Credit: Mary McCartney

Paul McCartney and friends keep it light on 'McCartney III Imagined'

Review: 'McCartney III Imagined'
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6.9

There are a few necessary puzzle pieces that need to fall in place in order to get a self-titled Paul McCartney album. One is that he has to be alone, secluded from the outside world that knows the nearly-60-year-old career of perhaps the greatest songwriter who ever lived. Also important is that the seclusion in question must be forced upon him in some way: his band is breaking up, rumours are circulating that he’s dead, his band is breaking up, the human race is in the midst of a global pandemic.

All of this heaviness and isolation is foundational to the next puzzle piece: McCartney needs a lighthearted escape. Goofiness is a central tenet to everything the man does. It’s practically woven into his DNA. ‘Honey Pie’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘When I’m Sixty Four’, ‘Your Mother Should Know’, ‘Eat at Home’, The Bruce McMouse Show, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’, ‘Big Barn Bed’, and on and on and on. If he’s cast as the villain in the breakup of the world’s biggest band, he has to answer with the glib flippancy of ‘That Would Be Something’. If he’s arrested in Japan while his other band is falling apart, he must counter with the gleefully absurd ‘Temporary Secretary’. Like the fun-loving grandfather figure that he’s always been in his heart, any serious problem or dire circumstance is offset with a corny joke or a blithe tune about tending the garden. No matter the situation, there’s always room for a silly love song.

The COVID-19 lockdown gave McCartney the perfect setting to reignite the long-dormant self-produced, self-performed, self-titled album series, bringing it to its third installment. Since the pandemic has lasted a lot longer than anyone might have originally guessed, the legendary singer decided to let some of music’s biggest names take a crack at remixing, restructuring, and reworking the songs from McCartney III. The result is a new pop sheen on what was already the most conventional of all the self-titled McCartney albums.

Whether intentional or not, McCartney does seem to have an ear for pairing up his stylistically diverse songs with the perfect accompanying artist. Beck’s version of ‘Finding My Way’ sounds great partly because the original already contained elements of the bare-bones white boy funk that the Californian musician has made his signature over the past 30 years. Same as Dominick Fike’s take on ‘The Kiss of Venus’, which takes the rollicking acoustic lines of the first recording and transforms them into electro-soul pop romp to great effect. Anderson. Paak’s remix of ‘When Winter Comes’ transports everything straight back to the ’70s, giving McCartney the proper disco-funk groove that Wings could never quite pull off.

Elsewhere on McCartney III Imagined, the weirdness that McCartney often channels in the self-titled series gets to be filtered through the warped minds of his fellow eccentrics. The non-sensical ‘Lavatory Lil’ gets the Josh Homme desert rock treatment, featuring prominent percussive use of a lighter that could easily point to both men’s reputation as stoner heroes. Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien takes the rocker ‘Slidin”, speeds it up, and blows out the already-distorted vocals to make it sound like McCartney is broadcasting his rock music straight from Hell’s radio station.

Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Seize the Day’ cover strips back the stomp and sway of the original to find the emotional bite that McCartney can still thread through his lyrics. At the same time, Khruangbin goes lighter and dancier on a new version of ‘Pretty Boys’. The real highlight, though, is the eleven-minute plus remix of ‘Deep Deep Feeling’ by 3D RDN, finally answering the question of whether McCartney ever listened to Massive Attack. The remix is so bizarre and brazen, especially compared to the relatively conventional approach that most of the album’s other artists embrace, that it feels truest to the spirit of the original.

That’s the biggest complaint I have about McCartney III Imagined: more often than not, it tends to smooth the edges of McCartney’s experimental tendencies. Songs that were stripped back, acoustic, or downright strange to begin with are made more ordinary and standard. But the good news is that the reimagined album never loses that central lighthearted enjoyment that remains essential. You can tell everyone involved is having a blast shaping McCartney’s material in their own image, and McCartney clearly relishes the opportunity to view his creations through the eyes of other artists.

Ultimately, the reimagined LP is a fun, lighthearted addendum to the original album. I gave it a comical sex joke of a score because the man himself has plenty of comical sex joke songs in his vast discography. Plus, he named the remix album as a pun, so I’m sure he would appreciate it. McCartney III Imagined is unlikely to find a prominent place in anyone’s music collection aside from McCartney completists, and it will live now and forever as a quaint curiosity, a minor blip sometimes brought up when discussing the non-remixed version of the album. But an easily digestible and dispensable reworked album fits perfectly within the Paul McCartney story. When the world seems to get a little too heavy, we should all take a cue from Sir Paul and keep it light.