Who would’ve thought there would ever be a four-disc (three-CD, one-DVD) deluxe edition of arguably Paul McCartney’s strangest album, McCartney II? As a fan and tireless defender of McCartney’s solo career, even I have to admit I didn’t think I’d ever see the day.
In 1980, McCartney released this sequel to his similarly homemade 1970 debut. As was the case with that earlier album, he plays every instrument, assisted only by his wife, Linda, on occasional harmony vocals.
It doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the superior McCartney, largely because of the dated synths that dominate the album. Whereas the 1970 album also featured tossed off instrumental scraps, they were at least organic-sounding. Tunes like “Valentine Day” and “Momma Miss America” were grounded in the classic rock and pop traditions that McCartney was known for. On McCartney II, instrumentals such as “Frozen Jap” and “Front Parlour” are primitive electronic concoctions that wouldn’t even have been interesting as unreleased bootlegs.
A frequent charge levied against McCartney II is that it often resembles a collection of experiments that should’ve been locked away in a private vault. Half-assed non-songs like “Darkroom” and “Bogey Music” attest to that. But the album is not without highlights, some of them often overlooked. “Coming Up” has become a concert staple, though the version here is considerably different than the live version that became a hit single. “Waterfalls” is a moody ballad with one of McCartney’s sparsest arrangements.
Though it is often dismissed as unlistenable crap, “Temporary Secretary” is not only funny but maddeningly catchy. The album closes with an uncharacteristically introspective acoustic ballad, “One of These Days,” that ranks among McCartney’s most underrated gems.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’m an unabashed McCartney maniac and I’ll just come right out and say it: I love this album. There are plenty of reasons, as I’ve already attempted to objectively outline, why this is far from McCartney’s finest hour. But in all its weirdness and risk-taking, I value McCartney II much more than some of the more polished, traditional albums in McCartney’s catalog (the over-produced Flowers in the Dirt comes to mind). The original CD release actually sounded pretty good, but this reissue offers slightly crisper highs and a bit more boom to the bottom end. And did I mention the bonus material?
The two-disc edition will satisfy most fans. McCartney II was original conceived as a double album, and much of the second disc is made up of songs that were cut from the original tracklist. “Bogey Wobble” is actually a more interesting instrumental than either “Frozen Jap” or “Front Parlour.” “Mr. H Atom” is a punky stomper comprised mostly of a couplet chanted by Linda McCartney. That tune segues into “You Know I’ll Get You Baby,” another exercise in minimalist lyrics (not much more than the title repeated over a new wave backing).
“All You Horse Riders” is perhaps even more bizarre, with McCartney barking out instructions to equestrians. This segues into “Blue Sway,” a funky instrumental that is also more satisfying than those found on the official album.
The other option is a three-CD, one-DVD version that comes packaged with a hardcover book featuring unseen photographs and expanded liner notes. Unfortunately, I did not have access to the book or the third CD, which contains extended versions of songs found on the official album. These were edited down, and the decision was made to release McCartney II as a single album.
The DVD has a newly made, beautifully photographed video for an orchestrated version of the album outtake “Blue Sway.” The fan favorite music video for “Coming Up” (in which McCartney portrays all the musicians himself) is included, along with a “making of” featurette for that video.
The real prize is a nearly half hour promotional interview from 1980. It’s a fascinating piece, made long before McCartney truly perfected his “thumbs up” public persona. He appears very bored during the interview, the highlight of which is his galling justification of the derogatory term “jap.”
The larger package (with its larger price) is aimed at completists. But the two-disc edition McCartney II (Archive Collection) will hopefully give more exposure to this generally underrated album, offering both a tastefully remastered album as well as a generous selection of bonus tracks.