McCartney Gets Honest
Ken Kase
10/17/2005 7:55:16 AM

Paul McCartney
Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (Capitol)
Official Website

In 1982, when Paul McCartney released Tug of War, an album produced by George Martin, critics opined that the album “was the best McCartney has released in years”. These pundits were doubtlessly still under the seductive sway of Band on the Run, the 1973 blockbuster that was heralded as the ex-Beatle’s return to form after a considerable time in the creative wilderness. For twenty three years, we’ve heard that phrase pop up in critical circles with several McCartney releases and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is no exception. But such enthusiasm is far more understandable in light of the curious treasures within.

Of the incredible pool of talent known as the Beatles, none of the individual members have proven to be consistently good judges of their own best material in their solo careers. McCartney in particular has run into the trap of either not trying hard enough (Ram, Wings at the Speed of Sound, Off the Ground) or trying too hard (Venus and Mars, Give My Regards to Broadstreet). In either case, a claustrophobic feeling of self consciousness pervades much of his solo work. On Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, we find Sir Paul letting his guard down somewhat, and while some of his most transparent showman-like contrivances still pervade, we are treated to an album that, if not the best Macca album in thirty-odd years, certainly contains some fine music.

Honesty is not a word commonly associated with McCartney’s work, but on some tracks, we find him getting real. The darkest songs are the most engaging. “How Kind of You”, manages to express gratitude for emotional support with a fascinating combination of optimism and dread. The verses are broken up by minor key instrumental passages that keep the listener off balance and the effect is darkly thrilling. “Jenny Wren”, a sister song to “Blackbird” with the same kind of two-note picking style features one of his most haunting melodies deftly punctuated by the considerable talents of duduk soloist Pedro Eustache. “Riding to Vanity Fair” is particularly compelling with its disarmingly honest lyrics and foggy instrumental backdrop.

Producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) has proven to be a good choice in reigning in McCartney’s excesses. The production is rich sounding yet simple. The vocals are very up front in the mix and instrumental flourishes of strings are tastefully placed. Not every track is thoroughly magnificent, however. “English Tea” is annoyingly precious, following the same instrumental blueprint of “For No One” from Revolver (or “A Rose for Emily” by the Zombies or “Our House” by CSN…you get the idea). “A Certain Softness” tries to be a romantic ballad with a gentle Latin pulse, but the lyrical and musical clichés have a paralytic effect that sets in quickly and doesn’t let go. “Anyway”, the album’s closer, aspires to be a showstopper, but falls a bit flat, especially after the beautiful melody of the previous track “This Never Happened Before”.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is, despite a few dodgy misteps, an album to be celebrated. Although this reviewer is not entirely convinced of its brilliance to the point of writing an all-out rave, I will concede that it contains some of the more interesting McCartney songs we’ve heard in quite a long time. So few albums in the CD era are truly listenable all the way through, so I can’t blame him for that. That’s why God made the skip button.

Read NT reviews of the Beatles Capitol Albums Vol. 1 Boxed Set and Let It Be...Naked


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