CK Retro Review: McCartney II by Paul McCartneyPosted: November 7, 2016
Paul McCartney wasn’t really planning to reignite his solo career when he made a bunch of idiosyncratic, electronic-tinged recordings without any help from his Wingmates. But a confluence of events made McCartney II, released in 1980, the album to do just that. And it turned out to be unassuming way to shed the trappings of his former band, with a bunch of demo-like, editing-be-damned recordings that were light on import and heavy on quirk. The album wasn’t any kind of grand statement of purpose, which is a big part of its crazed charm. Even though it’s far from a classic, it at least anticipated the musical shift to synths and style that the MTV era was about to engender. Here is a song-by-song review:
11. “Frozen Jap”- I get that this album was recorded in less politically-correct times, but I’m sure McCartney would love a do-over for that title. And the plodding instrumental on which it’s hung isn’t worth the trouble.
10. “Nobody Knows”- This relatively unmemorable romper never quite conjures as much fun as was its intent.
9. “Front Parlour”- It’s not meant to be much more than a palette-cleanser, but it still sounds like a Casio demonstration caught on tape.
8. “Bogey Music”- Partially inspired by a kids’ book, it sort of tiptoes the line between eccentric and annoying a bit unsteadily for my liking. Too bad, because it wastes a pretty good boogie-rock drumbeat in the process.
7. “Dark Room”- McCartney II‘s biggest flaw is that a too-heavy percentage of the “songs” are barely fleshed-out grooves or ideas adorned with all kinds of studio ephemera. “Dark Room” possesses some exotic allure, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
6. “One Of These Days”- It has all the trappings of a classic McCartney acoustic ballad. The melody is tenderness exemplified and Paul sings with affecting earnestness. But the lyrics never really develop into anything profound, thus keeping it from reaching those levels.
5. “Temporary Secretary”- Maybe polarizing, but I think McCartney manages to turn this songwriting exercise into a fun oddball. In its way, it echoes stuff like Devo or Gary Numan from around that time, and, looking further down the road, would have fit in nicely on a They Might Be Giants album. And I consider all those things to be positive.
4. “Summer’s Day Song”- Very few rock composers can pull off a classically-tinged melody without it sounding more derivative than original. McCartney can; he shows off that ability quite nicely on this Mellotron-filled lullaby. Quite pretty.
3. “On The Way”- Let’s give some credit to McCartney’s ability to make homemade recordings like this one sound anything but homemade; it really sounds like some tight little blues band got together to dig into this sultry track. Paul’s reverb-heavy vocal is a good touch against the gritty music. Relatively unheralded but deserving of a listen for sure.
2. “Waterfalls”- As dreamy as the music might seem, there are some urgent sentiments being expressed here. McCartney needs love and love needs caution. His vocal, sweetly vulnerable, makes it abundantly clear that waterfalls, polar bears, and motor cars might seem like a good idea at the time, but really nothing good can come from them. Solid metaphorical writing, lovely, evocative music, and, hey, TLC must have been listening.
1. “Coming Up”- Put aside the recording’s odder elements, like Macca’s megaphone-like vocals and the kazoo-like horns, and you have an airtight pop gem that throws back to early Beatles’ hits penned by Paul like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “All My Loving.” He conjures an effortless groove out of the minimalist music, and that chorus ascends just like the lyrics promise. Nobody did joyful like The Beatles, and this Beatle proves here that the knack for such things never leaves you.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, the first link below will let you preorder my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March of 2017. The second link below is to my Amazon page, where you can find all my Counting Down books and e-books.)