In the last couple of years Paul McCartney has been all over the media for all the wrong reasons. Away from his messy personal life he has been quietly producing music that confirms his reputation as a consummate pop melodicist and restless experimenter.
Following the excellent solo album Memory Almost Full, McCartney bumped back onto our radars with this third instalment in his ongoing Fireman project. A collaboration with producer and Killing Joke bassist Youth, the duo released two low-key ambient house albums in the ’90s that received polite reviews but failed to register with the public.
Perhaps sensing that unadulterated electronica was no longer a path worth pursuing, McCartney and Youth have opted for a more straightforward song-orientated approach on Electric Arguments. The album itself was completed in 13 days throughout the year, with each of the 13 songs (plus hidden track) recorded in a single day.
Is it any good? Very much so as it happens, with McCartney in particular sounding like he absolutely revelled in the truncated recording process. Of course, he has been down this route before, most notably on Ram and McCartney, his most endearing solo releases. Like those two albums, Electric Arguments pulls together a disparate range of sounds and influences with little consideration for the mainstream audience he so avidly courts on his slicker pop albums.
What is most apparent on Electric Arguments is that McCartney remains vastly underrated as a balls-out rocker. The opening Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight is a blast, harking back to the very earliest Beatles albums with its screaming vocals and blues-rock tub-thumping. And is Macca finally opening up about Heather Mills when he declaims, “The last thing you did was try to betray me”?
Sing The Changes and Highway are close cousins to the opening track, with the former harking back to the best of Wings, albeit with a production veneer closer to U2, and the latter a manic piano-pounding rocker. Really, you do have to wonder why he spends so long on some of his other albums when he can bash out gems like this at whim.
Scattered amidst the first half of the album are several further jewels, notably the simple and sweet Two Magpies and the waltz-like Travelling Light. McCartney always was a genius at whimsy, and the growled electro oddity that is Light From Your Lighthouse duly takes its place alongside Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey in the Macca oeuvre. There is even a nod to mainstream McCartney on the surging pop of Dance ‘Till We’re High, which indicates his continuing passion for the Phil Spector production style.
The second half of the album sees Youth come into his own as the songs become more experimental, but unlike on previous releases by the duo the music continues to connect with the listener. Lifelong Passion (Sail Away) is full of psychedelic drones and looped bass lines but is given substance by McCartney’s spot-on vocal. The closing Don’t Stop Running is the lengthiest track on the album but never outstays its welcome, with McCartney proving he can still keep up with all the young new pups on the block.
Closing in on his sixth decade as a recording artist, it is heartening to see one of our national treasures still pushing the boundaries. Long may he continue.