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McCartney II: Macca going loose


Opinions are strongly divided when in 1980 the album McCartney II is released: You hate it or you love it. Fact is, Paul McCartney has starting experimenting. Without contradiction from band members, producers, or anyone else, he goes completely loose. And that makes it to a remarkable album.

It was a quite a shock, when I got the album as a gift for my thirteenth birthday. It starts so well with the first song, the hit single 'Coming Up'. But on the second track, Temporary Secretary, doubt strikes. And it won’t get better for the rest of the album. After listening a few times, the album disappears untouched in my record collection. Until the release of the remastered album in 2011, when I decided to give it a second chance. And to my surprise, McCartney's most experimental album until then proves to be very pleasant.

Video: Temporary Secretary (live)

McCartney II appears exactly ten years after his eponymous solo debut in 1970. The title wasn’t chosen at random, as there are quite a few similarities between the two albums. First, the basic concept is the same: Just as in 1970, McCartney starts to work at home with borrowed equipment of record company EMI. He plays and records everything by himself, which gives both albums the same feel: pure, basic and occasionally raw.
Second, both albums mark the end of an era; in 1970 that of the Beatles, in 1980 of Wings. With one big difference: the end of Wings was still far away during the recording in the summer of 1979: Wings' album Back to the Egg is just released and by the end of the year a new tour is planned. In addition, the breakup of the Beatles is associated with much more emotion. And this difference can be heard. 'McCartney' sometimes sounds gloomy, 'McCartney II' is much lighter in tone. See part one as an escape, part two as a liberation.




Another big difference is the use of synthesizers, an instrument emerging in the late seventies. And with that synth McCartney starts experimenting; As a 'mad professor', as he puts it, he makes samples and loops. And in doing so, most of the songs on the album grow in an almost organic way, layer by layer. This provides quite a few notable songs, such as Front Parlour, Frozen Jap and the aforementioned Temporary Secretary. "Craziness" as McCartney typifies these songs in 2011. No word too much. More accessible tracks like Nobody Knows and Boogie Music arise in the same way.

Video: Waterfalls

The album is not just experimental. As it contains with On My Way one of the few blues songs that McCartney ever wrote. Waterfalls is a typical Macca ballad which composition was already completed before starting the recording. And then there's the Christmas hit Wonderful Christmas Time, which, although not on the album, is from the same recording sessions. In addition, the album received a positive sequel: The single 'Coming Up' inspired John Lennon to go back to the recording studios after five years of silence, and eventually led to his comeback album Double Fantasy.


Video: Coming Up


By the experimental nature McCartney II  is still an outsider within his entire oeuvre; the only other similarity with McCartney's solo and Wings albums is that it carries his trademark: strong, catchy melodies. And what the album does make special, it doesn’t sound dated 35 years after its release. On the contrary; the album partly fits quite well in the Dance tradition and is also appreciated among today’s DJ's. And most important: What you hear is a musician who has been messing around with loads of fun. Though it isn't directly audible to a thirteen year old teenager in 1980.




Related posts:
Macca's Eighties
Macca's 'Mad Masterpieces'

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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