Paul McCartney – McCartney; McCartney II (1970/1980; 2011 reissue)

After the dissolution of both his bands, first the Beatles and then Wings, Paul McCartney closed himself into a studio to work on solo productions, with varying results.

Taken together, McCartney and McCartney II — newly repackaged as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection series from MPL and Concord Music Group, and arriving today in Britain and on Tuesday in the U.S. — show a willingness to strip down what had become a varnished sound. After all, Paul was coming off huge productions in the form of 1969’s Abbey Road with the Beatles and 1979’s Back to the Egg with Wings. But there is a broad disparity, more pronounced than ever, in how these recordings have aged.

McCartney comes off as more organic, a simpler expression — like someone trying to work out his own sound. McCartney II was, truth be told, fatally hobbled from the first by Paul’s own poor mechanics with the synthesizers he chose to experiment with throughout. He was, it’s clear, trying to tap into the new-wave zeitgest. But this didn’t pass for innovation back in 1980, and today McCartney II sounds at times laughably dated — no matter the improved sonics in the new reissue.

Really, though, neither is a complete success. Left to his own devices, McCartney can be, by turns, a reasonable facsimile of his hitmaking self (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Every Night,” and “That Would Be Something” from his much-stronger 1970 debut; “Coming Up” and “One of These Days” from II) then a touch too comfy (“Junk” and “Teddy Boy” from McCartney; “Waterfalls” and “Summer’s Day Song” from the 1980 release). He’ll toss off an interestingly gritty rocker (McCartney‘s “Oo You” and II‘s underrated “On The Way”) and then do something stunningly reckless with his gift and his loyal audience (“Kreen-Akore” is unlistenable; “Temporary Secretary” is worse). For all of his talents, his best work has often come when there was someone to bounce things off of, be that Lennon or Martin, Costello or Laine.

All of this is, of course, well-covered ground — even if there are a few notable moments of clarity with the new remasters. (During a shined-up “That Would Be Something,” you appreciate all over again Paul’s now-largely forgotten ability to turn in a nasty little groove. McCartney’s acoustic is moved up on “Waterfalls,” imbuing the song with a new emotional punch.) So, our attention inevitably turns to the extras meant to convince us that rebuying things like McCartney II — I mean, I already have it on eight-track, right? — is a worthwhile endeavor.

The live version of “Coming Up,” recorded with Wings at Glasgow, Scotland in 1979 during their final tour, is a required addition — since that’s actually the hit version, a Billboard No. 1 in June 1980. But, it was also included on the 1993 reissue of II, along with “Check My Machine” and “Secret Friend,” originally released as the B-sides to “Waterfalls” and “Temporary Secretary” respectively.

“Blue Sway,” which we talked about late last week, is perhaps the best of the additional new tracks from McCartney II — if only for its amazing new underwater video. “Bogey Wobble” sounds like someone banging on a broken keyboard. “Mr. H Atom/You Know I’ll Get You Baby” boasts a passably intriguing psychedelia. “All You Horse Riders” is simply Paul screwing around. “Wonderful Christmastime” (now a perennial holiday-radio earworm) had previously been included on reissues of Back to the Egg, probably because the video featured other members of Wings, but it was actually recorded during these one-man sessions and finds its proper home on this project.

McCartney, perhaps unsurprisingly, fares better in this regard, as well. There’s a redo of “Maybe I’m Amazed” from One Hand Clapping, a too-long unreleased documentary that followed Wings at work at Abbey Road studios in 1974. (The band later had a Top 10 hit with a live version of the song in 1976, using a similar arrangement.) “Every Night,” “Hot as Sun” (sped up to the point of sounding like a country tune) and “Maybe I’m Amazed” also get full-band performances from Wings’ performance at Glasgow, as well. Outtakes include a couple of throwaways — a honky tonky piano goof “Women Kind” and a full-length version of a snippet originally used to end of “Hot as Sun/Glasses.” Then, there’s an interesting early version of the coiled rocker “Oo You” called “Don’t Cry Baby.”

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Lou

    This review was written by some 60-year-old Wings fan, wasn’t it? It’s an absolutely conventional review (I mean, come on, praising the live version of Coming Up) about an absolutely unconventional record. Admit it, Nick, you don’t know anything about electronic music, do you? You don’t realize how ahead of its time McCartney II was? And you clearly don’t realize that Temporary Secretary has been getting played in clubs in recent years because it’s a monster track.

  • Nick DeRiso

    Gratefully, I don’t frequent clubs that spin something so repetitively pedestrian as “Temporary Secretary.”

  • http://facebook.com/soundawakeradio Jeffrey Thames [King of Grief]

    I don’t expect to read many glowing reviews of Mac2 in any configuration, but it’s still near and dear to me as one of the few then-current albums I owned as a kid (10 years old at the time of its issue). In fact, I might be the only non-Macca completist who’s jazzed about the deluxe package. Next bonus check for sure.

    A few weeks ago, I spun a set on my radio show (see link) that focused on established rockers “tapping into the new-wave zeitgeist”, to borrow your phrase. The dread “Temporary Secretary” opened the set, which also contained the likes of Genesis’ “Who Dunnit?” and Alice Cooper’s “Aspirin Damage”.

  • Dee

    McCartney II reviews
    Mojo Magazine: ****
    Pop Matters: 9 out of 10
    The Quietus: “outstanding”
    Stuff.com: “a masterpiece”
    Consequence of Sound: *** and 1/2 stars
    Uncut: ***
    Q Magazine: ***
    Pitchfork: 7.2 “Parts of the album sound oddly current; … Though an odd couple in many ways, these two albums represent often-overlooked corners of McCartney’s music, and they’re worth rediscovering.

    Hell, even Rolling Stone gave it *** stars and they never like anything McCartney does.

    All of which goes to show how it’s your review that is dated.

  • Nick DeRiso

    McCartney II has its moments — and the review makes a point to highlight them. But, to my ears, it’s simply too uneven to be called one of Paul McCartney’s best recordings. The fact that II has yet to go platinum (three decades later and counting) tells me the buying public agrees — whatever the critics say.

    • Dee

      What does it matter how much McCartney II sold? Since when are sales a judge of a good record? Plastic Ono Band never sold well and it’s widely acknowledged as Lennon’s most important album. McCartney II is a strange album (in a good way) and it’s not going to appeal to the masses, just like Revolution No. 9 didn’t appeal to the masses.

      Critics do this to McCartney all the time. They bash him for pandering too often to the charts and writing “silly love songs” designed to sell to the masses, and then, when he follows his muse and does something quirky and experimental, they criticize him for it because it didn’t sell.

      McCartney II is never going to be a big seller. And it’s not flawless but there’s so much good stuff on this album and many tracks that sound like they could have been made this year rather than 30 years ago. That’s why the reissue is getting good reviews.

  • http://www.somethingelsereviews.com Nick DeRiso

    You’ve outlined a false dichotomy, all the while spending a great amount of time arguing points that we never made.

    First, I’d like to invite you to read further into our reviews of McCartney’s work on this site: http://somethingelsereviews.com/tag/paul-mccartney/. You’ll find that we’ve celebrated his successes, be they “silly love songs” (http://www.somethingelsereviews.com/2008/06/one-track-mind-paul-mccartney-no-other.html and http://somethingelsereviews.com/2007/05/25/one-track-mind-paul-mccartney-see-your-sunshine-2007/) or something more experimental — like the Fireman projects (http://somethingelsereviews.com/2008/11/22/the-fireman-electric-arguments-2008/).

    That said, those who complain about McCartney’s sometimes lazy cutisms are not required to love it every time he tries something different — especially when the project isn’t a complete success, as in the case of II.

    As for the well-regarded Plastic Ono Band, an album that frankly shouldn’t even be in this conversation, it has sold well over 165,000 copies since the SoundScan era began, while II had sold under 20,000 before the reissue release — third worst, all-time, among McCartney recordings (behind only London Town and Wild Life). This new II didn’t fly off the shelves, either — selling less than 1,900 copies, for instance, during its first week of release in McCartney’s native England.

    Some, I suppose, might say that’s because it doesn’t pander to the charts. Or you can say that, in the grand scheme of things, it ranks somewhere around London Town and Wild Life on the scale of great McCartney albums. We’re going with the latter.