For any other musician, “New” would be a seminal work — an album that puts an artist on the map. Unfortunately for Paul McCartney, the former Beatle has released so many great albums, “New” simply blends into his discography.
“New” stays within McCartney’s comfort zone of late 1960s Beatles’ pop songs, even though his status as a rock icon comes largely from the Beatles’ progressive experimentation. The iconic British act used looping and distortion before any equivalent act, and their influence on contemporary pop culture cannot be overstated.
With albums like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Band on the Run” included in his catalogue of work, McCartney sounds tame and predictable on “New.” While no track absolutely disappoints, none of the songs seem poised to enter the McCartney hall of fame with the likes of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Yesterday” or “Hey Jude.”
This is an album for diehard McCartney fans — the ones who know every word to every Wings song and refuse to sell their Beatles wigs. Full of harpsichord, large horn sections and charming harmonies, “New” is packed full of songs that sound like B-sides to “Sgt. Pepper.” In an obvious reference to McCartney’s teenage years as a Teddy Boy in Liverpool, “Ea-rly Days” gives fans further insight into the famed Lennon-McCartney dynamic.
At it’s best, “New” feels like a victory lap. McCartney has nothing left to prove, so he takes the most iconic sounds of his career and gives them a 21st century update with the help of trendy producers Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth.
It’s hard to fault McCartney for relying so heavily on the Beatles’ sound when he helped to create it. It’s his signature sound he is replicating, and when nea-rly every other band strives to emulate the Beatles, why wouldn’t he want to show them all how it’s done?
With two of the four producers on the album, Giles Martin and Ethan Johns, being children of the Beatles’ producers — Glyn Johns and the oft-alleged fifth member George Martin — it makes sense that this album would rehash what made McCartney great in his prime. The opening track “Save Us” features a riff that sounds like a Wings cut circa 1980, while “Appreciate” makes use of the guitar looping first used on “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The single “New” could have easily been on “Magical Mystery Tour.”
An overall enjoyable album, “New” falls short of the bar set impossibly high by McCartney’s previous work. Something all four members of the band struggled with was overcoming the behemoth that is the Beatles’ legacy. On “New,” McCartney works with his past instead of purposely avoiding it. It’s the album every Beatles fan would want him to produce, which, when it’s all said and done, is certainly nothing to scoff at.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 16 print edition. Mackenzie Brady is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]