“We put a lot of energy and effort into making this album,” Paul McCartney writes in the liner note accompanying New (Hear Music ***), his first album of new material in six years. “Hard work? No, not at all. We don’t work music. We play it!”
Truer words were rarely spoken, at least for McCartney, who at 71 continues to make optimistic music that seems to flow out of him effortlessly. On New, he worked with young producers Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin (son of George), all of whom add tasteful contemporary touches while having the good sense to not get in the way of Macca’s way with a melody.
As with last year’s one-off collaboration with the surviving members of Nirvana, the singing bass player sounds energized. Which is not to say that many of the unfailingly agreeable, intelligently crafted songs on New will stick with you for very long, engaging as they are. The exception that proves the rule is “Early Days,” a stripped down remembrance in which Macca gets feisty about people who pretend to know his story better than he does himself. Reaching for high notes, he allows us to hear the strain in his voice as he sings about the “many times I had to change the pain to laughter,” giving us a glimpse of what it’s like to be the Beatle everyone expects to be cheerful all the time.