Everyone should know by now that Paul McCartney and I have a lot in common. Besides the early fame, the boyish charm and good looks, the billions of dollars, we both share the uncertainty of not knowing just where to go to next.
The Beatles' music was among the first music that changed my life and I always appreciated that so many McCartney-penned songs were piano based enhancing my own struggling keyboard tinkling (extremely accurate use of the term in this instance) repertoire.
McCartney's latest CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard has gotten quite a few good reviews. Clearly with Radiohead and Beck producer Nigel Godrich (recommended to Paul by Sir George Martin) at the helm Macca clearly was seeking to do something more significant than just his next CD. It's one of his most introspective CDs from start to finish and the fog of melancholy (unusual in a McCartney effort) lingers throughout.
Upon first listen I was reminded of the spring of my senior year of high school when I was driving with my two best friends at the time, Steve and Jay, and we were discussing Macca and what he had to do at that time to restore some of the luster to his rapidly becoming irrelevant career. I suggested that Paul record an all acoustic LP that would force him to concentrate on his words as much as he did the ever increasing need to show he was the experimental force of the Beatles.
Macca's next release Pipes of Peace was released the fall of my lost freshman year of college. I meandered down to my neighborhood Cheapo store and picked it up the day it was released. On a gloomy, grey fall day when it was my turn to pick the music in our room my two roommates suffered through this insipid music (although in my defense it followed listening to Dr. Pete's choice of the Police's Synchronicity, and Alcoholic Bruce's pick of Cheap Trick's One on One so it wasn't like my choice was that out of line). I remember how after the first listen I commented how Paul seemed to have lost all inspiration altogether to which Dr. Pete for the one and only time in our time together offered some words of sympathy. "It's not that bad and you have to keep in mind he's been writing music for so long..."
So the next time Steve, Jay and I got together was around Thanksgiving time and we tried to analyze Pipes of Peace and tried to find all the hidden meanings. We got stuck on the song "The Other Me" that contained the somewhat confessional yet entirely made up on the spot lyrics "The other me would rather be the glad one/The other me would rather play the fool/I wanna be the kind of me that doesn't let you down as a rule..." It wasn't that Paul wasn't trying, it seemed he was trying too hard- something I've done once or twice.
It is now some 22 years after that forgettable CD and one of the songs on Paul's latest mostly acoustic (maybe he heard me!) CD is a little nugget called "Jenny Wren" (that some of us might disturbingly relate to another Jennie with an animal name). This latest lament about spreading one's wings, a certain flight for freedom doesn't exactly inspire the same release that one might have felt all those years ago but it's still a darn fine song.
It's my favorite song on the CD. Like many of Paul's greatest songs ("Hey Jude," "For No One," "Little Lamb Dragonfly," "Hope of Deliverance,") it's a song about one soul consoling another. And the lasting feeling created is that the singer is singing the song to console the writer beyond the literal meaning of the words.
Chaos and Creation... suffers and yet benefits from the fact that all the songs sound somewhat alike. One of Paul's trademarks over the years has been that most his CDs inevitably feature a somewhat impressive yet equally annoying tendency to trip from idiom to idiom (see London Town) as if he just has to show off how many different styles of songs he's mastered. The CD may lack the big traditional McCartney ballad yet it's clear that Paul has reached the point where he doesn't really want to be just a nostalgia act and he wants his music to still matter. This CD may not quite get there but I for one relate to the effort.