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REVIEW: Paul McCartney Chaos and Creation in the Backyard Yields at Least One Classic

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Look, Paul McCartney’s getting to be an old dude, and he’s pretty much shot his creative wad. Don’t expect the guy to make the earth move at this point. Nothing he’s going to do now is going to make you forget Tug of War, much less Sgt Pepper.

Still, on a slightly less exalted level, this is a pretty good album. It has at least one classic song, and a number of other interesting songs. You could be a notch below Venus and Mars and still make a worthwhile album.

“Riding to Vanity Fair” has been working on my brain for a couple of weeks, so that’s a good start of justifying the album right there. He wrote a real haunting melody, with a strong and unique moody emotional tone that really works.

The simple chimes and the whole quiet undertow of the arrangement sell this. This doesn’t sound quite like any other record I ever heard- and I’ve heard a lot of damned records. This is a production worthy of his name.

Indeed, the song is so good as to motivate me to ponder the lyrics for clues in deciphering that crazy vibe. It seems that the narrator is expressing regrets for a lost love who was too busy “riding to vanity fair” to be his friend. The words would probably look like something of a rebuke on the page, fairly unusual for McCartney.

But then the melody conveying them, and the arrangement, and most of all McCartney’s vocal performance make it much more an expression of empathy than rebuke. Sort of like he’s in “Hey Jude” mode, but with a slight emotional edge. “Riding to Vanity Fair” is worthy of McCartney’s name.

There’s nothing else on the album quite up there, but the whole album is well constructed. You can clearly tell that Sir Paul McCartney seriously sat down and spent the time and concentration to write real songs. For starters, this album reconfirms that he’s capable of constructing a decent batch of pop songs at will just by pure craft.

My other favorite on this so far has been “English Tea.” This has a very distinctive British flavor, and it’s quite catchy really. As a sentimental invocation of place, I’d personally take this over “Mull of Kintyre.” At 2:12, this song gets bonus points for brevity. Economy is an underappreciated value in art. He makes his point and gets out, rather than milking two minutes worth of song for five or six minutes. He even gets in a little pennywhistle solo, or something like that. This is a proud, stately little tune.

Other songs aren’t quite as inspired as those best couple, but by pure craft the single “Fine Line” comes out a good, gently pounding midtempo rock grabber. There’s at least minimally a decent song here, and the whole arrangement helps to sell the thing- especially that pounding piano. There are lots of these little touches in all these arrangements that help him get the most out of his basic tunes.

“Jenny Wren” sounds a bit like “Blackbird,” though not nearly in that exalted league, but still a fair standout.

Putting it in terms of the geezer sweepstakes, this rates ten to one as an album over the contemporary Rolling Stones album A Bigger Bang. Unlike the strolling bones, Sir Paul actually put forth the proper compositional elbow grease to sit down and make his best effort. Some of these songs are more inspired than others, but all of them will repay your effort to actually sit still and listen carefully and critically.

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  • john g.

    I was going to buy this album of Paul’s until he went to far in calling Yoko “not the brightest of buttons” in the press today. And I was just starting to warm up to him again and now he shoots off his mouth again. John Lennon would never have said that about Linda McCartney…..

  • Mark

    Fair go, the guy is always coping rubbish from Yoko and rarely says a word. She deserves to be told to shut up. She is the one you should be picking on.

    Do you know why he “had a go” at her?

    In the end it’s your descison but you are missing out on a great album.

    In the end the guy is human and if someone has a go at any of us and we bite my tongue time and time again, one day any of us is going to blow off a nasty reply.

    I am sure John was no angel to Linda either, in fact he was less likey to bite his tongue.

    You’re blaming the wrong person.

    Mark

  • kenny

    you think paul cares if you buy his cd ?? why don`t you go buy a yoko cd . all those beatles songs you know and love were written by lennon / mccartney and lennon/ono and there`s nothing yoko can do to change that. yoko`s always attacking paul it`s about time he defends his self.GO PAUL !!! YOUR NEW CD IS AWESOME !!!

  • john g.

    It’s not as easy as you think being yoko and I think time has proven her wise in her decisions. But I was going to buy Paul’s CD. I had read interviews and really was starting to warm up to him-then this huge PR gaff. I guess he misses his old publicist geoffrey. I do indeed think Paul cares that Lennon fans buy his CD since the stones are “bang” ahead in sales.

  • Phil

    Just what are the qualifications for writing reviews on here? I’m sorry, but this is very piss-poor. I mean this guy makes the most inane observations, and doesn’t even mention the fact that this effort was produced by Nigel Goodrich. Of course he probably doesn’t even know who that is. Sad.
    How do I go about doing some proper reviews? I have experience.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    It’s not as easy as you think being yoko and I think time has proven her wise in her decisions.

    Like her decision to give an interview in 1997 in which she compared John to Mozart and Paul to Salieri? (That’s why Paul didn’t invite her to Linda’s funeral, and it’s hard to blame him.) I’m sorry, but she’s at least as responsible for the feud between herself and Paul as he is, and she’s just as unpleasant about it too.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Just what are the qualifications for writing reviews on here? I’m sorry, but this is very piss-poor.

    Phil, this is not professional journalism and it doesn’t pretend to be. The criteria for writing reviews here are
    1) having an opinion, and
    2) being able to express it in writing.

    Which is what Al did.

    Perhaps the producer’s name isn’t mentioned vast majority of people who are likely to buy a Paul McCartney album couldn’t give two shits about Nigel Godrich, or, for that matter, ANY producer.

    The writers here are bloggers. Nobody gets paid to write for Blogcritics, and no matter how “proper” your reviews are, you won’t either. It doesn’t really make much sense to criticize amateur writers for writing like amateurs, does it?

  • Phil

    Well I’m glad no one is getting paid for this drivel. But “amatuer” or not, if you put your opinion out there for others to see, you open yourself up to criticism. That’s the problem with this blogging shit, it gives everyone a chance to act like they’re some sort of expert. What the hell qualifies this guy to review Paul McCartney? This couldn’t get published in a high school paper. But I guess that’s the beauty of the internet, a bunch of wannbes with nothing to do get to sit around and make snarky comments with no accountability. Not that there’s anything wrong with it I suppose. But you can’t have it both ways. Just becaue you attack the mainstream, doesn’t make you some anti-establishment indie hipster, anymore than it makes you impervious to criticism of your own work.
    Plain and simple, it’s a crap review, and all I did was point that out. Hopefully the next one will be better.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    But “amatuer” or not, if you put your opinion out there for others to see, you open yourself up to criticism.

    Fair enough. But of course your criticism of the review is also open for criticism. :-)

    For what it’s worth, I’m also a pro writer and editor and I liked this review — precisely it didn’t spend too much time on minutiae and the overwrought “craftsmanship” of most music journalism. Al said what he liked about the disc and why he liked it, and gave a rough feel for some of the songs. Considering how much ungodly crap does get published as “professional music criticism,” this ain’t bad.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Hi there Phil. Don’t know who you are that anyone should take your utterly unsubstantiated opinions seriously. You say that my writing is poor, but give no details or analysis to establish that.

    In fact, I’ll put my writing head to head against anyone’s. CLICK HERE for the Rolling Stone review by their top writer.

    Phil, there’s one good way to show me up: Why don’t you go ahead and write a GOOD review to show me how it’s done? I’ll be waiting.

  • Kenny

    “I do indeed think Paul cares that Lennon fans buy his CD since the stones are “bang” ahead in sales”.

    Lennon fans ?? John`s been gone for 25 years.let it go. that`s a long time to still be choosing sides.I myself am a Beatles fan I love almost everything they have done.Except some solo albums from all of them there have been some good ones and bad ones.Paul latest is a good one. Why didn`t you dislike yoko when she started slinging mud at paul ? Paul responded and he was very classy about it. Yoko always slams paul when she has a new product to promote “the lennon play the new lennon disc ect..give this lennon and mccartney fued a rest. Paul knew him way before yoko did. Plus john wrote much better songs with paul than yoko that is if Don`t worry kyoko is one of your favorite songs.

  • Ron

    RE: Paul’s album – it is brillant, anyone who does not buy it is making a mistake. As an entire project it does rank up there with his best! To write a an effective “simple” song with such complex twists and turns that sink into your mind and reside there is pure genius. And have a listen to the bass lines, pure Beatle Paul. It proves he is the number one craftsman when it comes to putting together a great song and the number one bass player in the world.

    As far as the Yoko-Paul thing goes it is typical. Paul takes a bunch of crap for a long time and then when he finally stands up for himself it reflects back on him. He does it but it is not in his nature…..Yoko does it and it feels a part of her. Her jabs are suttle but cutting.

    The other thing to consider is it is Paul and John here, not Yoko and Paul. Paul loved John, John loved Paul. Would John put up with Yoko’s shots on Paul?

    John would not take shots at Linda because Linda did not take shots at him! In fact Linda always revered the McCartney-Lennon partnership with much respect and a strong support of John.
    John would have shreaded her if she every took the cheap pot shots that Yoko is taking. Based on Yoko’s comments she didn’t understand what John and Paul were about.

    When you choose a song to cover it is usually because it has an impact on you regardless of who writes it (example: Paul-Yesterday, The Long and Winding Road, John- In My Life, Imagine).

    If you follow the relationship closely with Paul and Yoko he even went as far as to invite her up and record a song with the two families together. Paul wanted to buy the Beatle songs when they were being sold for a reasonable amount but would not do it unless Yoko wanted to go half with him. Why? Because they were John’s songs to and he wanted her to be involoved. Her response caused them to miss the opportunity and the songs were sold to MJ.

    Only Paul would know the depth of Yoko’s impact on Paul and John’s relationship and only Paul would know the depth of hurt he has felt over the years. Vanity Fair….hmmmmm.

    Enough of all this jabbing at each other….If Yoko would “Let It Be” Paul would too.

  • john g.

    Only Paul would know? Back in ’84 in his and Linda’s Playboy interview he thought he was the true songwriter for “in my life”. That’s how much his memory works. I think you can find some pot shots at yoko in there as well. Paul comments that Yoko is a dim wit is way out of bounds compared to Yoko sharing a true story about John’s insecurity about his songs and why others don’t cover them as much as Paul. And your so typical of Yoko bashers-because M.J. owns the Beatle catalog it Yoko’s fault…

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Back in ’84 in his and Linda’s Playboy interview he thought he was the true songwriter for “in my life”. That’s how much his memory works.

    He only claimed to have written the melody for “In My Life.” And if we’re going to take that tack, it’s only fair to mention that John also said in his 1980 Playboy interview that HE had written most of the lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby.” That’s how much his memory worked.

    Look, seriously. Let’s knock this off. Like so many other things, this feud is an equal collaboration between (Mrs.) Lennon and McCartney. They’re both responsible for it and blaming one more than the other is simply dishonest.

  • Phil

    I didn’t mean to come off as such a pretentious jack-ass, but I take writing and music very seriously, and it just irks me when I read stuff that’s not up to snuff. I respect that Al created something and put it out there for others to digest. Let’s just leave it at that.

    And I still think it was a major mistake not to even mention Nigel Godrich. I mean, when a legend like McCartney hooks up with a solid contemprary svengali like Godrich who has been the force behind all of Radiohead’s brilliant albums (save Pablo Honey), and Beck’s best effort to date (in my opinion) Sea Change, you might want to point that out.

    He got Macca in the studio without his back-up band, and forced him to look within himself to come up with some of his best material in years. Our friend Al doesn’t even mention that Paul played every single instrument heard on this album himself either.

    I don’t know, I guess it’s just a personal preference, but I like my reviews to be more informational. I like little background tidbits, and inside insight. I guess if you just want a reactionary piece, then this is fine. I tend to get too bogged down in my reviews with all that extra shit anyway. I should probably just keep it simple like this.

    And by the way, I agree, “Riding to Vanity Fair” is the balls.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    I take music and writing very seriously too, although mine is of a more historical interest and style. Actually, that’s probably where my reaction comes from too: because I’m a music-history reader and writer, I tend to think the details belong there and not so much in the critical reviews.

    Sorry for the overreaction, there, Phil. And sorry if I insulted anyone else on BC by talking about us as “amateurs.”

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Alright then Phil, now you’re talking a little more about what you didn’t like in my notes. That gives me something to respond to other than simply that I suck.

    I didn’t make any mention of the producer in that it didn’t strike me as that important. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Radiohead or really even Beck for that matter.

    What do you mean by “reactionary” here? Any review is in some sense reactionary- you listen to the record and react to it.

    It seems that you’re crappy with me because I didn’t emphasize a couple of details that you consider critical. The producer didn’t seem to make a big difference. This sounded like Paul McCartney. It didn’t sound like a producer’s record. Also, as Mac wrote the songs and played most of the instruments himself and it sounds like Mac, I suspect he’d have come up with something close to the same record if he’d produced it himself. I’m not hearing much of a producer’s footprint.

    McCartney did play a large percentage of the instruments on this album, though not all of them. That’s nice, but not particularly important to me as a listener. His presence on bass is of course stylistically critical, but presumed. The rest of the instruments, he could have had other folks play and it wouldn’t obviously have made a lot of difference.

    To me, the main important thing was the songwriting. That’s where I put most of my emphasis.

    On the other hand, I would be open to hearing more from you about exactly what this producer added that wouldn’t have been there anyway. I don’t know his work that well, so maybe I’m missing something.

  • Jimmy

    can see why yoko is so bitter.Her husband lays awake at nights thinking of his partner/brother in the Beatles.Sounds to me that John really loved and respected Paul, yet Yoko can`t seem to accept the fact that John and Paul will always be way more important and revered than John and Yoko will ever be. Yoko has tried over the years to try to erase anyone from the picture except her and John. Paul is also one of the best player the world has ever seen of heard

  • Drumboi

    Here’s a bit of a shocker, did any of you know that Yoko sold Paul out!
    Paul had confided in Yoko about his buying the Beatles catalog for a certain amount. Yoko then went to Michael Jackson and told him what Paul would pay for the songs.
    Michael bid a higher amount than Paul and won Paul’s songs.
    So, put yourselve’s in Paul’s place.
    Everytime Paul sings a certain Beatles tune, which he wrote, Michael Jackson (and now Sony) makes money. Is that fair?
    Should Paul be pissed at Yoko?
    I think so.
    Having met Paul, I can assure you he is a gentleman, and a truly good-hearted man. Once in a while he’s entitled to get ticked off. Paul does have a private relationship with Yoko. We don’t know what she said or did to get him pissed. Just because he’s a living legend, doesnt mean he doesnt have emotion.
    Paul gets choked up everytime he mentions George and John’s name.
    They were brothers. Paul understood the value of that. Yoko was like the insistent girlfriend who didnt allow Paul & John to continue the friendship they had for 16 years She hung out in the studio, every damn day.
    That’s like your wife coming into your office everyday and not allowing you to do your work, honor the freinds around you, and retain the friendships and relationships with others.
    While Yoko loved and still loves John dearly, she was a bit much.
    Paul always tried to patch things up with Yoko for John and the Beatles sake. When they broke up Paul lost the Beatles and he lost his brothers.
    These were the same guys who piled up on top of eachother in a van to keep warm when the van window shattered.
    So, Yoko, I love you because you loved John so much, But Paul has everyright to be pissed off.

  • Drumboi

    About the CD.
    Paul called George Martin for advice about finding a producer…George suggested Nigel. I really don’t hear much production, but I do hear discipline. Call me crazy…you wanna talk production,…okay let’s chat.
    Cuz that’s wat I do for a living.
    It takes a lot of balls to go up against Macca.
    And Nigel did just that…It’s all about the process. Nigel set some rules and set the stage for Paul to create his best album since RAM. So wheres the production?
    The production is in the restraint and the good taste it took to make this cd.
    Intimate vocals with barely any delay.
    Loose sounding snare drums and percussion: not overly quantized, pro-tooled nonsense. It’s a clean and very well put together album, that works to reveal the song. Now, had Paul chosen Marius DeVries(Rufus Wainwright’s producer on Want) you would have gotten much deeper, more ethereal, and layered music, 600 vocal tracks all pitched and tuned and delayed,auto-tuned and Sargeant Peppered with echo and phasers. Maybe that’s not what Paul was looking for. Maybe Paul wanted to create a clean, honest cd like “Let it Be”.
    This album is a masterpiece. It is a kick in the shins to the asswipes who constantly say Paul isn’t writing good stuff and never will.
    “Jenny Wren ” is amazing and every bit as good as “Blackbird”. So what makes them different?
    One is steeped in your memory banks and the other is barely on your tongue.
    Things become classics over time.
    Make memories to this album and in 10 years you’ll look back and think “holy shit, Paul was writing classics at 63″
    Attach the song to something in your life the way you did other songs in your youth and you’ll see what I mean.
    I travelled through England a week after the CD was released. I listened on trains to varous parts of England and Belgium, and everytime I hear “Vanity Fair” and “too much rain”, I get chills. It reminds me of going to Blackheath to visit my cousin …rainy afternoon and being with my best friend on this trip.
    Give the cd a chance. Buy it and listen to it…
    The songs only become songs, once you’ve stripped away the expectation that it has to hit you the same way other Beatle’s songs do, songs that have already had the benefit of being in your memory banks.
    Drumboi.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Drumboi, thanks SO much for that analysis of the production. That’s very useful.

    I sort of didn’t much notice the production- and the more I think about, I mean that in a good way. The album is fully arranged, filled out with appropriate instrumentation- but in a dry manner, with very little noticeable electronic tweaking.

    As you said, Mac was presenting songs, rather than fancy record making.

  • RogerMDillion

    That is shocking because it’s false. Exactly where did you hear this “Yoko told MJ” story at?

    The way I heard it from Paul in an intervew was when they were working together Paul told MJ about how much money was in publishing rights, and when the Beatles catalogue came up for sale MJ outbid him.

    How did Paul know that the rights were so lucrative? Because he owns the rights to may other artists’ songs. According to Snopes.com, “his MPL Communications is now one of the world’s largest privately-owned music publishing firms and controls the rights to the Buddy Holly catalog, among others.”

    Paul gets no sympathy from me. Too bad that he doesn’t like the taste of the medicine when he is served it.

    Hate Yoko all you want but save the revisionism. St. Paul doesn’t need it.

    “Paul gets choked up everytime he mentions George and John’s name.”

    I’ve seen him in interviews where it hasn’t happened. Is this a recent event?

  • http://jordansview.blogspot.com Alex Jordan

    Hi AL:

    In your review, you commented on the song Riding to Vanity Fair by saying “this doesn’t sound quite like any other record I ever heard- and I’ve heard a lot of damned records. This is a production worthy of his name.” It seems here you were, perhaps without realizing it at the time, giving praise to Nigel Godrich as producer. The reason I think this song, as well as others on the album, don’t quite sound like anything Paul’s done before, is at least in part because of Godrich’s influence in their production. On Riding to Vanity Fair, for example, Paul originally had the song at a different (faster) tempo– it was Godrich who suggested that Paul slow the song down and turn it into a more atmospheric type of song.

    I thought your review was fine by the way, short and to the point. I wrote a review on this album myself, one that takes a different, longer approach http://jordansview.blogspot.com/2005/09/review-of-chaos-and-creation-in.html

  • http://robyn.heaner@northmemorial.com Robyn H.

    When I first bought Paul’s new CD I didn’t really care for it. I thought that his song “How Kind of You” sounded too much like a REM track. As for his other songs on the CD I thought they all ran together. Then I did what I usually do, I listened to Chaos and Creation many more times and the songs began to take on their own identity. I already have a few new favorite Paul songs; Jenny Wren, English Tea, Follow Me and Anyway, but I truly love all the songs. Each for their own uniqueness, I can’t get enough!
    As for liking or not liking Paul because of what he supposedly said or didn’t say is childish! Why can’t you just sit back and enjoy the music? I agree that there are artist that I don’t listen to because of their beliefs or misconducts i.e. Michael Jackson, but to be so picky because Paul might of said something that you don’t agree with and really don’t have any idea if it was really said. So my man, just chill and go with the flow, life is way too short. Robyn

  • J gallio

    Paul mccartney has put together a 5 star album obviously the best in at least five years. He is a sell out at all concerts in the U.S.A. 2005 tour and i’m sure al barger would like to look so youthful and feel as good as paul right now..How old are you Al??? YOU OLD FART !!!

  • Edna

    Okay, I just have to respond to one comment, namely:

    “I was going to buy this album of Paul’s until he went to far in calling Yoko ‘not the brightest of buttons’ in the press today. And I was just starting to warm up to him again and now he shoots off his mouth again. John Lennon would never have said that about Linda McCartney…..”

    Um, hello, yes John Lennon would never have said that about Linda McCartney because it wouldn’t have been TRUE about Linda McCartney. It was and IS true about Yoko Ono, and thus was a much-deserved comment, given her consistently annoying antics, comments and actions toward Paul! Yoko Ono is indeed, as Paul said, NOT the brightest of buttons and, more relevant, she consistently acts like a weenie to Paul about him putting his own name first instead of Lennon’s on HIS album. For Pete’s sake, they both wrote the songs, so why can’t Paul list his own name first on HIS album? Talk about a tempest in a teapot, Ono just likes to create a big stir to convince herself that she is still soooooooo important, when the reality is that she isn’t and NEVER WAS. She has always been a co-dependent, sycophantic (yup, just made up a word, so sue me) piece of talentless fluff. I’m a passionate Beatles fan and I do feel somewhat bad expressing all that about Yoko because John truly loved her very deeply and I’m sure he would not appreciate his fans speaking that way about his soulmate, but I’m sorry, I have to be HONEST. Most true Beatles fans who bleed psychedelic STILL detest Yoko, and her recent actions just keep reinforcing that! I was cheering “right on, Paul!” when he made his ‘not the brightest button’ comment! I thought it was very restrained considering the histrionic drama queen things she consistently does in the name of defending John’s honor, when really it is all about self promotion, keeping herself in the limelight. What Paul said was very restrained and tame, I felt, and indicated a deep respect for his dear friend, John Lennon. I’m sure if it weren’t for that love and respect he has for John, he would have ripped into Yoko and said a lot worse. I mean…she truly is not the brightest button, but my main thing is that she truly is a highly annoying, obnoxious button.

  • X

    Paul died in 1966. It’s impossible to find any proof of same person alive from 1967 onward. If you think I’m wrong, then you’re too stupid to distinguish the difference between two people, and too lazy to do the research to see for yourself. And if you’re thinking about blasting me for my comments, then you’re only showing you’re ignorance about the matter.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Dear X, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m sure you’re right about Paul being dead for 40 years now. Now, Linda wouldn’t have known, as she wouldn’t have known him when he was alive, though it seems like it would be a little more difficult to trick, say, George Martin.

    But who did They get to write this “Vanity Fair” song, cause nobody but Sir Paul would seem likely to be able to do that?

  • lindy

    This really irks me, and again I am left dangling emotionally over Paul’s creation. Nothing like home base, and then why does he never get to the point. If you want to stay in the backyard, then do it! Must be something there for him, not me. Guess I really wasn’t around enough to get him to see it my way Besides who said that it matters to anyone but Paul anyway.