Well, I haven’t updated since May and there are many reasons folks. New apartments, new jobs, working on new music and finishing my album all led to a general lack of time to devote to my website. On top of that, I spent last weekend furiously going through as many old posts as possible, replacing all the busted video links I could. I know there are still many more that don’t work and I hope to get to them someday. Just drop me a line on ones you find that don’t work that you’d like to see and I’ll see what I can do. Anyway, it’s good to be back to talk all things rock and roll.
Paul McCartney has released dozens and dozens of records since the Beatles split in 1970. When the Beatles broke up, he was only 28 or 29-years-old, still incredibly young for all he had accomplished and still burning to make music. And make it he did. Throughout the 1970s, with his wife Linda and then with Wings, he produced a plethora of hit records and singles. My favorite record from this era is Ram, his second solo LP. If you ever wanted a sequel to Paul’s work on the White Album, Ram is your record. Critics often point to Band on the Run as representing the peak, but to me that album is Paul’s effort to overhaul his experimental and intimate pop sound into something more slick, energized and urbane. I think Paul is at his best when he is sitting around with his acoustic guitars, overdubbing psychedelic style blues riffs, and crafting intricately layered vocal harmonies over his melodies. I never really dug the slicker ‘big band’ style Paul, which I feel was his attempt to create a larger than life stage show built around bombastic circus anthems and 70s influenced guitar stylings. Don’t get me wrong, there are many tracks that are great in this style, including Jet or the title track from Band on the Run, but I can’t help but feel that even those songs feel a bit forced.
In the 1980s, Paul, like many of the great 60s rockers of his generation, fell off his artistic peak. He produced many shitty electronic albums like Pipes of Peace or the abysmal 1986 effort Press to Play. That record was described by huge Paul McCartney fan and genius rock rock critic George Starostin as “Pure electronic garbage. One of the lowest moments in rock history.” It was hard to blame Paul for starting to suck. He was a workaholic in spite of his constant stream of massive success and he burned out. The 1980s marked the end of his career as a contemporary artist.
As the 1990s dawned, Paul, like his legendary pals who were still alive, entered into what I call the nostalgia museum phase. His new records would be attempts to give audiences what they loved most about him in the first place, namely, Beatles music, and his shows would be more carefully pruned to forever ditch the stuff that nobody every cared about. To achieve that goal, he stripped back any pretense of trying to keep up with musical trends and just come up with the same mix of experimental (now traditional) pop and clever little love ballads. The results were mostly mixed to bad. Flaming Pie from 1997, was awful. Starostin wrote that ”The search for simplicity has ended in banality and primitive tunelessness.” Paul, and the rest of the music business, hadn’t figured out how to give people a simulation of the magic that could never really be repeated anyway.
So, with that in mind, let’s jump to the musical world of 2013. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a lot of embarrassing music was produced by everybody but improvements in technology and a whole new generation of obsessed and passionate music nerds started changing the way music was being made. When I talk about passionate music nerds, I’m not just talking about purists in any specific sense, I’m talking about purists across the board. An army of hardcore music fans, each holding up a banner for a certain genre, be it hip-hop, classic rock and roll, indie rock, disco, bubblegum, techno and everything in between, emerged. These music geeks were not only armed with an encyclopedic history of their favorite types of specific music, but were training themselves to make it, using relatively cheap recording and producing technology. From this bubbling explosion of intelligent and self motivated music enthusiasts, the very best found themselves in studios, working with technology that allowed for practically any style of music to become possible. Retro could somehow be made to sound new and the aesthetics of handmade creations could be designed to come off corporate and slick. This technological revolution has seemingly made it possible for current music stars, motivated to stay relevant, to churn out a never ending stream of stylish pop music that is as hard to ignore once released as it is easily forgotten.
Pop music these days is a purely transient experience, like an express train flying by a local subway stop. It is not only designed to push your emotional pleasure buttons, but stomp them in a fury of dazzling and breath-taking maneuvers. Producers are getting so good at crafting these things that people who hate Beyonce for instance, are finding themselves surprised to be liking her single in the back of their minds, even though they are consciously rejecting it both viscerally and emotionally. As I eluded to before, the biggest side-effect of this phenomenon is forgetability. Everyone sounds fresh. Everyone sounds retro. Every song is pulsing with those homemade ramshackle garage drums while being spliced with the addictive beat of authoritative drum machines. It’s a sensory overload that sounds phenomenal at a club or at a concert but is quickly disposed of once it’s time to release the next batch of songs. No one can even characterize the decades anymore by what types of music is being produced. It’s all becoming a meaningless white noise designed to flash across our brains like a multi-colored strobe light.
Whew. So, back to our friend, and one of the originators of practically everything going on today some how. Paul’s newest single, off of his stupidly named album “New,” is everything I was just talking about. Why is “New” a stupid name? Well, my biggest gripe with the title of his record is that it reminds me of this new trend of “minimalist corporate futurism.” People try to sell everything with this element of simplicity, trying to capture the iPhone marketing mentality. It’s gotten dumb. Also, besides the slick marketing presentation, God love him, Paul has undergone a series of face lifts and hair transplants and despite this, the 70-year-old ‘cute’ Beatle is finally showing his age. The power of his voice, once capable of scorching out high notes as well as Little Richard, has diminished significantly. When he was playing Beatle classics on the Colbert Show earlier this year, astute fans had noticed that he transposed the songs down a whole step to match his lost ability. No longer can he belt out those gorgeous upper register notes that he used to hit so effortlessly. I am not faulting him for aging, or trying to cover it up, in fact I’m not faulting him for anything. I just find it all interesting to witness. Still, whatever, he can’t really be blamed for any of this. In fact, he should be applauded for continuing to entertain his millions of fans, both young and old, decade after decade.
When I first heard Queenie Eye, I caught it for 30 seconds at the end of a rather unrevelatory Howard Stern interview, where Paul dished on John’s LSD use and the making of “Getting Better” off Sgt. Pepper. One nugget I did take away from the talk was Paul talking about the first song he wrote with John called “Just Fun,” or something like that. I am always surprised to hear new Beatle trivia as I have practically memorized their entire story. Anyway, the flash of that song had everything I explained above. It pushed all my Beatle buttons. The melodies seemed to curve unexpectedly and the harmonies were lush and intricate. The stomp of the music had that classic marching Ringo beat and the energy was way up for someone trying to disguise their increasing weariness. Queenie Eye is some meaningless story about an obscure British game played by children Liverpool. The song would probably be perfect for scoring a scene from a Harry Potter Quidditch match, capturing a childhood sense of magic, Britishness and sports.
Anyway, whoever produced it, had access to the magic “sound like solo Paul doing Beatles” button in the studio, stuffing it with all the touchstones. I don’t for one second believe Paul himself really directed the production of the song. Sure, he wrote it, arranged it and possibly played most of the instruments on the track but there is no way he was fiddling with all the modern compression and equalization knobs found in the latest version of whatever fancy recording software is being used in Abbey Road these days. I doubt Paul was telling the producer to fill the piano sound all the way up to the front, creating that deafening modern wall of sound effect that practically all songs have now. I’m also certain it wasn’t Paul’s idea to have that mellotron drone so loudly in the mix, giving the song that delicious 60s vibe. Also, I’d bet that the radio effect on Paul’s voice is there to mask his increasingly elderly sounding voice.
In the end, what we are left with is a simulation of everything we love about Paul McCartney. Twisting melodies, harmonies, interesting and homespun sounding keyboard sounds, chants, choruses, anthmatic refrains and rainbows. All of it curiously sucked dry of anything resembling reality. The only thing it proves is that Paul is a master of his style, a hallow thing considering he has proved it a billion times before. What is the point of him proving this at age 70? His fans know him, inside and out. Maybe Paul realized that many of his failed records in his later career are too filled with the sort of sad energy that comes with aging. This record itself might be full of those songs too actually, I have no idea, but Paul did announce with this album that he will never retire, so he has probably given up the idea of trying to communicate to people that he is tired and old. Again, I’m not blaming him for anything. The man obviously needs to keep the charade going for his mental health, which is fine. After all, life is mostly a charade, basically. Also, when ranking the most authentic Beatles, you have John and George at the top, godly in their lofty punkishness, Ringo next, never pretending to be anything other than a drummer from Liverpool who made it big, and Paul at the bottom, desperate to keep reminding people of his fame decade after decade, despite never realizing that there was nothing he could do to ever really lose it.
The video itself, presented below, is the perfect compliment to the dazzling nothingness that the song represents. You have Paul, blithely playing piano with his frail hands, which indicate how withered his face really should be, while A-list celebrities appear out of nowhere to listen in. As Paul pounds away, the celebrities either gawk at him, bob their heads slowly or dance in a spirit that doesn’t come close to reflecting the nature of the song. Paul, who has always had a problem appearing natural on camera, doesn’t even register their presence and acts like this is all par for the course, which in his insanely amazing universe, probably is. It might have been nice to see Paul actually backed by other musicians. As it is, he looks like he is drowning in the middle of the music instead of being the source of it. It also would have been nice to see Paul get up and dance around with the celebrities or shake their hands. If I were directing this, I’d have told them all to lift him on their shoulders and carry him around or something. Instead, everyone appears to be divorced from reality, again, unintentionally reflecting the truth of the matter despite best efforts made not to. It’s kind of a shame because Paul was once part of a video that captured everything incredible about this kind of environment. In “All You Need Is Love,” the Beatles are seen performing the song with a live orchestra, surrounded by a mix of normal people and celebrities like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. Those megastars are seen sitting on the floor and singing along, forced to the honor the majesty of the Beatles in a non-phony way.
Well, I am out of things to say. As you can see, the longer the layoff, the longer the posts. I hope to keep updating on a more regular basis again and continue to clean up the site as I get closer to releasing my record. All the best everybody!