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The Fireman
Electric Arguments Julian Marszalek , November 20th, 2008 06:52

The Fireman - Electric Arguments

With the exception of The Rolling Stones, few artists have acted as their own worst enemy to quite the same degree as Paul McCartney. Be it his regular dips into mawkish sentimentality, ill-advised duets, the ongoing insistence on his hipper-than-thou status within The Beatles, the appalling lapses of taste, children’s songs so awful that they inadvertently promote vasectomies and the eminently punchable thumbs-aloft demeanour, McCartney’s public persona regularly becomes that of a desperate figure of fun; a man who will do anything to be perceived as cool and up-for-a-laugh yet becomes anything but.

And this, frankly, is something of a tragedy. This was the man, lest we forget, who helped to aurally replicate the LSD experience during 'A Day In A Life', whose studies of Stockhausen considerably upped the ante with 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and whose drive completed the second side of Abbey Road against all odds. Shit, his bass playing alone on “Paperback Writer’ puts him up there on the pantheon of greats.

Somewhere in this morass of contradictions lies the true mark of the man and with Electric Arguments, his third collaboration with former Killing Joke bassist-turned-uber producer Youth under the guise of The Fireman, McCartney does much to re-establish his reputation as one of the most creative artists this country has ever produced.

Leaving behind the ambient sandscapes that characterised the duo’s first two outings, Electric Arguments plays its hand early with 'Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight'. Evoking the grind of 'Helter Skelter' and Captain Beefheart’s dirty backbeats, Macca seemingly takes a pop at his ex as he growls, “The last thing you did was try to betray me.” This isn’t cuddly Paul or a man wont to disguise his true feelings in anagrams but a direct howl that’s as much a call to arms as catharsis for him.

The album’s peaks are marked with the sound of McCartney coming well out of his comfort zone and back in to the arena of experimentation. 'Lifelong Passion' finds him returning to drones and lolloping basslines while Youth’s fingerprints are dabbed all over. This is what The Verve would love to sound like if they could only bring themselves to unshackle themselves from the moorings of classic rock. Some chance. Likewise the bucolic delight of 'Travelling Light' that floats and drifts with an air of assuredness.

Of course, this being Macca, the album occasionally dips into the lowest common denominator; it’s as if he can’t resist, as if it’s built into his DNA. So it is that the electro hoe-down of 'Light From Your Lighthouse’ is best left with Alabama 3 and 'Two Magpies’ proves that the lure of the 20s pastiche still remains irresistible after all this time.

And yet... and yet... the highs outweigh the lows by some considerable margin. 'Is This Love?’s mantra is a hypnotic delight, while the closing 10-minute epic 'Don’t Stop Running' shows that an old dog is more than capable of a few new tricks. At an hour long, Electric Arguments would certainly have benefited from some radical pruning. As it is, The Fireman’s third album is a fine collection of material instead of a great one. No matter because there’s something re-assuring about the fact that McCartney can still cut it when he’s not playing to the gallery. And who’d have thought that this late in the day?

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