Boy, incipient senior citizenhood certainly is turning out differently for Paul McCartney than he — or we — once thought. Way back in the Summer of Love, when he was in his mid-20s, the cute Beatle sang a cute ditty called ”When I’m 64,” which imagined what life might be like at such an imponderably advanced age. ”Doing the garden/ Digging the weeds/Who could ask for more?” he wondered.
McCartney is now 63. He has just released a new CD, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. It’s unclear whether that title is some sort of allusion to the above lyrics (garden = backyard — get it?), but the album itself is clearly modeled after 1970’s McCartney, his first post-Beatles solo effort. As he did on that earlier disc, McCartney plays virtually all the instruments (excluding the strings), overdubbing everything from flügelhorns and harpsichords to drums and synthesizers. Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck) served as producer, but apparently kept any overly arty ideas to himself. The uncluttered sound is classic, immaculate Macca: ”Very twee/Very me,” as he sings on the bucolic ”English Tea.”
There’s no question that in places, it’s a tad too twee. But what we’re hearing is an artist honestly following his muse — always a compelling event. While his peers the Rolling Stones are currently trying to live up to their hoary rep as the (alleged) greatest rock & roll band in the world, our man is quite content to get in touch with his kinder, gentler side, composing quiet little hymns with titles like ”A Certain Softness” and ”Friends to Go” (the latter is a touching homage to George Harrison, who, tragically, didn’t live to see 63). Every once in a while he turns the heat up, as on the bouncy Motown pastiche ”Promise to You, Girl,” but you’re far more likely to play Backyard on a Sunday morning than on a Saturday night.
Naysayers may carp that this is an old man’s album; we posit that it’s the work of an old soul — something this Liverpudlian seems always to have been. McCartney has said that two especially introspective tracks, ”Jenny Wren” and ”English Tea,” were partially inspired by his love for Charles Dickens. He also admits that ”Too Much Rain” is a sideways rewrite of Charlie Chaplin’s chestnut ”Smile.” We suggest that if you have trouble relating to songs indebted to those two pre-rock & roll Charlies you seek out Run, Devil, Run, McCartney’s abundantly raucous 1999 set. And if you’re misguided enough to think that any song that evokes the mood of ”Yesterday” or ”Michelle” is pabulum by definition — well, there’s no hope for you.
Personal to Sir Paul: When you actually do turn 64 next June 18, why not release an update of ”When I’m 64”? You could call it ”Now I’m 64!” and pen some wry new lyrics: ”Doing a record/Digging myself/Who could ask for more?” It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, mate. Don’t sleep on it.