The Beatles

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Electric Arguments: McCartney’s 21st Century Masterpiece

To be honest, I'm not really into The Fireman, McCartney’s collaboration with producer Martin Glover, aka Youth. So when Electric Arguments was released in 2008, I didn’t have any expectations. Therefor, the bigger was the surprise. For Electric Arguments is an absolute masterpiece, and one of the best albums by McCartney.

After the two Fireman albums from the nineties, consisting of instrumental ambient dance tracks, rock is the last thing you’d expect. And yet, that’s the opener of Electric Arguments: Nothing Too Much, Just Out Of Sight is with solid drums, Paul's screaming voice and a shrilling guitar the first surprise. Immediately followed by another one: Two Magpies. Again, after Blackbird and Bluebird, a song about birds, and like its predecessors a song on acoustic guitar with minimal percussion. So when the third track Sing the Changes begins, a typical positive, up-beat McCartney pop song, it becomes clear: Electric Arguments actually sounds much more like a McCartney solo album produced by Youth, rather than a new project by The Fireman. With the difference that the influence of Youth is much bigger than that of an average producer.

Video: Sing The Changes

Particularly on Electric Arguments is the way it’s been made. Normally McCartney has a couple of songs ready to record as he embarks on a new album, but this time nothing is prepared. The songs were recorded in thirteen days during a year. And every morning the duo begins from scratch: the songs are improvised on the spot. In this way, every day one song is composed, recorded and mixed. 
We were like mad inventors. The process was just to set up a groove and play stuff. Youth would say ‘How about a bit of drums? Guitar? Tin wistle? Throw everything at it, see what sticks.’ I think, having written so much over the years, even when I am improvising I have an ability to spot what’s working, and just go with that.

The Fireman finds his voice, is the announcement at the release in 2008. It is an idea by Youth to add lyrics to their songs for the first time. And that happens while improvising, where poetry books often serve as inspiration:

McCartney: “Youth suggested to me ‘How about we do vocal?’ I said: ‘I haven’t got any songs, I’ve no idea. So he said ‘Well, you want to try a bit?’ 

Youth: “I’d bring down some poetry books or play him some really old traditional folk music and say ‘Listen to this story and see if you can write some words’. Or I’d go ‘Take these poems and just pick out five words on that page and write a line out of those. And you’ve got ten minutes!’ And he did it! I’d arrange the music while he was getting the lyrics and he’d thrown down a few vocals.”

Interview The Fireman

Youth knows to challenge him and that's the best thing that can happen to McCartney. Because those are the moments when McCartney excels. John Lennon knew to inspire his partner to go to the extreme and apparently Youth also knows how to push him. The result is an enormously creative album, with surprising twists and packed with sound effects. Notable are the folk influences, as can be heard in songs like Travelling Light, Lifelong Passion and Is this love?

Electric Arguments contains with Light from your Lighthouse the first gospel-like song by McCartney, although it’s a gospel with a wink. The song was inspired by Let Your Love Shine On You, a track by Blind Willy Johnson, which in turn is based on an old traditional.

Blind Willy Johnson - Let Your Love Shine On You 
One of McCartney's talent is to address a certain mood in a song. Sun is Shining is a good example: it has the atmosphere of a sweltering, languid summer day. While you listen, it’s like seeing the hot air vibrating above the asphalt. Sun Is Shining is followed by the wintry Dance' Til We're High. That seems like a big change, but not on an album like Electric Arguments. The track is released as a single in January 2009 but curiously the accompanying video clip appears in July. And that is strange, to hear the lyrics ´snow is falling´ at that time of the year.

Video: Dance ‘til we’re high

The last four tracks on the album are more comparable with the earlier work of The Fireman. They all have a longer duration, having a more ambient dance feel, and sometimes consist of an avant-garde series of sound effects. But like the rest on Electric Arguments, they are more complete songs than the work on the first two albums by The Fireman.

In 2013 Electric Arguments gets even a small drop. In collaboration with McCartney and Youth the Italian electro-punk duo The Bloody Beetroots relases a great remix of the opening track, entitled Out of Sight.

The Bloody Beetroots feat. Paul McCartney and Youth - Out of Sight

Music reviewers are generally enthusiastic. But the days that McCartney has a significant role in the charts are over and thus the album and the singles are not a great commercial success. If it was released twenty years earlier, the album would undoubtedly go down in history as a classic. Personally I think that it’s one of McCartney's three best albums, along with Ram and Band on the Run. From the first beginning untill the end, Electric Arguments never bores you for a single moment. And it really needs a worthy successor.

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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