Firemen - Electric Arguments

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This is the third "Firemen" release, an experimental project of Paul McCartney and producer Youth.  Ten years after their last release, this one, fortunately, includes vocals, the others focusing solely on electronic sounds.

Fair or not, there's always a certain pining for McCartney's past, something as poignant as"Eleanor Rigby" or as melodically perfect as "Here, There, and Everywhere."  He's had a harder time over the last thirty years finding pop perfection, as evidenced by his last #1 single, in 1980, the underwhelming "Coming Up."  He may not be storming the charts, but he's continued to offer some wheat amongst the chaff in the years since.

A major difficulty for McCartney is the immediate subjective comparison to things past, namely the The Beatles' gold standard.  Invariably, the vast majority of his solo releases fall short.  There have been some great songs, and some good albums, but too often he leans to the whimsical side of songwriting, or, worse, lyrics that fit the meter but amount to nonsense... "one, two, three, four, five, let's go for a drive."  This isn't something limited to his solo career.  Some songs, like "Why Don't We Do it In the Road," get a pass because of their placement in the Beatles' catalog, such as that song's role in an eclectic mix that makes up the majesty of the Beatles "White Album."  Had the same song been placed on a solo release, it would seal the prosecutor's case that McCartney is worthless without Lennon, or, at a minimum, that he needs someone to hold him accountable to a higher standard.

McCartney, it seems, realizes that as well.  He has teamed with numerous others over his career, more recently including Elvis Costello and Steve Miller.  Perhaps that where Youth (the producer) steps in on this release.

Lost in the perceptions of "McCartney" are his fairly frequent experimental leanings, meaning songs that are not expected to be radio friendly.  Sometimes, this is hidden in things that work well, such as the strange chord progressions of "Paperback Writer," but amidst his solo work, these pursuits are more often seen as clear evidence of being past his prime.  Lost in the critique are often some very beautiful, or, at a minimum, intriguing ideas.  Winners include charming oddities such as "Dear Friend" and  "Monkberry Moon Delight."  More notable losers include "Loup (1st Indian on the Moon)" and "Pretty Litle Head."  At least he tries.

There's also the rocking McCartney, who likes loud, screaming lead guitars, as heard in "Helter Skelter," "She's So Heavy," "Soily," "Letting Go," or "Junior's Farm."  Even in his elder years, he occasionally "rocks out."

"Electric Arguments" includes elements of all three: pop, rock, and experimentation.  As these are fairly common for him, it's curious that McCartney hides under the Firemen label.   Given that McCartney has played all the instruments on two albums previously, calling this "McCartney III"  would make sense.  

In any case, it starts off rocking, an unexpected change of pace for someone who last time out seemed to be making an effort to reclaim some critical validation on the popular front, not to mention his age.  The surprises keep coming, including a surprisingly energetic radio-ready "Sing the Changes," the venturesome "Traveling Light," "Highway" - a rocker that ranks amongst his best, the breezy "Sun is Shining," and the optimistic "Dance Til We're High" before yielding to the trippy experimentation of "Lovers in a Dream" and "Don't Stop Running."  

This CD isn't for everyone, depending on their expectations.  My ears say foregoing the McCartney label on the cover has allowed a sense of freedom from the weight of expectation and more than that, a genuine measure of fun that can be heard in the music.  The CD has a good variety of styles, the songs accommodate his reduced vocal range, and it's an engaging listen throughout.  In that view, McCartney may no longer be a relevant force in the musical business, but it reaffirms that he remains a credible artist long past most of his generation.

Suggested Tracks:  "Highway," "Sing the Changes," "Travelling Light"
Rating: 4 Stars

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