Review Summary: While it pales in comparison of what was to come, McCartney is an extremely pleasant lighthearted record that on it's own merits makes for a very enjoyable listen
From a purely compositional standpoint, I’ve always found that Paul McCartney has the most interesting solo work out of the four Beatles.
That’s not to say his body of work is overall better than that of John and George, in fact I’d say he’s easily the most inconsistent quality wise of the three. It’s just where someone like Lennon’s strong points would often come from his lyrics, McCartney would often focus on the instrumentation on certain songs and would often experiment a lot on each album with his sound continuously reinventing his work on each release. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t but the point is he’d always be sure to reinvent his sound on each album.
The reason I bring this up is because his first solo outing simply titled McCartney is not like that whatsoever. Released in 1970, Paul recorded the majority of this album at his house in secret and when he eventually moved to Apple Studios he booked himself under a different name to avoid the others there to pick up that it was him in the studio. Even the other Beatles weren’t aware of it for most of its development, although they were soon made aware when it’s release lead to massive scheduling conflict with the release of Let it Be. When the record did come out it was heavily criticized by the band, as Harrison described the record as “not doing much for him” and Lennon dishing out much harsher criticisms.
And their (as well everyone else’s criticisms) of the album weren’t without merit, especially in comparison to the outstanding debut releases that Harrison and Lennon released around the same time. McCartney is a very simple album. It’s easily the most lightweight and laid back thing he’s ever released. Aside from Linda’s occasional backing vocals on the album Paul recorded everything himself which is pretty easy to tell. A good majority of the songs are lightweight acoustic cuts that usually don’t run much longer than two minutes, and those that aren’t are usually instrumental cuts. Aside from “Maybe I’m Amazed” the majority of the songs feel more like demos than they do finished songs, and while Paul is undoubtedly a very skilled musician, bringing in other people to work with to help finish the songs would have improved the quality of the album a lot.
With that being said, the tone of the album gives it its own special charm that makes it a very enjoyable listen. This album is best when you separate it from the context of both his other solo work and the work of his peers and instead view it as its own individual piece of music. There isn’t a single song on here that’s unenjoyable, and while the songs feel somewhat incomplete there are enough good ideas throughout to keep most of them memorable. And the short runtime of most of the songs does help with that making the album a pretty quick listen. Melodically many of the songs are very satisfying as writing catchy songs is almost reflexive for McCartney at this point in his career, and the songs never fail to be a nice easy listen. The lyrics are mostly nonsensical, but in the usual whimsical McCartney fashion that only adds to the charm of the album. Plus in terms of his solo work lyrics often seem to be the afterthought anyway so it’s easier to forgive.
The instrumentals are the weakest points of the album but none of them are necessarily bad. While “Hot as Sun” and “Momma Miss America” start out fairly repetitive, halfway through the song they both change up into something completely different before it starts to get boring, with “Hot as Sun” being the best example breaking into a glassy drone before McCartney enters in with his piano and sings a whimsical tune as the song quickly fades out. “Kreen-Akrore” is probably the most puzzling of them, as it sounds like Paul screwing around on a drum kit occasionally accompanied by the sounds of pterodactyls or heavy breathing before a guitar riff or vocal drone thing pops up and the drum part changes again until the guitar line from the beginning pops up at the end of the song. It’s a very odd way to wrap up the record and makes for one of the strangest songs in his catalogue, but even it has its own charm to it.
And that’s ultimately what the appeal of McCartney comes down to. The album has a special charm to it. The slipshod and whimsical feel of the record gives it its own special feel that while in comparison to the work of his contemporaries and his later solo endeavors makes it seem inferior, on its own makes it a fun and endearing listen. McCartney wasn’t trying to make anything grand like his previous Beatles records, he just wanted to put out a light hearted collection of simpler laid back tunes and he did exactly that. While it isn’t essential listening, it’s worth digging up if you’re a fan of both his Beatles and solo work. Although it seems like the album is nothing but whimsical demos it’s anything but unpleasant and when separated from the context it was released can make for a very enjoyable listen.
Top 5 Songs
5. Hot as Sun
3. Every Night
2. That Would Be Something
1. Maybe I’m Amazed