What a year, huh? While many of us faced the pandemic like a deer caught in headlights, Sir James Paul McCartney, MBE, constricted his pupils and spotted the oncoming danger, darting from the road and into a studio near his sheep farm, where he was in lockdown with daughter Mary and her family. Much like 1970’s McCartney album and 1980’s McCartney II, his previous one-man-band outings, he didn’t set out to record an album, per se. As he told BBC 6 Music’s Matt Everitt, “”I was just messing around.”
My first reaction: McCartney “messing around” isn’t to be underestimated. A great case in point: “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” which opens the 11-track album. It sprung from a song he’d recorded for Flaming Pie in 1997, “When Winter Comes,” which didn’t make that record but closes this one. In some respects, the leadoff song is akin to some of II’s synth delights, with the vocals (and minimalistic lyrics) primarily in place to add extra color to the proceedings.
“Deep Deep Feeling,” which clocks in at almost 8 1/2 minutes, is another case in point. It’s sparse and rhythmic, as eccentric in its way as the techno-centric II. It builds bit by bit, with its lyrics delving into the fear of giving one’s heart to another: “You know that deep, deep feeling/When you love someone so much, you feel your heart’s gonna burst/The feeling goes from best to worst/You feel your heart is gonna burst…”
My second reaction: Although he’s carried the weight and world upon his shoulders for decades now, he became accustomed to toting the extra baggage long ago. In “Slidin’,” a rocking statement of purpose that comes a little more than midway through III, he sings, “I know there must be other ways of feeling free/But this is what I wanna do, who I wanna be/Every time I try, I feel like I can fly/But I know that I could die trying…” (It’s the one song on the album that features players beyond himself: guitarist Rusty Anderson and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr., who’ve backed him since 2001.)
My third reaction: A week before Christmas and all through the house, only a cat was stirring in hopes of not catching a mouse, but eating breakfast before dawn. That meant a slap to his dad’s head to cajole him out of bed and then a few nips on his heels while he prepared said meal. Which is to say, whimsy works wonders when not overdone – and such is the case with III. There’s plenty of McCartney’s patented homilies to heart, hearth and home, in other words, plus philosophical musings, but schmaltz is nowhere to be heard. In “Seize the Day,” for instance, he confesses that, “I bless the day when you came into my life/And I could finally roll back the blind/You helped me to realize that love was the greatest prize/I only had to open my mind…”
On “Women and Wives,” there’s wisdom to be shared: “Hear me, women and wives/Hear me, husband and lovers/What we do with our lives/Seems to matter to others/Some of them may follow/Roads that we run down/Chasing tomorrow…”
My final reaction: Unlike 1970’s McCartney, it’s fully formed; and unlike McCartney II, it’s very much a mainstream pop-rock outing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s McCartney’s best album since 2007’s five-star Memory Almost Full, which also found him in a reflective mood. If it had been released a month or so ago, III wouldn’t just be in contention for my top 25 albums of the year, but it would have made it into the top tier.
The track list: