With McCartney II, Paul McCartney attempted to tap into the new-wave zeitgeist

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McCartney II, released on May 16, 1980, was appropriately named. As with Paul McCartney’s eponymous 1970 solo debut, it arrived after the dissolution of another band — first the Beatles and then Wings. In both cases, McCartney closed himself into a studio to work on solo productions, with varying results.

Both show a willingness to strip down what had become a varnished sound. In 1980, as with 1970, Paul McCartney was coming off a huge production (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 McCartney’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 zeitgeist. But this didn’t pass for innovation back in 1980, and today McCartney II sounds at times laughably dated.

Really, though, neither is a complete success. Left to his own devices, Paul McCartney can be, by turns, a reasonable facsimile of his hitmaking self (as heard here on “Coming Up” and “One of These Days”), then a touch too comfy (“Waterfalls” and “Summer’s Day Song”). He’ll toss off an interestingly gritty rocker (the underrated “On The Way”) and then do something stunningly reckless with his gift and his loyal audience (“Kreen-Akore” from McCartney, for instance, is unlistenable; “Temporary Secretary” from II is worse).

For all of his talents, Paul McCartney’s best work has often come when there was someone to bounce things off of, be that John Lennon or George Martin, Elvis Costello or Denny Laine. In keeping, the live version of “Coming Up,” recorded with Wings at Glasgow, Scotland in 1979 during their final tour, became the hit version — a Billboard No. 1 in June 1980.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, 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 U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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