At 78, no one would begrudge Paul McCartney a nice retirement. He is a Beatle after all and is responsible for some of the finest songs ever recorded. Our Paul has other ideas though, and a global pandemic didn’t stop him hitting the studio and completing what should be the final instalment in his infamous McCartney series.
McCartney III is the third album in a series that began in 1970 and which the former Beatle last visited in 1980. This series is unique in McCartney’s solo career as on each of the three albums, Paul played all the instruments from guitar to bass to drums and more.
McCartney III was recorded earlier in 2020 at Paul’s home studio during a COVID-enforced lockdown. Although McCartney did not necessarily have an album in mind as he fooled around, clearly, he had enough material to record and release a record that hardcore fans have been eagerly waiting for.
The album begins with McCartney strumming and picking an acoustic guitar in a kind of Celtic folk style before some distorted vocals come in matched with a solid Macca drum beat. The track is called "Long Tailed Winter Bird" and is more a collage of musical ideas rather than an actual song, something this McCartney series is known for.
What follows are two classic solo McCartney tracks in the vein of albums such as Flaming Pie and Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, both deemed to be his last two great records. "Find My Way" is vintage late-career Paul with manipulated vocals and guitar flourishes, while "Pretty Boys" is a reflective ballad of the sort McCartney has cut his teeth on for many decades.
Paul does create an opportunity to rock out in the middle section of the album with two Ram-esque guitar rockers in the form of "Lavatory Lil" and "Slidin", the latter which features some nice guitar chops from someone who I would describe as an underrated guitarist.
The experimentation then continues with the eight-minute prog epic "Deep Deep Feeling", a track that features layers and layers of piano in a down tempo style. What this track showed more than anything is that Paul still enjoys playing around in the studio, throwing things out there to see if they stick. This one for sure stuck and represented one of his most interesting compositions in years.
McCartney III also offers plenty for Beatles fans to get immersed in, with two later tracks, in particular, standing out. "Seize the Day" is probably the most Beatles-sounding song on the album featuring lots of melodic guitar and multi-tracked vocals in a "Penny Lane" kind of way, meanwhile, "Deep Down" has a roughness to it with Paul stretching his vocal limits more in what came across as a loose rocky guitar jam, think White Album/Let It Be era Beatles.
This is classic Paul and this song like many of the others really captured the true essence of the entire McCartney series and the aloofness of many of the songs across the three albums. An aloofness that has served McCartney well for fifty years.
In summing up McCartney III, I would say this could quite possibly be my favourite of the three McCartney albums. Yes, there is more production on this record and the experimentation is not as groundbreaking, but the songs felt more realised than before, and dear I say it, more focused.
Is there a "Maybe I’m Amazed" or "Coming Up" on this record? Most definitely not, but as a whole, this album flowed better than the previous two McCartney albums and if anything highlighted just how good a studio musician and arranger McCartney has always been.
Where does it stand in McCartney’s solo offerings? I would say it is most certainly his best album in fifteen years at the very least and one of his more interesting solo projects from a career that felt like it was winding down, but now clearly is not. Whether he puts out any more music as good as this remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is that this global pandemic has afforded this former Beatle a new creative lease of life in the studio.