Eclectic Electric Arguments

Paul McCartney has released a new disc, “Electric Arguments”.

Electric Arguments

Actually, the artist isn’t Paul McCartney; it’s The Fireman. That would be Paul McCartney with Youth, who is the bassist for the Killing Joke.

This is the third disc released by The Fireman. Odds are, you haven’t heard of the earlier releases.

Youth brings electronic experimentation to the project. The first two releases were instrumental electronica — not the Paul McCartney that you’re familiar with. But then, McCartney has explored an avant garde side as long ago as the Beatles era. Three or four of the tracks from The Fireman “Rushes” — get it?; “the fireman rushes in” — are still in circulation on my iPod.

If you’re wondering what I mean by “electronica”, here’s an excerpt from the new disc.


 
Electric Arguments is a departure from the earlier Fireman discs. Although a few of the tracks fit into the “electronica” category, this is the first Fireman disc with vocals.

I’ve titled this post, “Eclectic Electric Arguments” because each track explores a different genre. The exact categorization of each track doesn’t really matter, but the point is, The Fireman cover an eclectic range of music:

  • Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight and Highway:
    The two relatively hard rock tracks on the disc. Nothing Too Much (track #1) stands apart from everything else on the disc:  an angry, dirty tune. (There’s an excerpt below, after the jump.)
     
  • Two Magpies:
    A folk-y, pretty little (2:12) acoustic guitar and vocal ditty.
     
  • Sing the Changes, Sun Is Shining, and Don’t Stop Running:
    I suppose these tracks would be categorized as soft rock songs. None of them will go down as a “classic”, but they all have an infectious, driving energy.
     
  • Travelling Light:
    A ballad with a somewhat mystical aura.

    I ride on the white wind
    High over the sand …

    I glide on the green leaf
    Not asking for more.

    Travelling Light is an early favourite from the disc, with a beautiful, captivating melody.
     

  • Light From Your Lighthouse:
    My favourite track on the disc. It’s a country Gospel song (particularly the chorus), akin to “I’ll Fly Away” or “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”. McCartney’s voice is virtually unrecognizable during the verses:  he sings in a gruff old guy persona (though the backing harmony is the familiar McCartney). Here’s an excerpt; you’ll hear the gruff old guy voice only for the first few seconds:


     

  • Lifelong Passion:
    Another semi-mystical song, this time with an Indian quaver to it (shades of George Harrison). I can’t say this track is a favourite of mine, but it sustains an interesting mood.
     
  • Lovers In A Dream:
    Electronic dance music.
     
  • Universal Here, Everlasting Now:
    Starts out as electronica, then segues into a soft rock tune. (The electronica segment is the unidentified excerpt embedded near the top of this post.) And there’s another slice of electronica in the form of a “hidden” track, two minutes after the end of Don’t Stop Running.

McCartney is best known for his “silly love songs,” of course. But he is capable enough, both as a musician and as a composer, to pull off pretty much anything he puts his mind to.

McCartney has found an artistic second wind in the last few years. His two most recent discs were both very strong. If you haven’t downloaded “Jenny Wren” (from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard) or “Mr. Bellamy” (from Memory Almost Full), you’re missing two true classics from the McCartney catalogue.

I mean it:  those two tracks stand up well even by comparison to McCartney’s greatest compositions.

Electric Arguments is a different sort of effort (as its attribution to The Fireman suggests). It isn’t a concept album; there’s no attempt to sustain a consistent theme or tone. Each track is a discrete, individual effort.

I mean that literally. Each of the thirteen tracks was written and recorded in a single day, spread out over the course of a year.

It follows that the disc isn’t as polished as McCartney’s previous two. I doubt that any track will be described as “one for the ages”. Moreover, the disc slumps with four consecutive, relatively weak tracks, beginning with Dance ‘Til We’re High (track #8 of 13). Of course, your mileage may vary.

It’s also clear that McCartney didn’t put much effort into the lyrics, but that would hardly be a first for him.

Overall, this is still a strong, enjoyable effort. Indeed, the disc is getting very favourable reviews. For example, the critics at Allmusic.com have selected Electric Arguments as one of their favorite rock albums of 2008.

Whether you’re keen on this disc will depend on what sort of music you like to listen to. If you like to stay in a narrow comfort zone, give it a miss. But if you like to shake things up a bit, and introduce some variety to your listening experience — this disc is well worth the money.

You can download the whole disc for $8.99. For that price, you get both mp3 files and a lossless format that you can burn to disc, or compress for your iPod.

After the jump, I’ll try to relate the disc to recent events in McCartney’s personal life.

The FiremanYouth and Paul McCartney get experimental together


I think there’s a psychological explanation for McCartney’s “toss-off” approach to the recording of this disc. Readers probably know that McCartney has just been through a very messy divorce from Heather Mills. It seems to me that he wasn’t interested in a serious, labour-intensive project just now. Rather, he chose to have some fun and use his creative talents as a cathartic outlet.

The messy divorce comes through only obliquely, and then only in one song. As mentioned above, the opening track is an angry, dirty rocker. Here’s how it ends:


 
“The last thing to do was to try to betray me”!

McCartney is extremely protective of his private life. When he is asked about the title of the disc, he coyly explains that he came across the phrase “electric arguments” in an Alan Ginsberg poem; he just likes the way the words sound together.

I’m sure that explanation is true, so far as it goes. But it doesn’t explain why he used the phrase for the title of the disc!

In any event, Electric Arguments isn’t an angry recording. Several of the songs are rather exuberant. For example:  when McCartney half-sings, half-shouts, “The air is buzzing!” (in Sun Is Shining), it seems that the world is still full of wonderful, unexplored possibilities for this 66-year-old ex-Beatle.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Brett
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 02:46:16

    Nice review, except Dance til We’re High is the best song on the disc. It’s okay, you’re allowed to be wrong on that one!

    Reply

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