Album Spotlight: Paul McCartney—McCartney III

McCartney III, the latest do-it-yourself project from Paul, is noticeably different from the first two in the series, probably because of the circumstances under which each was conceived. McCartney was born from Paul’s depression at the Beatles’ breakup and from the need to convince listeners that hey, he didn’t need those other guys—he could do it all himself. McCartney II arose from Paul’s depression that Wings wasn’t doing well and from his desire to try some new things in the studio. This album was born from the pandemic and Paul’s insatiable need to create, no matter what. He wouldn’t let any pesky virus stop him from making music!

So McCartney III is more relaxed in feel than the first two albums; less mannered, not trying to prove itself. It’s not nearly as experimental as McCartney II, nor as folksy as McCartney, but it’s a good record if you don’t expect ambition.

Long Tailed Winter Bird opens the album with an extended instrumental, born from a riff which Paul used as an opening for an animated short which he was working on when COVID struck. (This will reappear later.) All of the McCartney albums feature instrumentals to a wide extent, which are pleasant and usually not very focused musically, even if they’re played on synthesizers instead of guitars. This piece, however, is the exception. After Paul tosses off the opening riff, he gets down to business, creating a piece which is driving and tight from start to finish. He throws in a line in a couple of spots midway through—“Do you, do you miss me? Do you, do you touch me?”—but this is not a full-fledged song; it’s a vehicle for Paul to jam on guitar, drums and bass. And he does it quite well for a 78-year-old.

Find My Way is a pleasant piece of pop, nothing special but catchy. Paul’s vocals will never be what they once were, but with repeated listening, it’s still McCartney, and I enjoy it as such. The middle eight is a guide to getting through this mess: “Let me help you out, let me be your guide/I can help you reach the love you feel inside.” As it does on a couple of other numbers, a false ending makes us think he’s done, and then back he comes. Very playful.

Pretty Boys is an interesting acoustic number about male models. While I’m pretty certain that Paul is still heterosexual, he certainly understands the sexual appeal of good looking young men, and it comes through vividly here. He wrote it after witnessing a photo shoot, and it captures the moment as shown through a camera lens. Women And Wives, the piano ballad which follows, is a simple song about the importance of love, asking for empathy and understanding. A needed message in our divided times.

Lavatory Lil is an electric guitar jam about an unsavory woman. I don’t consider it misogynistic because of Paul’s long history of being sympathetic to women’s rights, e.g., Daytime Nighttime Suffering. I don’t know if he’s just exploring a fictional character, or if he was inspired by a specific person;1 but it’s a great bit of electric guitar picking, and I enjoy it as such. Quite Sixties in feel.

Deep Deep Feeling, the longest piece on the album at 8:26, follows; but this is no instrumental jam. Thumping drums open this song, and this is a good place to note that the engineering on this album is the best of any of the three McCartney records, probably because Paul used a real studio engineer instead of doing it himself. Sonically, it’s magnificent, and it contributes to the power of this number, which is Paul’s answer to John’s Plastic Ono Band. “You know that deep deep feeling, when you love someone so much/You feel your heart’s gonna burst/The feeling goes from best to worst,” Paul sings, joined by melancholy piano, a wailing guitar, synthesized strings and organ and spooky background vocals. It’s spare, direct and wrenching, reminding me of the pieces he did for Chaos and Creation In The Backyard. The best piece on the album, although the last three seconds are unnecessary and spoil the impact a bit.

Slidin’, a rocker, is disappointing after the epic Deep Deep Feeling, and a bit of a cheat because Paul’s band joins him on this one (it was an Egypt Station leftover, produced by Greg Kurstin), making this McCartney record not truly solo.2 I never feel that the numbers Paul plays with his band are as great as the ones he does by himself, for the most part, and this is no exception. But it’s not awful, just dull.

The Kiss of Venus is a gorgeous acoustic ballad, which makes me a little sad because I wish a younger Paul could have sung it. Still, it’s beautiful and heartfelt, with some nice planetary imagery. Seize The Day is another pop number like Find My Way, and it’s appropriately uplifting, although I wish he’d found a better line than “Yankee toes and Eskimos”. Get woke, Paul. It’s Innuit. But I do like the message, and the fake ending popping back up.

Deep Down is a bluesy number, sharing a mood in common with Deep Deep Feeling but more upbeat. It’s not as good, but it’s fun, and a tribute to the days when we can go back out and party with others. I imagine he misses socializing. Winter Bird/When Winter Comes closes the record with a reprise of the guitar riff we heard at the beginning—the one for the film, remember? It was centered around the song When Winter Comes. This, again, is a cheat, because it’s not current and it wasn’t produced by Paul, but by the late Sir George Martin, during the Flaming Pie sessions. Sorry, but these nitpicks bother me. Anyway, as such, it’s an acoustic number with Paul’s younger voice, making my heart ache with its contrast to the older Paul. He sings about the chores of running a farm—fixing the fence so the foxes won’t get in, digging a drain for the carrot patch, planting trees—and its specificity makes it much more heartfelt and believable than some of his previous work.3 “[We’ll] find the sun when winter comes,” he sings, in an optimistic—as usual—closing note. Again, it’s like a balm right now.

McCartney III isn’t Paul’s greatest album. I’m unsure if it’s the greatest of the McCartney trilogy, although I’d rank it above McCartney. But it’s a lovely, simple, heartfelt record which is well worth a listen.