It is not the album of a legend, but of a family man who takes advantage of the quarantine to play all the instruments and write songs about pastoral loves, a mix between ‘Ram’ and ‘Folklore’
Every decade should open with a record played in full by Paul McCartney , this one more than any other. McCartney III carries on Paul’s tradition of home records, in the style of the 1970s acoustic debut and McCartney II’s synth-pop quirks . Like the previous two, the album shows Macca’s playful side. It is not the record of a legend, a genius or a Beatle, but of a family man who takes advantage of the lockdown to relax and write songs to keep creativity alive. It’s the hottest and most intimate quarantine album of the year, a mix of Ram and Folklore .
Like everyone else, Macca was also in lockdown. He spent it on his farm with his daughter and grandchildren sitting on his lap, playing acoustic guitar in the English summer sun. He wrote, played and produced pretty much everything about McCartney III , filling the record with his signature folk fingerpicking.
In the ’70s one of the Wings musicians called him “a peasant playing guitar”, a phrase that also perfectly describes the atmosphere of this record. Paul’s music didn’t sound quite as rustic from solo beginnings, from Mary Had to Little Lamb to Mull of Kintyre . When he sings about goats and chickens, he is referring to animals in flesh and blood, they are not metaphors.
McCartney III is at its best when the musician takes the path of the acoustic solo record more decisively. It begins with the splendid Long Tailed Winter Bird , in which the singing is preceded by two minutes of acoustic guitar introduction. There is also the yacht rock ballad Women and Wives and Lavatory Lil , an Abbey Road style eccentricity .
McCartney has been writing quite a bit recently. It’s just been two years since the excellent Egypt Station , one of his best solo albums. It contained Dominoes’ Alex Chilton-style guitar meditations , one of the ten best songs ever. Egypt Station came in first place in the standings and don’t think for a moment that Macca doesn’t care. One of his albums hadn’t been doing so well since Tug of War in 1982: never had that much time passed between two of his number one records.
McCartney III is not as ambitious as Egypt Station . Much like the two McCartney titled albums that preceded it, it’s a record recorded with a sense of regenerating spontaneity after a demanding studio project. The least successful moments are when the arrangements are filled with synthesizers and rock sounds.
The peak of the record is The Kiss of Venus , a pastoral love song that sounds like an updated version of Mother Nature’s Son , while Paul hits very high notes with his wonderfully time-worn voice. The album ends with Winter Bird / When Winter Comes , a story of life in the countryside. At first it looks like a farmer’s list of tasks – “I have to dig a pit near the carrot field” – and then it turns into a celebration of family life, with two old lovers warming themselves by the fireplace, which gives the song a surprising emotional force. It’s kind of the B-side of When I’m Sixty Four written from the perspective of a 78-year-old man.
In McCartney III the master does not take it out on the arrival of winter. He takes it as an excuse to relax and smile.