You came along and made my life a song.
— Paul McCartney
There are people — my brother, Don, Martin Mosteller and myself are three I know of — who already have or will buy Paul McCartney’s latest album “New” because we always have and always will love the Beatles and Paul, being one of two surviving members of the group, has brought us so much musical joy over the years.
But there will be a larger number of “New” downloads by young music fans who know the Beatles — and Wings, for that matter — as some mythological name along the lines of Beethoven or Little Richard, a part of ancient music history. These young music fans will get into “New” because the songs on McCartney’s album fit seamlessly alongside recent releases by artists like Vampire Weekend, the Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and the like.
Invoking the names of those young artists may be what makes “New” such a surprisingly brilliant triumph for McCartney, stacking up already alongside such post-Beatles classics as “McCartney,” “Ram,” “Red Rose Speedway” and “Band on the Run.” What the 71-year-old former Beatle has done on his latest is incorporate some of the elements of younger bands who unabashedly use Beatles music as a template for their own releases.
Thus, you have “New” songs like “Queenie Eye,” “Everybody Out There,” “Alligator,” “Appreciate,” “Looking at Her” and “Save Us” that are as today as anything on “Modern Vampires of the City” or “AM” but offer more than a nod and a wink to “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Lovely Linda,” “Mull of Kintyre” and “Rock Show,” even snatches here and there of Fab Four classics.
If the prospect of vital new material from McCartney is not enough to awaken the lingering traces of Beatlemania left in the four or five generations of fans who still listen to John, Paul, George and Ringo religiously, “New’s” “Early Days” will. It is, simply, the most heartfelt and touching song by McCartney since … maybe ever. At least since “Yesterday,” which it brings to mind.
Over an acoustic guitar strum and a voice that is as ancient as the mariner’s but as eternally youthful as springtime, McCartney offers a stunningly personal look at the whole Beatles portion of his life. From the opening line — “They can’t take it from me if they try. I lived through those early days. So many times I had to change the pain to laughter, just to keep from getting crazed.” — it is readily apparent that McCartney, never one to deliver overtly personal lyrics in even the scores of classics he’s written, is opening up in a way he never has before.
In a stinging swipe at those who have made a name for themselves by fueling some supposed feud between McCartney and John Lennon, his longtime friend and Beatles songwriting partner, McCartney sings, “Now everybody seems to have their own opinion, who did this and who did that. But as for me, I don’t see how they can remember, when they weren’t where it was at.”
As he has often proved during his post-Beatles career — most recently recording the stunning rocker “Cut Me Some Slack” with surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Pat Smear for Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary — the musical genius that drives McCartney makes him forever relevant.
Pearl Jam’s brilliant new album “Lightning Bolt” immediately — and deservedly — settled in atop the album charts when it was released Oct. 11, but look for sales of McCartney’s No. 3-debuting “New” (and Elton John’s wonderful, early career-provoking “The Diving Board,” released Sept. 13) to maintain steady growth as fans old and new learn of the work’s significance. Like Leonard Cohen and B.B. King, McCartney is a timeless musical treasure, one not subject to the typical ravages of years passing.
“New” is brilliant testament to his ascendency. In that, we can all celebrate.