I did what any Paul McCartney fan would do when rumors began circulating that McCartney III, the long belated third installment in the ex-Beatle’s homemade trilogy began to circulate.
I made it my business to visit Amagansett, Long Island, where Paul owns a home.
No, I didn’t trespass on the former Beatle’s lawn; I stopped at the record store on Montauk Highway and thumbed through the rows of his vinyl.
I hoped that a masked Macca, who lived within walking distance of the shop, would pop in during a break from his recording.
No such luck. McCartney III was not recorded in eastern Suffolk County Long Island, but rather in East Sussex, England, at Paul’s Hogg Hill Mill Studio in “rockdown” as the musician says.
“I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album,” he said about the experience.
He assembled some partially completed song scraps that were waiting to be resurrected and plugged away until he had a third self-performed, home-recorded album on his hands—in another opening year of a decade, no less.
McCartney III is a sequel to both 1970’s homespun solo McCartney, which he recorded while depressed and drinking on his Scottish farm immediately after the Beatles’ implosion.
The 1980’s synth-pop experiment solo McCartney II was made a decade later when his subsequent band Wings fell apart and Paul spent nine days in a Japanese jail for a drug charge.
McCartney III emerged during a worldwide pandemic when Paul was twiddling his proverbial thumbs until he scratched the itch that became the album.
If there was ever a time for Paul to return to the one-man band format again, 2020 was definitely it.
This time around McCartney isn’t facing a new phase of his career and really has nothing to prove.
The man just likes making music and who can argue with that?
McCartney III is full of quirks and its capriciousness is the best aspect of the record. Lyrics run the gamut from trite and predictable to poetic and playful, but that’s been Macca’s MO since his Beatle days.
His vocals cannot elevate the material the way they once did, but with that being said, his singing is not unpleasant He finds ways to make his voice fit the songs.
Perhaps the one blessing from 2020 for him was a break from touring that helped rest his throat.
Any flaws are forgotten when one remembers that (with the exception of one track), McCartney wrote every song andplays all of the instruments–guitar, bass, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, synthesizer, drums, and recorder.
The vintage equipment used gives a true texture to the record. And, oh yeah, he’s also 78-years-old.
The opening track “Long Tailed Winter Bird” is essentially an instrumental built around an infectious acoustic picking riff that emulates pastoral warmth of the first Macca solo album.
He adds a crunchy guitar and ghostly vocal chants, the sublime groove floats, and the album’s experimental tone is firmly presented.
“Find My Way,” the most radio-digestible song in the pack, is hip and fresh. It sounds like something Beck would do when he is emulating McCartney.
Its lyrics are simple but fitting, and the song is whimsical and comforting.
“Pretty Boys” is a mellow acoustic number with the surprising subject of male models posing for pushy photographers. It touches upon the psychology of the public gaze and is a reflection on fame, which is something McCartney knows more about than most.
“Woman and Wives” is a piano dirge of wisdom from the thrice-married McCartney that makes him sound his age.
“Lavatory Lil” is a ditty about a dirty gold-digger that drips with Liverpudlian charm and cheeky lyrics. It sounds like it would have fit into the medley on “Abbey Road.”
The eight-minute album centerpiece is “Deep, Deep Feeling” whose redundant title reflects its meandering feel, but the track swells with whiffs of nostalgia.
The pace is hypnotic and the piano and the soaring guitar have shades of mid-70s Pink Floyd.
The muscular and grungy “Slidin’” is the album’s heaviest track, and it shows, though pushing 80, that Macca can still rock with the best of them.
The melodic falsetto and harpsichord of the delicate and lovely “Kiss of Venus” burrowed into my ears for hours, and “Seize the Day” is optimistic, with peculiar lyrics and guitar work that sounds remarkably like Brian May.
The sultry “Deep Down” feels structurally half-baked, but its smoky and moody organ and vocals are reminiscent of Wings’ “Beware My Love.”
My favorite track is the closer, “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes,” which brings the trilogy full circle and dates from the 1992 session when McCartney and George Martin recorded Calico Skies.
A snippet of the opener for “Winter Bird” is reprised before the song, a trick Paul used at the end of “Band on the Run.”
Then Paul falls into another bucolic tune that is in the same rich and rustic vein as the “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Heart of the Country.” The lyrics read like a farmer’s to-do list, but further listening reveal a yearn for the simple life on his land with the woman he loves.
The animals he mentions are not metaphors; he really longs for the family farm. Domesticity, a theme Macca returns to frequently, is shown here as he reminisces about his Scottish homestead, his retreat as The Beatles collapsed and he embarked on his solo career half a century ago.
After McCartney, he made “Ram;” after McCartney II, he turned in “Tug of War,” so this begs the question: Is Paul on the verge of another gem or should we look deeper into the allegory he left us with his last song?
I don’t have those answers, but I do know that I am satisfied with part three of the trilogy.
Yes, some tracks are lighthearted and poppy, but the album has an honesty and an authentic effortlessness that makes me want to revisit.
It’s toe tapping, there’s plenty of ear candy, and it’s close in spirit to his 1970s solo debut which holds a place in the hearts of many Macca fans.
McCartney III is a sonically solid record from one of rock and roll’s elder statesman, and it’s a soothing balm after the dreadful 2020.
Check out a video of Peter Jackson’s new Beatles documentary “Get Back.”
McCartney III Track Listing
1. “Long Tailed Winter Bird” 5:16
2. “Find My Way” 3:54
3. “Pretty Boys” 3:00
4. “Women and Wives” 2:52
5. “Lavatory Lil” 2:22
6. “Deep Deep Feeling” 8:25
7. “Slidin'” 3:23
8. “The Kiss of Venus” 3:06
9. “Seize the Day” 3:20
10. “Deep Down” 5:52
11. “Winter Bird / When Winter Comes” 3:12