The Beatles

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Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

Besides the albums rTug of War and Pipes of Peace produced by George Martin, there is no solo album by McCartney on which a producer has had as much influence as on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005). Nigel Godrich, at that time especially known as producer of Radiohead, is hired on behalf of the retired George Martin. And Godrich doesn’t make it easy for McCartney:
There were one or two moments on the album when I had to think to myself, ‘You know, I could just fire this guy. 
Paul McCartney

When the first recording sessions for a new album start in 2003, it is initially intended that McCartney's live band will be involved. With them one song is recorded, Friends To Go, a track which composition is inspired by George Harrison. But after working together for a week Nigel Godrich doesn’t like the look of this concept. He apparently regards the band as an obstacle, as guitarist Rusty Anderson remembers:
Nigel had his own agenda. He had it in his mind that Paul and the band were very close, which we are, and he wanted to break it up because he felt that he couldn’t challenge Paul one-on-one if he were supported by the band. I think it was a dopey move, but I do understand.
 Rusty Anderson
I think that I realized that it was better to have just him. You know, he’s such a heavyweight, he needs people to spar with. So the best thing to do is to keep him on his own and then you get something more interesting.”
Nigel Godrich
Video: Friends To Go

Godrich wants to work with McCartney without too much, in his opinion, ‘yes-men’ surrounding him. He wants to challenge him, even provoke him, if it’s  beneficial to the end result. He doesn’t care about McCartney's reputation or legacy; something he regards more as a disadvantage than an advantage. To the ex-Beatle utter amazement, he also lets him know that he doesn’t want to produce songs he doesn’t like. McCartney has to get used to this attitude and from time to time it leads to a tense atmosphere in the studio:
There were some tense moments making the album. Nigel wasn't sycophantic; he said from the off, 'I warn you, I know what I like.' There was some heated discussion. There's a song called Riding To Vanity Fair where we got down to [snarls] 'I like it!', 'I don't like it!', 'Well I like it!' But then I realized there's no point in charging him down like that; I should listen. We actually moved on to why he didn't like it - 'The first line's good, but after that...' 'Oh, how about this then?'.
Paul McCartney
But Godrich's approach works extremely well. McCartney is someone who flourish once he gets opposed because then he seems to get the urge to prove himself. And in this case, he takes up the gauntlet and with a great result as a consequence; Chaos and Creation is rightly seen as one of the better albums from McCartney's solo career. 

Video: Fine Line

For example, the opening track Fine Line is the best single that he has released since the eighties. Jenny Wren, Friends To Go, Riding To Vanity Fair and Promised To Your Girl are the gems that stand out. Strikingly, it's not one of the most cheerful albums, certainly for someone like McCartney it's unusually pessimistic of tone:
Even though I’m essentially an optimist, an enthusiast, like anyone else I have down moments in my life. You just can’t help it. Life throws them at you. In the past I may have written tongue-in-cheek, like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’ and dealt with matters of fate in a kind of comical, parody manner. It just so happens in this batch of songs I would look at these subjects and thought it was good for writing.
Paul McCartney

An exception is English Tea. The song is a typical 1920’s/30’s pastiche like McCartney has written more often in the beginning of his career. 
I really went to town on that whole fruity language, very endearing, very English. Lawns, hollyhocks, roses, very Alice in Wonderland too, that was also at the back of my mind. And I even managed to work in the word ‘peradventure’, which I was very proud of. (…) I love a lot of old fashioned stuff, it is just so well crafted. I’ve got a lot of influences from before my time, even before my dad’s time. People like Fred Astaire, I really listen to them and love the craft behind it. So all that sometimes floods in and becomes a new song.”
Paul McCartney
Video: English Tea

It was not the intention originally, but the album is almost entirely played by McCartney himself. This is also due to the quirky producer. In this sense, Chaos & Creation is similar to the solo albums McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), only those two were much more experimental and they were really just Paul on his own. This album is much more the result of the work of a duo, although the two also liked to fool around in the studio. As in the case of How Kind of You, producer Godrich’ personal favorite:
I like How Kind Of You because it was the last thing we did. It’s just like when you get at the end of your holiday and start really to enjoy yourself. It was our last week of recording and we start screwing around with tape loops and stuff and starting to get a little more relaxed and feeling like ‘we know we have enough material at the back to make a record’. Anything else was a bonus. So that was very easy, it felt very good, with a bit of magic here and then.”
Nigel Godrich
Although McCartney is about the only performing artist on the album, it sounds like there is a tight band playing on it. Chaos & Creation In The Backyard is the McCartney-one-man band at its best. Or as the New York Times stated at the time: Sir Paul also lined up his best backup band since the Beatles: himself.

Video: How Kind Of You

Related Post:
TV-special Chaos and Creation At Abbey Road
Chaos and Creation Quiz

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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3 opmerkingen :

  1. Couldn´t agree more with you. Paul needs to feel challenged to really blossom; his Beatles work is the best proof of this.

  2. This is a GREAT review and analysis. Lots of great inside information and perspective as well - bravo

  3. Great review of a truly great album by truly great artist, heard it on day of release at the Cavern and still have the publicity posters