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Paul McCartney
McCartney, McCartney II (reissues) Ash Akhtar , June 13th, 2011 10:44

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"I was going through a hard period, I exhibited all the classic symptoms of the unemployed, the redundant man. First you don't shave, and it's not to grow a groovy beard, it's because you cannot be fucking bothered. Anger, deep deep anger sets in, with everything, with yourself number one and with everything in the world number two. And justifiably so because I was being screwed by my mates." So said Paul McCartney in the biography Many Years From Now, written by Barry Miles and published in 1997.

It's rare to hear a man commonly associated with peace and love speak out so bitterly, but these are the feelings of resentment and rejection as experienced by Paul McCartney in 1970.

In 2010 the Paul McCartney Archive Collection released a deluxe, remastered package of Wings' classic, Band On The Run, but these two McCartney solo records span a decade and serve to practically bookend the career of Wings: McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980). Remastered at Abbey Road by the team responsible for The Beatles remasters as well as being overseen by McCartney himself, these extended packages have an increased polish that gives them healthy qualities normally associated with vinyl. And, of course, the recordings are louder too, though they are mercifully not at the scorching level of The Beatles' stereo remasters.

Back in 1970, in a Q & A designed to publicise his debut solo album without having to give interviews, McCartney described the theme of his album in three words: "Home, family, love," and though that can easily be the inferred from this collection of homespun tracks recorded predominantly in Scotland on a Studer four-track, there is more tied into this largely wistful and retrospective work.

On famous ballad, 'Maybe I'm Amazed', McCartney sings, "Maybe I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man in the middle of something that he doesn't really understand." Bewildered by the isolation enforced during a period he came to recognize as one of the hardest of his life, Paul began working with the Studer at his Cavendish Avenue home in September 1969. Opening track 'The Lovely Linda' was the first song to be recorded, but it was created without a mixing desk or VU meters (used for monitoring volume) as they had yet to be delivered.

Though many parts of McCartney are linked to his wife Linda, there are moments when he has only himself to answer to. In Many Years From Now, McCartney says, "I remember lying awake at night shaking. One night I'd been asleep and awoke and I couldn't lift my head off the pillow." Proof of that depression can be found on 'Every Night' as he sings, "Every night I just wanna go out, get out of my head. Every day I don't want to get up, get out of my bed." Two numbers originally written in happier times in India ('Junk' and 'Teddy Boy') appear on the album, but these feature a twisted and resentful love.

CD 2 of the McCartney deluxe package includes seven bonus tracks: a mix of out-takes, live tracks and demos, and though this is mostly stuff that fans can live without, it's nice to have live versions from 1979 that precede McCartney II. Similar songs from different shows are included on the DVD, but the bonus footage really gets interesting when home-made videos from Scotland flicker across the screen. The limited personal insight into the world of this famous 1970s family starts to get at the crux of McCartney, while the live music videos plainly demonstrate that the record is of such a viscerally personal nature that it simply does not translate when other musicians play its individual pieces. One exception to this is the Loma Mar Quartet's stunning interpretation of 'Junk' which plays through a moving photo montage. There is also a solid, spoken overview of McCartney delivered by Paul himself while an enjoyably antiquated animation plays.

Diametrically opposed to McCartney, McCartney II reveals a revolt against the decade preceding it more than it speaks of the artist himself. In the NME review of McCartney II (printed in June 1980), Danny Baker said, "McCartney II isn't worth the plastic it's printed on. Neither is Paul, but he'll go on doodling and fooling his public because they're too frightened to ditch him and his past and he's too rich to be stopped."

McCartney II arrived at number one in the UK charts and Wings began their slow descent to ground. Though McCartney had greater financial success from his time with Wings than in all his time with The Beatles, he still desired Scotland's ground beneath his feet, because Scotland represented the opportunity and freedom to record without structure. The technology available at the time meant that McCartney II would become an altogether more experimental work; one that would incorporate synthesisers and a sense of galloping adventure. After all, for a man who had conquered the charts, what did he have to lose? What did McCartney have to prove? This album would find the artist linking to genres as diverse as disco, krautrock, synth-pop and furthering the experimental ambience tentatively explored on 'Glasses' (from McCartney).

Recorded on a 16-track, and composed by a psychologically more stable McCartney, McCartney II is a record that even ex-writing partner John Lennon found time for; going so far as to suggest that 'Coming Up' motivated him to start recording again (the track is also one of Paul's personal favourites). In response to the question "What do you think Paul will think of your album?" (John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band) posed during the bile-ridden Rolling Stone interviews conducted by Jann Wenner (1970), an emotional Lennon said, "I think it'll probably scare him into doing something decent. And then he'll scare me into doing something decent and I'll scare him…like that. I think he will do it. I wish he wouldn't…"

When it comes to McCartney's recording output, it's plain to see that McCartney II does more than bookend a decade when he released twice the number of albums than his former Beatles foil. Seven months after this frequently overlooked record was released, John Lennon was dead – and gone with it a beautiful, long-standing musical and sibling rivalry. It's fair to say that after 1980, McCartney's greatest artistic lynchpin and inspiration had vanished.

Irrespective of the polemic, the extended McCartney II is well bolstered with the inclusion of some fascinating bonus audio (parts of which have otherwise leaked on the internet as The Lost McCartney II album). There's the extravagant orchestral pop and pomp of 'Blue Sway'; the bonkers swing of 'Check My Machine' (so called as it's the sound of McCartney testing his hired 16-track machine); 'Bogey Wobble', which could easily be released on the Ghost Box label now; the ten-minute extrapolated jazz exercise of 'Secret Friend' that brings the work of Steve Reich to mind and even the top ten single, 'Wonderful Christmastime'. Failing to include the violin-driven instrumental B-side to that Christmas single, 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reggae', is a missed opportunity. How many of these songs were created by the marijuana on McCartney's mind is anyone's guess.

It's easy to say these are self-indulgent records as McCartney wrote, recorded, engineered and played everything himself; named them after himself; and put himself on the covers, but it also feels like McCartney had to find a place where he was allowed to just be.

These two decadent packages should see McCartney fans pirouetting back and forth through Maccaland, and – if anything - these releases indicate further remastering, further repackaging and further re-releasing from the archives. That's all well and good, but only if content like the 25-minute interview included on the McCartney II DVD is forthcoming. It would be more of a revelation to be able to better understand one of the greatest living musicians on the planet, than to seek to desperately divine his motivations through his music - unless he himself doesn't yet understand them fully.

Otherwise, McCartney's truth will remain the simple plea that has existed throughout his career: "I need love, like a second needs an hour, like a raindrop needs a shower. Yeah, I need love, every minute of the day, and it wouldn't be the same if you ever should decide to go away," (from 'Waterfalls', McCartney II).

Designer Charles Jencks recently said, 'Solitude is the key to self actualization.' A quick look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs shows Paul McCartney unconsciously rising from the middle tiers and tapping into this primary level of need and creating two outstanding records of his solo career.

peter brown
Jun 13, 2011 3:17pm

The most courageous Pop musician alive today. At 69, still an inspiration to the culture of Pop Music. Undefeated and more tenatious than he ever was. To bad he left his Pop songwriting skills behind when he was in his 30's.

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Brett
Jun 13, 2011 4:07pm

In reply to peter brown:

Couldn't disagree more. Flaming Pie, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Electric Arguments are some of the best albums of his solo career. These were all recorded within the last fifteen years.

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Henry
Jun 13, 2011 10:25pm

I'm a little disappointed in this review. There's too much back story and not enough analysis of the music. I've listened to the McCartney II reissue and it sounds great. Surprisingly good album.

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Nick R
Aug 22, 2011 2:34pm

> And, of course, the recordings are louder too, though they are mercifully not at the scorching level of The Beatles' stereo remasters.

Huh? Surprised to see the word "mercifully" used here. I thought that The Beatles stereo remasters were fairly well-regarded for being loud, but retaining clarity and dynamic range, and not succumbing to the distortion, clipping and compression of modern Loudness War victims.

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Thom Osburn
Feb 10, 2012 6:47am

In reply to Nick R:

The problems with the remastered stereo Beatles cds were not that they were too loud per se, but the compression was obvious, unnecessary and the eq (bumped bass and treble) was boom-box stupid. The 2009 mono set fared far better, no compression and gentle EQ

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David
Dec 5, 2013 6:33pm

Just stumbled on this and what a lovely read it is.

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John Blonde
Sep 14, 2014 9:06pm

McCartney II's bonus material is incredible. "Secret Friend", especially.

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