Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paul McCartney: "McCartney II" (1980/2011 re-issue) CD Review

Music was in a strange state in 1980. Hard rock was basically finished. Bon Scott died on February 19th, 1980. John Bonham died in September of 1980. Pure disco was ending, being combined with pop, but the great pop songs of the 1980s were still a couple of years away. Punk had been co-opted. Folk was dead (and wouldn't be revived for several years). And by the end of 1980, John Lennon was gone.

During this year, Paul McCartney released his second real solo album, McCartney II. In some ways, it's very different from his first solo album, McCartney, released a decade earlier. This one takes its inspiration and sound from all over - from pop and dance music, from rock and roll, from the ether. However, like McCartney, this album features some instrumental tracks. And like the earlier album, Paul McCartney plays all the instruments and does the vocals. Linda provides harmonies, as she did on McCartney.

This is the third release in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.

"Coming Up"

McCartney II opens with a funky dance number, "Coming Up." This song was released as a single and reached #1 on the Billboard chart. It opens with the lines, "You want a love to last forever/One that will never fade away/I want to help you with your problem/Stick around, I say."

A live version of this song from 1979 is included on the second disc. The dance beat is not as pronounced in the live version, and there is a wonderful horn section. I could do without the silly video game-type sound effect partway through, however.

"Temporary Secretary"

"Temporary Secretary" opens with a synthesized rhythm, sounding very much like some of the 1980s pop - Paul was a bit ahead of the curve with this one. And then there is the wonderful juxtaposition of the acoustic guitar over it. And the vocals are seriously catchy, and pretty humorous too. Lines like "She can be a neurosurgeon/If she's doin' nothin' urgent" caused me to laugh out loud. I really dig this tune.

It was released as a single in the UK, but not the US.

"On The Way"

"On The Way" is one of the coolest songs on this album. It has a simple slow groove, and some nice work on guitar, some cool blues licks. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "Well you know I'll always love you/Everything will be ok/If I know you don't mind/The things I say/On the way."

"Nobody Knows"

"Nobody Knows" is more in the rock and roll vein, with a bit of a bluesy edge. It's sort of a throwback to the really early Beatles material (before they came to the U.S.), and as such it's a real treat. This is a fun song. Turn it up and enjoy.


There are two instrumental tracks on McCartney II. The first, "Front Parlour," sounds like a pleasant afternoon party thrown by electronic frogs.

The second, "Frozen Jap," sounds like a hospital to me - the thumping of machinery to keep people alive, but in a state that's not quite real, not quite living, yet with hints of optimism, sunlight streaming into the rooms, the busy routine of the staff.

"Bogey Music"

"Bogey Music" is a strange combination of 1950s rock and roll with contemporary pop and editing and effects. But it does capture that innocent sense of fun. And it has a good beat.

"Darkroom" reminds me a bit of 1980s Egyptian pop music. Its uneven pace, however, is jarring at times.

"One Of These Days"

The album concludes with a simple acoustic number titled "One Of These Days." This is perhaps closest to some of his earlier solo tracks. It's certainly the prettiest song on this album. Here is a bit of the lyrics: "One of these days/When we both are at our ease/When you've got time to please yourself."

Second Disc

The second disc begins with "Blue Sway," a pop song with orchestration by Richard Niles. I wish Paul's vocals were a little more prominent in the mix. There are moments when this song curiously reminds me of Wham.

"Check My Machine" begins with a series of pre-recorded voices: "Hi, George," "Morning, Terry." With dance and industrial elements, this song is a strange surprise. Clubs that have an '80s night should throw this song into the mix. Seriously. Sure, it's a bit repetitive, but it's a dance song. It's fun.

"Bogey Wobble" is another strange one. You would never guess that this is a Paul McCartney song. It's an electronic instrumental tune that sounds at times like it could belong on the soundtrack to a terrible 1980s film about a futuristic motorcycle driven by a robot who is loved by a woman with long curly brown hair.

"Secret Friend" was originally released as the flip side to the UK single of "Temporary Secretary." Paul is clearly having fun electronically altering his voice. This song has a good rhythm that sounds like something the Talking Heads might have recorded early in their career. There is a short section that is just the rhythm, which is cool. This is the full-length version, just over ten minutes.

"Mr. H Atom" starts with a voice saying "Shangri-Las versus The Village People." I have no idea who would win that battle. But this song is ridiculously catchy. It shouldn't be, but it is. It fades out after approximately two and a half minutes, and "You Know I'll Get You Baby" begins. I wonder why these weren't presented as two separate tracks. They're both repetitive, so I suppose they fit together. But while the first is catchy, the second becomes a bit annoying.

I never cared for "Wonderful Christmastime." There are so few enjoyable Christmas songs, and this just isn't one of them.

The bonus disc ends with "All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway." "All You Horse Riders" is, well, kind of awful. Paul is basically singing instructions on riding a horse. It's unbelievable. But once you do finally believe it, it becomes unbearable. Fortunately three and a half minutes in, it segues into "Blue Sway."

CD Track List

Disc 1:

  1. Coming Up
  2. Temporary Secretary
  3. On The Way
  4. Waterfalls
  5. Nobody Knows
  6. Front Parlour
  7. Summer's Day Song
  8. Frozen Jap
  9. Bogey Music
  10. Darkroom
  11. One Of These Days
Disc 2:

  1. Blue Sway
  2. Coming Up (Live At Glasgow, 1979)
  3. Check My Machine (Edit)
  4. Bogey Wobble
  5. Secret Friend
  6. Mr. H Atom/You Know I'll Get You Baby
  7. Wonderful Christmastime (Edited Version)
  8. All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway

As with the two-disc version of McCartney, the booklet for McCartney II includes lots of great photos and the lyrics to the songs from the first disc, but no real liner notes. For this Archive Collection release I was hoping for extensive notes, especially about the bonus tracks.

McCartney II was originally released in May of 1980. This special two-disc edition was released on June 14, 2011. There is also a four-disc edition available, the third disc being another CD and the fourth being a DVD. That version also includes a 128-page book, which has the information I sought in the booklet for the two-disc version. The two-disc version is also available on vinyl.

Released on that same day is the Paul McCartney Archive Collection edition of McCartney. The first CD in this series, Band On The Run, was released late last year. Future planned releases include Ram, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, Wings Over America, and Venus And Mars. I am looking forward to all of those.

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