September 22, 2005

Creative Supernova

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When the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, Paul McCartney included a silly, whimsical tune on the album in which he pondered whether or not he would still be needed at the age of 64. In 2006, Sir Paul will finally celebrate his 64th birthday and perhaps, in a moment of self-reflection, he decided it was time to remind the world that he is in fact, still needed. McCartney’s newest studio release, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, demonstrates that his legacy, at least in the music world, is still being shaped.

McCartney, who many argue did his finest work with the Beatles, has often received a tepid critical response to his solo work, especially since the disbandment of Wings, his post-Beatle band. Chaos and Creation, however, is some of McCartney’s finest work to date. The 13-track album is nothing short of brilliant.

Chaos and Creation is a testament to the fact that Paul McCartney is one of the few people who understands songcraft at every level: from writing, to recording in the studio to producing. In short, his songs are not only well written, but also come out on tape exactly as he imagined them in his head. This is made possible, in large part, by the fact that McCartney can masterfully play just about every instrument. On the album, Paul adds grand piano, organ, acoustic, electric and bass guitars, cello, drums and other assorted percussion instruments, flugelhorn, toy glockenspiel recorder and melodica. His versatility allows him to capture any musical idea without having to describe it to another musician. This uncanny virtuosity, the fruits of which are readily apparent here, makes the album superbly rich.

The work of producer Nigel Godrich should not go unnoticed either. Godrich, whom McCartney recruited at the suggestion of longtime Beatles producer George Martin, indicated in the documentary which accompanies the album that he was initially hesitant to work with McCartney. He felt that Paul would be set in his ways after nearly 45 years in the recording industry but was pleasantly surprised when McCartney proved to be open to suggestion and receptive to criticism.

The vocals and instruments all sound impeccable, with little use of effect. This is especially apparent on tracks such as “Follow Me,” where the acoustic guitar sounds unlike an acoustic guitar being miked, but more like an acoustic in a live setting, a very hard sound to capture in a studio.

The songs themselves could not be any better written. One of the biggest criticisms of McCartney’s solo work is his lack of lyrical prowess. There are no statements of political protest or cries to end hunger and poverty on Chaos and Creation, nor should there be. Paul McCartney is at his lyrical best when he plays to his strengths: love songs that aren’t too cheesy and storytelling. Both are in abundance here. When McCartney veers clear of the corniness, beautiful love songs like “This Never Happened Before” come to fruition.

In “Jenny Wren,” a tune with double-tracked acoustic guitar and a picking progression similar to the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” Sir Paul shows off his ability to craft obscure little stories. This comes as no surprise since this is the man who once wrote timeless storytelling songs such as “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Rocky Raccoon.” In this case, Jenny Wren is a character who used to sing, but lost her will to do so in times of despair. While there is no grand message here other than the brief message of the “broken world” mending its “foolish ways,” it exhibits McCartney’s ability to essentially create a three-minute movie by weaving together a simple storyline. In this respect, Paul McCartney remains a modern-day troubadour, singing poignant little tales without ever divulging too much, leaving the listener satisfied while simultaneously curious.

The album’s vocals sound as though McCartney has barely aged. On songs like “Promise to You Girl,” where it is evident that time has taken a note or two out of his range, McCartney sounds all the better for it. There is a certain elegance to his aging, unlike that of rockers who damage their voice from excessive screaming and smoking. The material on the album is certainly diverse, but nevertheless all within the realm of Sir Paul’s ability. Whether it is the Spanish guitar-infused number “A Certain Softness,” or the ballad “Anyway,” the vocals sound as though no one else could do them justice.

We still need Paul McCartney to challenge the music world. Employing the perfect blend of all the ingredients that, when mixed right make perfect songs, McCartney puts the art in artistry. After all, this is the man who along with John Lennon wrote some of the most important songs of the 20th century. While Chaos and Creation in the Backyard may not hold the same significance, the songs are still as good as they ever were

Archived article by Scott Eisman
Sun Staff Writer