Highlights: Alligator, Queenie Eye, New
It really does my head in, and I can almost forgive the ridiculous album title (because it should already be Recent, and it will soon be Old), the oddly spelled ‘N’ (more like Mew), the general tastelessness of the neon-lit cover and even the fact that the album is so shamelessly front-loaded. This generosity is easily explained: Paul McCartney can still write a pop tune. Not just a catchy pop tune of general variety, but one the modern radio wouldn’t spew out like a piece of old, hardened gum. No, not like “Paperback Writer”. Not that. But then again – what would “Paperback Writer” mean to the modern radio?
Let’s get this straight. Compared to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard and even Memory Almost Full, McCartney’s latest doesn’t sound particularly inspired. None of the new songs are bad; McCartney is still McCartney – even when his songwriting lacks that vital spark, he can still string together a few good chords to make it sound reasonable and intelligent. Catchy, too.
The first side seems to know what it's doing. The opening “Save Us” is a pretty routine McCartney melody (I mean that in a good way) set to contemporary production (not necessarily a great decision), but take nothing away from what comes next. “Alligator” is an instant Paul McCartney classic – which goes to show that there’s nothing clever vocal hooks and a few melodic twists won’t do. “On My Way To Work” is no “We Can Work It Out”, but it’s a good late-period Paul McCartney number. No imagination of, say, “Mrs. Bellamy” (Christ how great that one sounds right now), but we shall take what we can. Like I will take “Queenie Eye”, which is insanely infectious. Like I will take the bouncy, Beatlesque (yeah I know) title track, not least because of those vocal harmonies. Sadly, most of what follows is largely a miss. Sweet and serviceable, but still a miss. Stuff like "Appreciate" and "Hosanna" is just bland. And while I can enjoy the anthemic “Everybody Out There” (good guitar work on that one), the rest rolls by in an anemic fashion. Pardon the intended pun, but the closing "Road" is long and not very winding; in fact, I’d rather he replaced it with the half-baked, but lovely piano melody of the last bonus track, “Scared”.
Still, it’s like Dylan once said: Paul McCartney thinks in melodies. Everything that comes out of his mouth is essentially coated in tunes and catchy chord progressions. And for all its numerous flaws, that still holds true for New. I mean, could the modern-day Pete Townshend write a pop song? Could Mick Jagger? Could Ray Davies? Well, maybe Ray Davies, but I very much doubt it would sound quite this effortless. Still, side two is there looking at me with its washed-out, half-blind eye. Hence the seven.