Wednesday, 26 November 2008

[84] The Fireman - Electric Arguments

Paul McCartney teams up with producer and ex-Killing Jokester Youth for another go around the block with Electric Arguments. Putting anonymity and fully-fledged electronica behind them, this release is getting a lot of attention for featuring songs (!). If you believe the pre-release coverage, this album has been positioned as a work of colonic irrigation - a flushing out all of the nonsense and predictability associated with McCartney's career.

It is unsurprising that this is a messy album. Each track was written and recorded in the space of a day. The assumption goes that this restriction would bring out the experimental, quirky genius that McCartney has mostly left untapped since his previous self-titled album in 1980. Opener 'Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight' is a statement of intent. McCartney wails and howls over a grinding blues-rock backing. The track shoots for a middle ground between towering Led Zeppelin and maniacal Captain Beefheart , but ends up raging itself into incoherence. Similar genre exercises pop up throughout the 13 songs, such as the dusty folk and gospel of 'Travelling Light' and 'Light From Your Lighthouse', or the uninspiring final lapse into trite electro -exotica ('Is This Love', 'Lifelong Passion', 'Don't Stop Running'). It is interesting to hear McCartney cast in different, and unfamiliar lights, although none are truly convincing.

The most revelatory aspect of the album, in terms of experimentation, is that of McCartney's voice. The vocals on Electric Arguments are McCartney's most energised and committed in recent memory. And while the melodies and lyrics may be improvised and under-developed, his adoption of a low register, dusty croon on the folkier numbers brings to mind gravitas-on-demand singers like Mark Lanegan , Bruce Springsteen, or even Tom Waits. The aforementioned 'Travelling Light' succeeds in not sounding at all like McCartney, and would be a classic if it weren't for an unfortunate multi-tracked vocal that recalls a Monty Python drag routine. Equally, ' One can't help but feel that the very thing that is letting McCartney experiment, the collaborative, no-strings-attached nature, is what is damaging the material on offer. For one, the production decisions presumably enacted by Youth often obscures the positive aspects.

While it is invigorating to hear a muscular, powerful sound behind McCartney, especially on the rockers ('Highway'), the wall-of-sound production only highlights the chaotic nature of the recording. Worse are the tracks, such as 'Dance 'till We're High' and 'Sing the Changes', which ape innovations that were made ubiquitous (and boring) by U2 20 years ago. The songwriter's natural gifts for melody and performance are masked by multitracks, and obfuscated by heavy-handed reverb. It is a shame that in this latest retcon of his career, 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard may be forgotten. That album had intimacy, character and genius in spades. Unfortunately, Electric Arguments doesn't.

Falling short of giving new life to an "irrelevant" old musician, Electric Arguments nevertheless exhibits an unfettered enthusiasm that can hopefully be harnessed in a more mannered (or simply better produced) setting in the future. McCartney can come up with killer melodies in his sleep, and anyone who has listened to the latter two volumes in the Beatles Anthology series will know that he can write a song in seconds. This new batch of songs sounds like such studio amusements have been shrouded in overwrought and humourless production tricks. The result is a mixture of half-baked, yet convincingly-performed musical ideas and wall-of-sound bombast. It makes for an intriguing, frustrating, yet hardly essential listen.


Anonymous said...

What complete and utter nonsense. We have nearly every reviewer on the planet including NME, Clash, Uncut, The Guardian and The Sunday Times falling over themselves to give this cult and genius status and then we have this total numpty not rating it. Personally I think reviews are pointless, why have someone else tell you what you like, go and find out for yourself. Many have said that McCartney has faded and is nowhere near as good as he was in the 60's and 70's, well I have news for you he's been back for a few years now. Electric Arguments ladies and gentlemen is outstanding, an album full of layers and differing styles. From Led Zep/Cream jams to sea shanty's, from Johnny Cash style vocals to electronic dance music, from love songs to gospel and on to inpsirational anthems this album is nothing short of remarkjable, especially when you consider McCartney's age (66). He puts 99% of thee young musicians to shame with his experimental work here. Even though there are experimental elements here it is stil mainstream and accessible for all. So ignore this review and treat yourself to THE album of the year. If you buy this, play 5 or 6 times and you find you don't love it then check your pulse because it is more than likely that you're dead!

True Rating - 9.5/10.......a work of brilliance by THE most innovative genius in music.

Mike Leader said...

Dear Mr/s Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment! I'd also thank you for reading my post, but I'm not entirely sure if you did.

- I might have concluded more in the negative than the positive, but the review is littered with plenty of comments about the good aspects of the album, not least regarding the vocals and genre exercises (in theory, not so much in practice).

- You seem to have missed my reference to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which came out only 3 years ago. Has McCartney 'come back' since then? I still think that album is much better than Electric Arguments.

- Not to be patronising, but it's probably best that you don't throw around assertions like 'he puts 99% of thee [sp] young musicians to shame with his experimental work here'. It makes you sound like you've lived under a musically-conservative rock since 1970.

- You say reviews are pointless, yet cite them as references for your own assessment. For the record, the Guardian gave the album a much more damning write up than I did. The Observer liked it, though. Not that I like review aggregators, but the album is floating just about the 70s on Metacritic, which is far from 'cult and genius status'. But as you say, reviews are poor substitutes for listening to the album, and are merely subjective impressions of one person. I partly agree, and on this blog I make no claims of offering anything more than my own opinion, and at least I do that under my own name.

Thanks again,

Mike Leader

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that Anonymous also negates the rest of his comment if he feels that reviews are pointless.