Paul McCartney, McCartney III (Capitol)
There are many strange factions and cults of Beatles enthusiasts…those who feel Magical Mystery Tour is better than Sgt. Peppers, those who espouse the genius of Ringo…and one that I’ve found myself falling into lately is the faction who worship at the ramshackle, off-the-cuff altar of 1970’s McCartney, the one-man-band Macca debut solo LP that seriously felt like he was straight up trolling. The same can be said for the synth-laced McCartney II from later in that decade, a middle finger at his own bloated, superstar Wings project. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that 2020, a year on par with disasters like the breakup of The Beatles and the ascent of cocaine-rock arena monstrosities, should yield a surprise McCartney III drop out of absolutely nowhere. What is surprising, however, is that this record is every inch as strange and experimental and wonderful as I and II. You just know right from the needle drop on “Long Tailed Winter Bird”, a seriously trippy and Byrdsian slice of existential folk longing, that this is going to be another wild and deliciously indulgent ride into the mind and talents of one of the hugest stars in the world who nonetheless feels the most comfortable as a left-field outsider artist toying in his basement. Let’s just get the bangers out of the way first: The hard-rocking, straight-up-sleazy “Slidin” sounds like someone bet Macca he couldn’t best the Arctic Monkeys at their own game (he does, easily). The 8-plus minutes of “Deep Deep Feeling”, a straight up psycho look at the overwhelming feelings of love (“Sometimes I want it to stay, sometimes I want it to go away”) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that a man pushing 80 can still be crushed flat by romantic longing. Then there’s one of Paul’s best ever songs hidden on here, “The Kiss Of Venus” which would have fit nicely on The White Album, one of those dewey-eyed optimist acoustic ditties that Macca could, at one point, pour like honey from his fingers at will. “Women And Wives” is similarly effecting, with some real pain bleeding through as Paul melts a simple piano run into one of his most heartfelt songs. “Find My Way”, a relentlessly catchy and optimistic pop ditty, really pays the rent on the album’s first half, with one of the all-time greatest McCartney flexes tossed into the chorus: “I don’t get lost at night”. It’s always been the stranger cuts that attract us to the McCartney records, though, and dear god there are some great additions here. “Pretty Boys”, a track about melancholic male models (???) is a real head scratcher that’s just too catchy to dismiss; “Lavatory Lil” is an extremely harsh dis on a departed lover (or maybe business partner or both?) that works in some old school classic rawk “woman ain’t got no soul” sentiment to disturbingly great effect; “Deep Down”, a downright lustful burst of funk/soul makes you seriously embarrassed for grandpa; outro “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” is a delightful slice of hyper-literal rural English folk where Paul reminds us that he does, in fact, own a farm like the charming wanker he is. Uneven, indulgently experimental, with teasing flashes of brilliance, unapologetically strange and nowhere near commercial, McCartney III is truly all you could ask for from a McCartney record and is by leaps and bounds the most daring release of the year.