Paul McCartney’s overly mechanized Press to Play had one saving grace

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In the sad sweepstakes for Worst Paul McCartney Solo Album, it would have taken a lot to zoom past the cutesy London Town, the self-conscious Driving Rain or the undercooked Wild Life — to say nothing of the synthy disaster that is McCartney II.

Paul McCartney got there with Press to Play, released on Aug. 25, 1986, an oh-so-typically-1980s Hugh Padgham-helmed “event” that stands as perhaps his least listenable offering. In some respects, you can blame the production values. Listen closely, and you might find the first frail flowerings of a creative rebound for Paul McCartney here — even if the old-man attitude seems a little heavy handed on tracks like “Angry.” But, more often, you’re stuck with things like “Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun,” which was as lightweight as anything on the second side of Wings albums like London Town and, maybe more particularly, Red Rose Speedway — since it too featured a series of half-finished ideas masquerading as a medley. “Talk More Talk” and “Pretty Little Head” are, even now, largely nonsensical.

Yet McCartney is, bless him, incapable of making a completely awful record. (Even McCartney II had “Coming Up.”) On Press to Play, this grace-note role is played by “Strangehold,” a gem nearly lost amid the plasticine echoes of drum-machined monotony.

Putting that aside, however, what Press to Play really represents is the smoking crater following a creative tailspin that began with Pipes of Peace, the leftovers from his uneven 1982 release Tug of War, and then the shockingly wrongheaded Give My Regards to Broad Street — which found Paul McCartney rerecording Beatles and Wings favorites for the soundtrack to a movie that no one saw. To be honest, even the passing fancies of Tug of War couldn’t break a string of unfathomable failures. At this point, McCartney hadn’t put out an unbroken sequence of songs worth listening to since side one of Back to the Egg.

Do yourself a favor, though, and go back to “Strangehold.” Paul McCartney finds a smart little reed-honking groove, then barks out the lyrics with a whiskey-shot of vigor on this minor classic. For all of the times he’d gotten lost in billowing clouds of whimsy — or in the case of Press to Play, billowing clouds of Fairlight synths — he very nearly pulls off a “Jet”-level anthem here.

Next, he’d romp through the oldies-filled Choba B CCCP, and finally start to get his mojo back with the snarky impetus of Elvis Costello, a Lennon-esque figure who would help McCartney score minor hits with “Veronica” and “My Brave Face” over the next few years.

In truth, though, Paul McCartney’s current musical renaissance wouldn’t come into full bloom until after reuniting with the surviving Beatles in the mid-1990s. Ever since, he’s been on a creative tear that — save for that aforementioned 2001 stumble, Driving Rain — has continued unabated. First, however, he had to get this overproduced dud out of the way.

My only quibble with “Strangehold”? Positioning it as the lead track on the often exhaustingly mechanized Press To Play should have had Paul McCartney brought in on false-advertising charges.

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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