Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CD Review: Remastered "McCartney" and "McCartney II"

McCartney and McCartney II
(Hear Music)
Paul McCartney has never gotten enough credit for his experimental side, neither while in the Beatles nor during his four-decade-long solo career. But, as the newly released remastered and expanded editions of his 1970 solo debut McCartney and its follow-up, 1980’s McCartney II, unmistakably show, his experimentation is an ongoing feature of his music, along with his flawless melodic flair and penchant for the “silly love songs” that have made him millions of dollars, helped sell millions of records and earned him the derision of many.

In fact, McCartney was initially derided upon release as a half-baked effort that showcased one good song and some tantalizing fragments; when McCartney II came out ten years later, the nasty criticism was even more withering. Now, however, listening to this music in the context of McCartney’s eclectic solo career—which includes albums as disparate as the aptly-named Liverpool Sound Collage, his latest Fireman CD, Electric Arguments, and his classical oratorio Ecce cor Meum—one must conclude that, contrary to popular belief, McCartney is anything but a lazy and pampered superstar: rather, he’s a restless musician who has always done what he wants, commercial strictures be damned.

Both of these albums are homemade affairs, with Paul handling all the instruments and vocals and wife Linda chipping in the odd harmony. While “Maybe I’m Amazed” is the obvious stand-out track on McCartney (with that ringingly perfect guitar fill that would do George Harrison proud), the album also includes the scrappy rockers “Man We Was Lonely” and “Oo You,” lovely ballads “Junk” and “Every Night,” and bizarre, careening instrumentals “Momma Miss America” and the album’s percussive closer, “Kreen-Akrore.”

McCartney II follows the same blueprint. “Coming Up,” with its metaphorically rising bass figure, was a huge hit in America in its more fleshed-out live version, but Paul’s homemade original is far more memorable. “On the Way” is a gorgeous slow blues, “Waterfalls” one of Paul’s loveliest ballads, and “One of These Days” a haunting solo acoustic number. Goofy synthesizer loops abound in the truly weird “Temporary Secretary” and off-the-cuff “Darkroom,” along with the bouncy new-wavish instrumentals “Front Parlour” and “Frozen Jap.” And if “Summer’s Day Song” is merely an irresistible minor-key melody in search of a real song structure, “Bogey Music” and “Nobody Knows” are straight-ahead bashers that have their creator's tongue firmly in cheek.

As with last year’s Band on the Run re-release, McCartney and McCartney II—both of which have been given a lot of space to breathe in their newly remastered versions, even if their upgraded sound is not nearly as obviously superior as the 2009 Beatles re-releases were—contain the original album and a second disc of bonus tracks. McCartney’s seven extra tracks include two live versions of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” one from Glasgow in 1979, which is where the live versions of “Every Night” and “Hot as Sun” come from. A demo for the unfinished “Women Kind” and two snappy outtakes, “Suicide” and “Don’t Cry Baby,” round out an intriguing peek behind the curtain.

McCartney II's bonus tunes include two already-released songs, “Check My Machine” and “Secret Friend,” which, clocking in at nearly 6 and 11 minutes respectively, are among Paul’s most outrĂ© techno experiments, while “Bogey Wobble” and the medleys “Mr. H Atom/You Know I’ll Get You Baby” and “All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway” aren’t far behind in the offbeat department. Somewhat redundantly—since they've been featured on other discs over the years—the “Coming Up” and “Wonderful Christmastime” singles are also included.

Up next in Hear Music/Concord Music Group's McCartney reissues are Ram, the 1971 follow-up to McCartney that remains one of his best records; Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound, both solid examples of Paul and Wings as a hit-making machine; and the 1976 live set Wings Over America. Here’s hoping the upcoming reissues arrive at more regular intervals than what we've gotten so far.

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