With a little help from his friends, Paul McCartney has released what he calls his most ”publicly personal” album, and has just begun a U.S. tour that will keep him in the public eye through the end of November.
While the former Beatle has been famous for most of his life and given hundreds of interviews, he has usually managed to stick to prepared sound bites, while maintaining a friendly facade complete with wide grin and thumbs aloft.
But in “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” (Capitol), his 20th studio album since 1970, the year the Fab Four broke up, he broaches such topics as recovering from the death of his first wife, Linda, and finding a new love in second wife, Heather Mills McCartney.
In an interview, McCartney said it took a few years after Linda’s death from cancer in 1998 to bring those kinds of emotions out publicly.
“It wasn’t hard, privately. It’s easy to experience it. But, you know, you have to think about how to write this stuff down. It took a little while to find its way into the songs, for the dust to settle. How to make it art.”
McCartney’s first venture after Linda’s death, 1999’s “Run Devil Run, was anything but the emotion-laden, sad album the public was expecting. A tribute to the rockers of Paul’s youth, the album was loaded with tunes by Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry and others.
“It was the only way I could go, really, to make that kind of record. And Linda had always said to me, ’You must do a rock and roll album,’ which is what I did.”
His 2001 follow-up, “Driving Rain,” got him back in the studio with a band of young players, leading to two American tours and one in Europe. But while fans got to connect with McCartney through live performances, they still yearned for a more personal connection in his music.
In “Chaos,” he sings about personal grief and recovery (”Too Much Rain”), the support of friends (”How Kind of You”), his relationship with Heather, an anti-landmine activist (”A Certain Softness”) and former friendships (”Riding to Vanity Fair”).
Some fans have speculated the latter track is a preemptive strike against former publicist Geoff Baker, who is reported to be writing a ’tell-all’ book. Baker denies such a book is in the works.
Critics were generally effusive, with Rolling Stone dubbing it “the freshest-sounding McCartney album in years,” while Entertainment Weekly praised his “quiet little hymns.” But as the Rolling Stones are finding with their new album, critical acclaim does not convert into retail success for artists of a certain age. “Chaos” was down at No. 32 on the Billboard’s U.S. album charts in its fourth week of release.
McCartney, working with producer Nigel Godrich, noted for his work with English rock group Radiohead, recorded about 30 songs. Among those that didn’t make the cut were “Modern Dance,” which McCartney describes as “more of a dancey tune, a really cool thing,” while another, “I Want You to Fly,” has more of a Motown R & B sound.
The simplest of productions features McCartney on his acoustic guitar, such as on “Jenny Wren,” a track many have likened to “Blackbird” from The Beatles’ so-called 1968 White Album. He credits his acoustic style to an unsuccessful attempt at emulating a favorite player or two.
“A lot of times, even in singing, we were just trying to do our favorite people, like me trying to do Little Richard or John trying to be Dylan, like on ’You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.’ And it ends up just becoming your style.
“So my acoustic playing sort of comes out of left field. I’m probably trying to emulate Chet Atkins and failing at the style I’m trying to achieve.”
While live, McCartney switches back and forth from guitar to bass to piano. On the album, he ended up, with a few exceptions, playing all of the instruments himself, just as he did on his first solo album, “McCartney,” from 1970.
On the tour, which began Sept. 16 in Florida, McCartney offers a set that spans his entire career, boasting such Beatles nuggets as “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and ”Let It Be,” and Wings-era classics like “Live and Let Die” and ”Jet.”
He also serves some rarities as the pre-Beatles “In Spite of All The Danger,” the wistful “I Will” from the so-called ”White Album” and “Please Please Me,” the group’s first No. 1 single.
So what’s it like playing old tracks he hasn’t played in 40 years -- some since the day they were recorded?
“It’s astounding, and very refreshing,” he says. “You’re transported back to then, just by the song. Just by the chords and arrangement, ’cause we keep it pretty faithful. What changes is that it’s now a big, loud band playing.” REUTERS