McCartney makes a departure from usual style on new album
The producer, Nigel Godrich, forced McCartney to expand emotionally.
NEW YORK (AP) -- It sounds cruel, but let's face it: Except for the occasional highlight like "Vanilla Sky" or "My Brave Face," for the past 20 years, Paul McCartney's catalog has been pretty barren.
So the former Beatle wanted to make his new solo album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," stand out.
"I decided to lay it on the line for myself and challenge myself and say, 'You're going to make a good album here.' It was a good motivator," he told The Associated Press.
Time magazine breathlessly declared "Chaos" to be McCartney's first album that matters since the Beatles broke up 35 years ago. But it's simply unlike anything he's done before, a quiet disc with complicated emotional shadings -- the album that generations of critics who derided his sunny, silly love songs have been asking him to make.
He'll never be mistaken for Nine Inch Nails. But the heartache of "Too Much Rain" and smoldering anger of "Riding to Vanity Fair" are unusual for McCartney. When the 63-year-old struggles for the notes in the "Blackbird" successor "Jenny Wren," he even sounds fragile.
"In the past I may have written tongue-in-cheek, like 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer,' and dealt with matters of fate in a kind of comical, parody manner. It just so happens in this batch of songs I would look at these subjects and thought it was good for writing. If it's good enough to take to your psychiatrist, it's good enough to make a song of."
Pushed by producer
McCartney also was pushed by the blunt Nigel Godrich, a producer known for his work with Radiohead and Beck.
His method was to force the music legend out of his comfort zone. McCartney brought his touring band in to record; after two weeks Godrich dispatched them. Much like he did with his very first solo album, McCartney played virtually every instrument himself -- on "Friends to Go" alone, he's credited on the grand piano, acoustic/bass/electric guitars, harpsichord, drums, tambourine, fluegelhorn, melodica and shakers.
Producer and artist particularly clashed on "Riding to Vanity Fair," which McCartney brought in as a fast song and Godrich kept trying to slow down.
"There were one or two moments on the album when I had to think to myself, 'You know, I could just fire this guy,"' McCartney said.
Widening his emotional palette doesn't necessarily belittle his optimism, McCartney said. He's not disowning anything. He spoke of talking with Bruce Springsteen a few years ago at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction where the Boss admitted he didn't really get "Silly Love Songs" at the time it came out in 1976. He feels differently now that he's a family man.
Obviously he never set out to log many years of lackluster recordings.
"You're not really aware of that," he said. "You can maybe get a little complacent, or you're not hitting a good patch, or you can think it's great and it isn't. There are a multitude of reasons why."
For a man who seemingly tumbled out of bed every morning of his youth with a brilliant melody, the struggles were painful to listen to. Think "Freedom." What was once effortless seemed forced.
Writing songs isn't necessarily harder for him as he gets older, McCartney said. And for whatever reasons -- time, a happy remarriage and new fatherhood -- he feels he's writing better than he has in a long time.
"I still have this deep love for melody in particular and writing songs," he said. "It isn't any more difficult. Obviously what made it easier then was writing with John [Lennon]. He was such a great collaborator. The two of us were on fire every time we sat down to write.