Sir Paul's Pronouns and the Passage of Time or It's Not Dark Yet But Its Getting There – Part 1
Review by Kevin Harvey
Reviewing a new release by an artist whose music one has listened to for decades is a tricky business. The listener tends to forget that forty years ago - I'm rounding it off in all kindness - we LIVED with the music: it was everywhere we went, every record store we entered - the very term record store echoes down a dark, unlighted corridor - every unfortunate apartment we unintentionally awoke in. It was the very measurement of our days. And, now, decades later, how can we accurately judge the worth of a recording listened to closely two or three times before it turns its back on us, resigned to being misunderstood. Ah, well.
Driving the long commute, The Trail of Tears, on first hearing, Sir Paul's NEW is something of a mess: it sounds too busy, even cluttered. (Of course, many of us said the same thing about RAM, a hallowed treasure on the highest shelf.) The mind wonders how Paul can sound so strong LIVE and yet so fragile on record. Isn't usually the other way around? A mental line is drawn from "Bob Dylan's Dream" - a work written and sung with a wisdom normally denied the young- one thinks of James Joyce's "The Dead," another work too wise and deep for a relatively young artist to have created, and yet - to "In My Life, "sidetracking for a second to Brian Wilson's "When I Grow Up," to Paul's "Early Days" and a wall is hit. It's good; its honest; we need this song, this record, and yet there is something wrong, something missing. We play the disc again and songs begin to rise up out of the murk; Paul's performances improve. So that we might understand each track, we change the order in which we listen: Suddenly the desperately hip off-putting stuff begins to clarify, to make sense to one's aging ear. And then we go back to "Early Days," a song written to hit all the emotional buttons, and one notices a line filled with speed bumps and the problem with the song, much of Paul's work, even the best of it, returns: He's singing about himself! He may have always sung about himself, but we didn't notice! Think for a moment of Penny Lane - the construction, the film, the painting, the mural, the work of Performance Art - call it what you will- Paul was writing and singing about his childhood but the work - "She's Leaving Home," all of it - transcended the individual! It wasn't just the extraordinary sound of the record - a masterpiece of invisible art- but the position of the artist himself. The writer, said Flaubert, should be like God: Everywhere but invisible. On "Early Days," Sir Paul sounds too much like a 70 year old fellow telling us about himself; on "Penny Lane," he told us about the world. This isn't a condemnation of NEW; it's an argument with TIME itself. It's easy for me to say all this; I'm not waging Time War in the eyes of world. Paul McCartney is. For now, he has fought extraordinarily well given the outrageous number of rounds he's endured, but I can't help feeling that for all that is excellent about NEW, Sir Paul has taken a standing eight count, that like the Wizard of Oz or Flaubert's God, his Beatle boots are peeking out from beneath the curtain.