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McCartney creates ‘chaos’ with latest effort

Bob Costa | Friday, September 16, 2005

As an ironic young superstar with the Beatles in the 1960s, Paul McCartney penned a breezy pop tune called “When I’m 64,” where he sang that he’d probably be “Doing the garden/ Digging the weeds” once he became an old man. Now in 2005, at the age of 63, McCartney seems to be doing just that – yet his predictions were a bit off, since he’s not rummaging around a grassy patio back in Liverpool but redefining his musical career with a vital new studio album entitled “Chaos & Creation In The Backyard.”

The album, which sprinkles new seeds of melodic genius in with his classic style, showcases McCartney sticking to the premise of an elder statesman tending to his own cerebral garden. He evokes touches of “The White Album” on tracks like the upbeat and piano-driven single “Fine Line” while also creates a more organic and atmospheric acoustic element not heard on many previous efforts with the heartfelt songs “Jenny Wren” and “Anyway.”

“Chaos & Creation In The Backyard” is the 20th release in a long and storied solo career that began with “McCartney” in 1970. His career has since seen the famed performer and songwriter win numerous Grammy awards, while also earning the ire of critics and some fans for being too cheesy and “un-Beatles like” at times, from duets with Michael Jackson to the bloated sugary confections on his 80s singles. The last time Paul McCartney had a Top 10 hit was during Father Edward “Monk” Malloy’s first year as president of Notre Dame back in 1987. Even though he’s not as relevant to the Top 40 crowd any more, McCartney doesn’t have an agenda on this new album to be a “hit,” but seemingly only to be himself – which wasn’t always true on recent work like “Run, Devil, Run,” which was too forceful in its “hey, I can still rock” buzz and power chords.

McCartney worked with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on “Chaos & Creation In The Backyard,” the same producer who sculpted Radiohead’s landmark “OK Computer” album with Thom Yorke – and it shows. Godrich’s fingerprints are all over the record, giving McCartney’s signature vocals a deeper resonance than the one seen on his cluttered band endeavor “Driving Rain” back in 2001. Godrich also gives the record an interesting mix of underlying instruments, most notably prickly string flushes that create an eerie cadence on “Riding to Vanity Fair.” Although he is no George Martin, Godrich’s studio work – mostly placing some chaos into the sometimes formulaic McCartney pop standards – enables “Chaos & Creation In The Backyard” to be the closest thing McCartney has had to a masterpiece since 1996’s “Tug Of War.”

The most compelling track lyrically is “At the Mercy,” where McCartney delves into his own dark thoughts and thankfully leaves the non sequiturs on the studio floor. It’s a song that could have been a depressing and muddled interlude, but Godrich and McCartney rein in its chorus, keeping the track sparse and focused – literally taking a sad song and making it better.

The hook-laden melodies of “English Tea,” which sounds like it should be in Disney’s “Fantasia” with its whimsical gaiety and friendly vocals, has McCartney making observations about his mother country that are sweetly unpretentious. Yes, it’s a silly and catchy tune, but it also gives the esoteric (at least in McCartney standards) album a nice breather from the otherwise contemplative pop songs on the record. The song leads into the album’s stand-out track of “Promise to You Girl,” which balances indelible harmonies, soaring guitars that bounce of a jazz piano riff, and achingly personal lyrics.

“Chaos & Creation In The Backyard” is reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s 2004 album “Smile” in that it balances classic pop vocal style with modern studio wizardry that give the recordings a simple gloss and eclectic audio structure. As McCartney sang in “When I’m 64” – “I could be handy/ mending a fuse/ when your lights have gone.”

On his new studio album, Sir Paul provides old and new fans alike with a refreshing take on life and love that proves that that rocker can still blend melodies with the best of them. With his raucous performance at Live 8 this summer, this new album and his sold-out upcoming tour, old man McCartney is finding new ways to create a little chaos in the 21st century.