaser instead of the chasee - 'When did I begin to fall?' he ponders, wondering at what point in the relationship he went from being the hip millionaire anyone sensible would want to spend their time with to being a 'problem' best avoided. McCartney resorts to pleading - anyway she makes the call will do, it doesn't matter how long or short or uncaring. For someone so used to strong communication in his life, this period must have been a blow for McCartney: he was used to rows and disagreements (usually with Jane Asher) but had never been given the cold shoulder before. And when you've written as many 'warm' songs oozing with love as Paul then a cold shoulder is a whole new alien concept, leaving Paul unsure quite what to do or think or say. 'Anyway' he keeps stuttering, breaking off his thought, convincing himself that it's ok and she will ring, or that it's over and she won't, or that she never really loved him in the first place or...well, anything, round and round in a vicious cycle of his own making. It's again the sort of honest songwriting that would have improved the alum greatly, even if the actual honest thing here is that Paul doesn't know what he's feeling, turning between hope and disappointment as the seconds tick by. 'I've always been singing this song' sighs McCartney, but not on this album he hasn't - this is the sort of depth and attitude the rest of the album would have so dearly benefitted from. Note too how much this song is the darker twin of happy go lucky 1983 B-side 'I'll Give You A Ring' (though a song probably written a full ten years before that), a manic piano crunching rocker that many of the songs on this album resemble. On that song all possibilities seem endless and there's never any doubt the girl is going to answer the phone; here everything is doubtful, including everything that girl has ever said to him during the course of their relationship.

The album then ends on an unexpected, anticlimatic note, with three un-named instrumental snatches stuck together to form one unbilled track, separated from 'Anyway' by around twenty seconds of silence. Paul said that he had been growing bored of the usual 'write an opening song for the album' formula and intended to start the record with the first of the instrumental bursts heard here, 'Wildlife' style, with the others dotted across the record. However after writing 'Fine Line' late into the album sessions he found he didn't need a different way to start the album and that the instrumentals didn't work in the way he'd intended. So Paul stuck them altogether as an extra 'surprise' in the manner of 'Her Majesty' on 'Abbey Road'. The first is the most ear-catching: a funky slice of rock and soul, it recalls the heavier tracks off 'McCartney' and 'Ram' via 'Flaming Pie' and shows off what a fine and under-rated guitarist the multi-instrumentalist McCartney is. It's a shame this fragment didn't turn into a full song. The second part is a typical piano ballad with a nice stinging guitar riff dancing over the top and a sense of urgency from a bass guitar slicing the whole song in half. Again the song sounds like it's crying out for words and a bit more direction - a more confident, happier McCartney could have turned this piece into a number one hit in seconds. The third part is the most avant garde, recalling the messier soundcheck jams on the 'Tripping The Live Fantastic' album, complete with honking car horns playing the main riff over a snarling fuzz guitar. The best thing about this section is the drumming, perhaps the most audible of all of McCartney's drum parts since 'McCartney II' back in 1980 and with his distinctive shuffle style. All three in one go without a break is all a bit intense though and doesn't quite work as well as it should.

Even with a strong end, however, there's no mistaking the fact that at three decent songs to ten major failures this is lower odds than any other album in the McCartney stock. There are, at least, mitigating circumstances. Divorce and unhappiness can make or break bands and after so recently pouring out his heart and soul post-Linda on 'Driving Rain' Paul wasn't ready to do the same, especially because giving in to just how depressed he was feeling in song would have revealed just how much Paul's second marriage was in trouble. It's hard not to sympathise with Paul as he gets his hopes raised and dashed during the course of this record, one where he's far more of a passive character than usual, helpless as he re-acts to what other people do to him and looking for love in his life. However, why make a record at all? Four years was quite a gap between records for someone as prolific as McCartney, but truly his fanbase would have waited patiently until Paul did know what he felt enough to write about and he really didn't need the money, even with the threat of Heather Mills taking a large chunk of it (which was in the end foiled by his solicitors and an understanding judge). 'Chaos and Creation' would have sounded so much more impressive as a low-quality bootleg from a 'missing' time when Paul had lost his confidence, the same way that 1987's unreleased 'Return To Pepperland' is fascinating as a rarity but terrible as an actual product. Too much of this album is wasted re-writing songs that once were perfect into terrible slices of cod-Beatles cliché and are quite frankly embarrassing for a national treasure as loved and talented as McCartney surely is. The fact that the reviewers all lapped it up simply demonstrates the love that was always there for Paul, underneath all the 'why is he taking up with that gold-digging wannabe?' and 'what has he done to his hair?' jibes in the press. We wanted Paul to be happy. We wanted things to go right. This album sounded just happy and enough like the 'old' Paul to fool many people who didn't listen too hard, but we true fans know the sound of a depressed, isolated Beatle with writer's block when we hear it and never did Paul suffer worse than on this album. Chaos and creation? Far too much chaos, nowhere near enough creation in my book, with this Paul - perhaps the most hard-0working and natural gifted writer of them all - at his laziest and most unsure. Come home brother and all will be forgiven! Thankfully all will be forgiven, as things turn out this is just a blip and even some spruced up outtakes from 'Chaos and Creation' beat anything this sorry soggy album has to offer hands down...

Other McCartney related musings from this site you might be interested in reading:



'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/paul-mccartney-and-wings-at-speed-of.html

'London Town' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-71-paul-mccartney-and-wings.html

'Back To The Egg' (1979) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/wings-back-to-egg-1979-revised-review.html

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-106-paul.html

'Tug Of War' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/news-views-and-music-issue-122-paul.html

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/paul-mccartney-pipes-of-peace-1983.html

'Press To Play' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/88-paul-mccartney-press-to-play-1986.html

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/news-views-and-music-issue-40-paul.html

'Off The Ground' (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/paul-mccartney-off-ground-1993.html

'Driving Rain' (2001) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/paul-mccartney-driving-rain-2001.html

'Memory Almost Full' (2006) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/paul-mccartney-memory-almost-full-2006.html

'New' (2013) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/paul-mccartney-new-2013-album-review.html

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/the-best-unreleased-mccartney.html

Surviving TV and Film Footage http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/paul-mccartney-surviving-tv-appearances.html

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/paul-mccartney-and-bands.html
Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/paul-mccartney-and-bands_21.html
Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/paul-mccartney-and-bands_28.html

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/paul-mccartneywings-non-album-songs.html

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/paul-mccartney-non-album-songs-part-two.html



No comments:

Post a Comment