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21st Century Paul: It’s McCartney 4.0

At first sight, Paul McCartney appears to continue in the 21st century in the same way with what he had been doing in the nineties, namely working on various, totally different projects: He begins the century experimentally, with the ambient electronic Liverpool Sound College; An album in the spirit of the two by The Fireman, the partnership with producer Youth, with which he later also releases Electric Arguments. In the classical area he debuts with a ballet, Ocean's Kingdom, and in 2006 the oratorium Ecce Cor Meum saw its daylight. An old personal wish is fulfilled in 2012 with Kisses On The Bottom: making a Jazz album containing old standards from The American Songbook. In addition, there are also his regular studio albums.

But in the new century, there are some differences compared to previous years, therefor, in my opinion, you can talk about McCartney 4.0: After The Beatles, Wings and his solo career in the 1980s and 1990s, this is a fourth phase, which I would call the post-Linda era. First of all, because her voice is no longer on the new songs: McCartney is always using harmonies and her voice was a vital part of it. So the sound is changed audibly. Secondly, she had influence with her personal interests and her own music flavor, such as her love for reggae. There are new influences now: a new love, daughter Beatrice, a broken marriage, and again a new love.




Another difference to his solo career in the eighties and nineties is that he is now almost constantly touring the world. Since 2002, Paul has been on tour almost every single year. A big difference with the two tours between 1989 and 1993. And the emphasis back then was primarily on his solo work and promoting the albums Flowers In The Dirt and Off The Ground, nowadays tours are much more a trip to memory lane with a focus on his Beatles past. 

Video: Jet, Glastonbury 2004

Also new are the festivals where he performs: It took until 2004 before he made his festival debut, on Glastonbury. Apparently he likes it because in subsequent years he kept performing on festivals during the summer, like he did on Coachella, Lollapalooza, Pinkpop, Roskilde, etc. He must have done most of them by now.
And where Wings had to handle staff exchanges on a regular basis, he has been touring with the same band for fifteen years now. The current band seems to be getting even tighter after all this time.

This band is just really easy to get on with. They play great. We're all trying. And we just want to make it sound great. I think that keeps the band together. We don't have arguments – that helps. I mean, we have our moments when, "Oh, I wish I hadn't done that," or "Please don't do that tomorrow," or whatever. But mainly, it's good.

Paul McCartney

You would expect that with his current age he would slow down a bit. But no way he will. Drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. can still be amazed about McCartney’s spirit:
He would keep working, you know. I would go home (after a tour) and take two weeks and then I find out he was in the studio here, every day!

Abe Laboriel jr
The funny thing is, the energy you get off an audience, you actually get more energized rather than getting more tired. As you go on, you feel more energy, which surprises me. (…) I’ve always said we don’t work music, we play music. It’s not like a real job.

Paul McCartney

A third feature is the high quality of its output: With Driving Rain (2001), Chaos And Creations In The Backyard (2005), Memory Almost Full (2007), Electric Arguments (2008) and NEW (2013) he has produced a series of very strong studio albums this century. If you count the nineties predecessors Flaming Pie and Run Devil Run as well, it's even a series of no less than seven albums in a row at top level. Seven consecutive albums, all celebrated by colleagues and the music press. He didn’t manage that with Wings in the 1970s, and certainly he didn’t in the next two decades. There won’t be many artists who have achieved that and McCartney does it in the autumn of his career. 





Two of the above-mentioned albums are even among his best: Chaos & Creation In The Backyard is the first one by  the ‘one-man band’ McCartney since 1980. That it is such a strong record is partly due to producer Nigel Godrich, who didn’t just accept every song McCartney brought in and gave him a hard time now and then. The third Fireman album Electric Arguments is even better and competing with McCartney's two other masterpieces, RAM and Band on the Run. And here too, the producer plays an important role: Fireman-partner Youth challenges Paul to improvise. The result is a contemporary and very creative pop album.

Video: Sing The Changes
The last difference with the previous stages is the way the outside world looks at McCartney. Because that seems to have changed radically. Since the breakdown of the Beatles, there has always been firm criticism: Paul was the Beatles softy, the man of easy, superficial and commercial tunes. There ain’t much left of that criticism today. It's not just the latest albums that get positive reviews. There is also a revaluation for the Wings years, especially among younger fellow artists. If it’s a jubilant George Michael, the surviving members of Nirvana, Kanye West or Lady Gaga (unfortunately not released yet), they all are eager to work with him. Rihanna's excitement about a joint performance with Macca seems similar to that of a teenage girl, screaming during a Beatles concert in the mid-sixties:
What a night! Still can’t believe we shared a stage with a f****** BEATLE tonight!
Rihanna on Twitter

And if there's a celebration, think of the Queen's Jubilee or the Olympic Games, or there's some benefit concert like Live8 or The Concert for New York, there's only one obvious closing act: Paul McCartney, preferably with a massive Hey Jude-singing crowd. Then there are also those prestigious prizes and awards: It started at the end of the nineties with his knighthood and his entrance to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, followed by the Kennedy Center Honors, the Gershwin Price, something French and many more. McCartney seems to have achieved a new status in the 21st century: the absolute peak nobody can tip.







André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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