This review covers the restored and expanded editions of Paul McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney, and its follow-up, McCartney II, originally released in 1970 and 1980, respectively. Concord Music Group with the aegis of MPL Communications and the Starbucks Hear Music imprint recently issued each album separately in double compact disc and 180-gram vinyl LP formats under the umbrella of the “Paul McCartney Archive Collection,” featuring a second album of bonus tracks for each title. McCartney is also available as a 2CD+DVD box set with an accompanying photo/information book; McCartney II also can be purchased as a 3CD+DVD box set with a similar ancillary book. All versions come with information on downloading assorted high-quality digital formats of the material. This review refers to the standard 2CD expanded/restored editions.
The self-titled McCartney (Apple/Capitol, 1970) was Paul McCartney’s first solo stab after The Beatles broke up. The ramshackle, one-man-band approach (Paul’s then-wife, Linda McCartney, only added harmony vocals) was the antithesis of The Beatles’ releases. Here was McCartney throwing off the shackles of expectations and emerging with a home recording of half-realized songs, filler, one cut written for The Beatles but never used, and a small handful of pop tunes centered around family, home, and escape from Beatlemania. As a declaration of independence, it was a murmur rather than a shout.
The newly remastered and expanded configuration of McCartney puts the original 34-minute release on one disc just as it appeared on vinyl, with associated photos and lyrics; the bonus CD includes 25 minutes of outtakes, live tracks, and one demo. The improved audio sparkle on both compact discs is comparable to high-quality vinyl, while the nuances are louder and more noticeable. Essentially, McCartney can now be deemed as a precursor to lo-fi indie-pop due to light melodics, a softer shell and lack of sheen, relatively straightforward songcraft, and being recorded on home audio equipment. Macca opens with the slight, short “The Lovely Linda,” a 45-second tribute to his partner and muse. It epitomizes the idea of filler and is a portent of the nagging mediocrity which crippled subsequent McCartney/Wings projects. From there, the set list flows between cozy pop confections and instrumentals. The folk-pop piece “That Would Be Something” has charm but peters out at the end. The delightful “Every Night” evokes some of McCartney’s Beatles-period acoustic odes, though the amiable arrangement masks McCartney’s post-Beatles depression when he would either not sleep or could not lift his head off his pillow, a fact found in the lyrics, “Every night I just want to go out / Get out of my head / Every day I don’t want to get up / Get out of my bed.” McCartney gets closest to successful pop dexterity on three tracks. His somewhat sentimental ballad “Junk” and the peaceful sing-along “Man We Was Lonely” – both written during happier times – offer harbingers to what McCartney created on his later outings with Wings. That future stance can also be heard on the only bona-fide rocker, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which became a Wings’ live staple.
By its very nature, the McCartney bonus disc is for completists, the hardcore fans who must have everything touched by McCartney. Semi-casual fans may find the seven remastered tracks – a mix of outtakes, demo stuff, and live material – interesting but not essential. The oddest tune is an outtake of “Suicide,” penned by McCartney when he was 14. It was taped for the McCartney album but shelved. McCartney later tried, perhaps ironically, to get Frank Sinatra to record the song. The other outtake is a roughened, mostly instrumental “Don’t Cry Baby,” another one McCartney shelved. The third studio effort is a vocals/piano mono demo of his feminist-era, semi-comical “Women Kind,” which ends with McCartney’s fart noises. The live tracks are much better. There are two superb versions of “Maybe I’m Amazed” by McCartney and Wings: one taped for the documentary One Hand Clapping (located on the 3-CD/DVD edition of Band on the Run which came out in late 2010) and a second, guitar-dominated take from the yet-unreleased 1979 concert chronicle Live at Glasgow. The other two tracks – “Every Night” and “Hot As Sun” – are also from the same Glasgow appearance. Hopefully McCartney will officially release this famously bootlegged show, since he personally chose to put these remastered supplements onto the expanded edition of McCartney.
The 38-minute McCartney II (Columbia, 1980) was Paul McCartney’s initial post-Wings undertaking, a one-man-band, warts and all assemblage of pop music, electronic noodling, and failed experimentation. When it was released, McCartney II was considered an awkward diversion. Now it sounds dated as well as frazzled. Of the 11 tracks, only four display McCartney’s melodic and musical skills. The opener, “Coming Up,” remains the most memorable of the lot. The winsome hit (which rose to number one in the US and reached number two in the UK) was regarded as a fine return to form, featuring a head-nodding chorus, supple use of horns, an understated beat, and a lively arrangement. The comedic video (which is on the 3-CD/DVD box set) is still enjoyable as well. The cornerstone cut, though, is beautiful acoustic ballad “Waterfalls,” which has a flawless melody underscored only by Fender Rhodes and a hint of synthesizer, proving less is more. The drowsy, minimalist “Summer’s Day Song” and the unhurried “One of These Days” are moderate pleasures which are neither indispensible nor complete throwaways.
Far less effective are electronically-influenced compositions such as Kraftwerk-stimulated “Temporary Secretary,” the stiff, Depeche Mode-esque instrumental “Front Parlour,” and the atrociously titled, mildly Eastern-tinged “Frozen Jap.” Historically these eccentric oddballs can be seen as a link between McCartney’s mid-1960s tape-loop digressions and his 1990s electronica collaborations with Youth (Killing Joke, The Orb), which began with Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest (Capitol/EMI, 1993) and Rushes (Hydra/EMI, 1998).
The 48-minute McCartney II bonus disc has eight selections. The cream of the crop is a live adaptation of “Coming Up,” another Glasgow item which was the B-side of the “Coming Up” single. But with much fuller sound, the live rendition was often aired by radio stations instead. Also included is the A-side radio edit for perennial holiday favorite “Wonderful Christmastime.” There are two usages of the previously unavailable “Blue Sway.” The first – and preeminent – has orchestral backing by Richard Niles. It is later reprised as an instrumental in the hitherto unreleased and uninspired medley “All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway.” The rest is largely unlistenable electronic or cut-up audio ephemera, such as synth-driven instrumental “Bogey Wobble,” an irritating, edited rendering called “Check My Machine,” which likely was created as a way for McCartney to get familiar with a new tape deck, and a ten-minute, full-length version of “Secret Friend,” another Kraftwerk-like production. The last two were earlier found as bonus tracks on “The Paul McCartney Collection” 1993 reissue of McCartney II.
McCartney aficionados have plenty to look forward to, since more is coming from the “Paul McCartney Archive Collection.” Future releases include Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Wings Over America and Ram.Visit: Paul McCartney | Concord Music Group
Purchase: Insound | eMusic