The greatest songwriter of the 20th century, or just one of the top two or three? Who else would you have up there? Kern, Gershwin, Ray Charles, maybe. Dylan for the words along with the music. But not, I think, John Lennon. It’s McCartney’s melodic imagination that captivates and sometimes staggers — ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. The Beatle it was not OK to like, and yet who, today, would prefer to hear the overwrought ‘Strawberry Fields’ to the easy, loping chime of ‘Penny Lane’? Yes, Wings were the naffest band imaginable. But even then I would take their worst album (Red Rose Speedway) over Lennon’s solo best (Some Time in New York City). And ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ was a witty musical and lyrical parody of ‘Imagine’.
Lockdown is nothing new for McCartney, even if this collection has a mournful edge to it. He is usually at his most comfortable when playing every instrument. His voice now is deep and quavering: on the brilliant ‘Women and Wives’ he almost sounds like Johnny Cash. He is as ever less compelling on the rawk stuff: boogieing rarely became him. But the four closing numbers — the breezy late-1960s pop of ‘Seize the Day’, the ‘Blackbird’-esque ‘Kiss of Venus’, ‘Deep Down’s 1970s lilt and the bucolic ‘Winter Bird’ — are as pretty as anything he’s written in four decades. Nor do his tilts at modernism embarrass as much as one might fear. ‘It’s alright to be nice,’ announces the man derided by his songwriting partner for the gentle anti-racism of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and stuff like ‘Let It Be’. Nothing wrong with nice, Macca. Nothing wrong with genius either.
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