It’s no surprise to note that around the time of the recording of this album Paul McCartney was arrested in Tokyo following the discovery of seven ounces of weed in his luggage. That’s a lot of pot to take on a brief Wings tour of Japan. After a 10-day jail sojourn, the Japanese tour was cancelled and Wings mercifully called it a day. Paul retreated back to his Scottish farm and recommenced work on what would become his second solo album since his first post-Beatles recording McCartney (1970). McCartney II however, suitably frazzled and wacked out, and is a very different creature than its namesake.
The casual McCartney historian will tell you McCartney II is a synth-heavy return to form after a string of underrated Wings albums, and while not the most roundly ignored of McCartney solo albums (that privilege would be designated to Wings’ final 1979 album Back to the Egg) it’s definitely one of the most bizarre and ignored. The forward thinking McCartney II is something of a transitional album between that band’s demise and the semi-solid creative footing of the ambitious Tug of War (1982) and Pipes of Peace (1983). Released just before the murder of John Lennon, it left fans bewildered.
It is indeed a confusing mix of deeply strange new wave / synth pop with electronic bleeps and blips as McCartney bravely embraces the electronic epoch, and a set of half-baked ideas giving off an impulsive demo home recorded effect. After years of formulaic pop, there are plenty of reasons to love this unconventional, self-performed curio.
McCartney II was certainly not a bid for success; in fact very few major artists would dare to put out an album like this. Again like McCartney, Paul plays all instruments. Cheery lead off track and hit single Coming Up offers an irresistibly catchy hook, displaying McCartney’s utter sense of melody and 34 years later still sounds brilliant – somehow otherworldly. So too the experimental and strangely addictive Temporary Secretary, in essence, the centrepiece of the album. Upon first listen it appears an unlistenable joke-song, McCartney delivering an unrelenting monotonic chant over a bubbling Kraftwerkian synth-pulse. As the song unfolds however it captures McCartney’s electronic fascination, blended with a penchant for perfect pop – an insane Nintendo-themed album highlight. In comparison the relatively conventional blues-flavoured On the Way finds McCartney’s voice drenched in delay, showcasing some blistering guitar soloing – a fine track, as is the cracked-balled Waterfalls, perhaps outstaying its welcome by a verse or two.
On the messy three-chord 50s rock stomp of Nobody Knows there’s not a keyboard in sight – a lot of fun, sounding more like a Lennon pastiche, in line with his album Rock and Roll of several years earlier. Electronic instrumental suite Front Parlour and the eastern rhythms of Frozen Jap are where things start to veer into the nutty lane. Both tracks heavy on Talking Heads-esque quirky squeaks, stiff synthesizers and sonic experimentation, but light on listen-ability. Between these tracks however is the dreamy mellotron and atmospheric vocal of Summer’s Day Song, an underrated gem in the McCartney canon.
The bizarre rockabilly/Elvis-pastiche of Bogey Music finds McCartney manipulating the pitch of his own voice and it’s about as odd as it gets on McCartney II, that’s until the thankfully-brief Darkroom kicks in. The faulty drum ricochets between sequencers and squashed synth loops, most of it shambolic and semi-entertaining. The triumph of the album is the acoustic-tinged One of These Days, and as gorgeous as any McCartney ballad. McCartney finished with the mad-scientist guise; it closes the album in a most traditional manner, intimate and comforting.
Generally viewed as the vaguely cheesy ramblings of a middle-aged man, McCartney II is more an esoteric and charming time capsule from one of the greatest musicians of our time, and deserves your re-acquaintance, preferably with an oz. of weed.
- Coming Up ∗∗∗∗∗
- Temporary Secretary ∗∗∗∗∗
- On the Way ∗∗∗∗∗
- Waterfalls ∗∗∗
- Nobody Knows ∗∗∗∗
- Front Parlour ∗∗∗
- Summer’s Day Song ∗∗∗∗
- Frozen Jap ∗∗∗
- Bogey Music ∗∗
- Darkroom ∗∗
- One of These Days ∗∗∗∗∗