Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Fireman -- Electric Arguments

The Fireman -- Electric Arguments (ATO/MPL)

After a couple of albums that were more in the dance/electronica/ambient bin (or in each of three separate bins), Paul McCartney, for whatever reason, decided that The Fireman could be a place that he could loosen up while still writing pop and rock songs. Because, you know, he’s still pretty good at penning those things. But he hasn’t dropped the experimental bent that he has pursued with collaborator Youth.

This turns out to be a best of both worlds approach. There are a number of swell tunes on this album, and when Macca and Youth decide to stretch out and fool around, they leave it for the end of the album. And because of the delights at the beginning, it’s nice to relax with the soundscapes that take up the last 25 minutes of this effort.

The album gets off to a grand start with “Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight”. This track could almost be a 45 of “Helter Skelter” slowed down to 33 rpm. It’s a blistering rave up that sounds like Macca dreaming about what it would have been like to have fronted Led Zeppelin. The rock still would have been majestic, and a tad more melodic. And man, Paulie can still shout and scream with the best of them.

The Fireman then does a 180 degree turn on the sweet acoustic ditty “Two Magpies”. The short song is built around a simple acoustic guitar figure and McCartney’s playful vocals. After a bracing opener, this is a cool drink of water.

It’s just great to hear McCartney do whatever the heck he wants to. There’s another great one-two punch not long after the first two tracks. On “Highway”, McCartney’s voice is slightly distorted, as a harmonica plays along with driving blues tinged rock. The song then opens up just like a highway on a chorus that sounds like it came from the same place as old classics like “Jet”. Throw in a middle eight that has a gospel revival tent feel and you have one of Macca’s best tunes in ages (and his last few albums have been pretty good).

This is followed by the backporch whimsy of “Light from Your Lighthouse”. There isn’t much to this song, but a simple message (look on the bright side) and a dumb catchy chorus. Forty-six years after the first Beatles hit, and McCartney can still pen good hooks.

What is refreshing is that Youth clearly doesn’t want to fuss over things. Although there are some glistening touches, like the bells ringing on the soaring “Dance ‘til We’re High”, it’s clear that Youth and Paul were more concerned with getting the energy and essence of the songs on tape, and the quest for perfection so abandoned, the songs are all better for it.

The album turns on “Lifelong Passion”, which isn’t a tight composition, but floats a melody over a burbling percussion track and a variety of wind instruments and keyboard sounds. This track is still more grounded than what follows.

“Is This Love” sounds like a soundtrack for Buddhist chanting, oscillating and thrumming. “Lover’s in a Dream” is even more atmospheric, and isn’t really centered. The sound swirls in all directions, coalescing slightly while McCartney intones “lovers in a dream/warmer than the sun” like a mantra, sounding ghostly. On “Universal Here, Everlasting Now”, it sounds like they just mashed up a McCartney outtake with another semi-structured cacophony of piano, keyboards,, guitars and who knows what else. The lengthy finale, “Don’t Stop Running” also works the mantra thing over another blend of percussion and all sorts of tricks floating about. Maybe one of these could have been left off, but they all are at least interesting.

I hope that this album has an impact on McCartney’s next proper solo album. There’s a spontaneity here that could have helped the decent Memory Almost Full, which seemed to self-aware about what it was trying to accomplish. Just let it flow, Paulie, ‘cause you’ve still got it.

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