Wednesday, September 14, 2005

McCartney's 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard': A Review

No one who reads this blog will be surprised by my confessing that I'm a fan of Paul McCartney.

But you probably also know that I'm far from an uncritical fan. On the long and winding road of his solo career, McCartney has gotten lost more than once or twice. Wildlife was a joke. Red Rose Speedway had a few worthwhile tracks. Back to the Egg and Venus and Mars had some nice tunes, but were not great albums. McCartney II and a few other releases were eminently forgettable.

But along the way, Macca has also produced LPs that range from classics to solid: Band on the Run, Flowers in the Dirt, Flaming Pie, Driving Rain, and Tug of War.

Improbable as it may seem to some though, after teaming up with producer Nigel Godrich for his twentieth post-Beatles release, Paul McCartney, at age 63, has released the best LP of his solo career, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

While Macca's voice is not nearly as good as it was in the early 80s, when it was at its zenith, it remains a serviceable instrument here. And speaking of instruments, as he did on his first solo release, the wonderful McCartney (released in 1970) and the disappointing McCartney II, of a decade later, he plays almost all the instruments on this LP himself.

Two things make Chaos and Creation in the Backyard great. First, there are all the surprising melodies. While the first track, Fine Line, is pleasant and conventionally McCartneyesque, the rest of the LP finds Macca employing his gift for melody in adventurous new ways, taking off on intriguing chord progressions and minor keys.

Second, and perhaps most surprisingly, are the fabulous lyrics, the best of his solo career. They're mostly mature, sophisticated, and insightful. Maybe McCartney's recent renunciation of marijuana has cleared up his mind because there's a clarity in the lyrics here that has not always been apparent before.

I love the musical sparseness of the whole project. It has the feel of spending an evening in some small venue with one of the giants of popular music, finally and freely shedding the pop maestro mantle to be a grown-up, reflective successor to the young musician who once, with his mates from Liverpool, dazzled us with his talent for words and music. It is the most consistently good release of his career.

You can listen to most of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard on AOL for a time. You can hear extended samples from the whole thing here. My favorite tunes are Riding to Vanity Fair, Follow Me (although the first few lines of the verses sounds a little like that song of Adam Sandler's on the airplane in The Wedding Singer), This Never Happened, Anyway, Friends to Go, Too Much Rain, and Jenny Wren.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I wouldn't have been aware of this album if not for your review. Thanks!

Mark Daniels said...

Richard: I hope that you enjoy it!


Alexander M. Jordan said...

Hi Mark:

Thanks for the comment on the review over at my blog. I like your review as well --its short and sweet, and sums up the album quite nicely.

I'm not yet certain whether C&C is his best, but it would be second only to Band on the Run and perhaps tied with Ram. I think it is superior to Tug of War, which, at the time of its release, was hailed as his "masterpiece" by Rolling Stone (TOW was good, but not quite a masterpiece). This one comes closer to deserving that kind of accolade.

Alexander M. Jordan said...

P.S. By the way, you have a terrific blog here and I have added a link to you over at my site.