Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Paul McCartney

  • McCartney [Apple, 1970] B
  • Band on the Run [Apple, 1973] C+
  • McCartney II [Columbia, 1980] C
  • Tug of War [Columbia, 1982] B
  • Pipes of Peace [Columbia, 1983] B-
  • All the Best [Capitol, 1987] C+
  • Run Devil Run [Capitol, 1999] A-
  • Back in the U.S. [Capitol, 2002] D
  • Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard [Capitol, 2005] Dud
  • Memory Almost Full [Hear Music, 2007] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

McCartney [Apple, 1970]
As self-indulgent as Two Virgins or Life With the Lions, yet marketed as pop, this struck me as a real cheat at first. But I find myself won over by its simulated offhandedness. Paul is so charming a melodist (and singer) that even though many of the songs are no more than snatches, fragments, ditties, they get across, like "Her Majesty" extended to two minutes. And though Paul's do-it-yourself instrumentals stumble now and then, the only one that winds up on its fundament is the percussion-based "Kreen-Akrore." Maybe Linda should take up the drums. She wouldn't be starting from any further back than hubby. B

Band on the Run [Apple, 1973]
I originally underrated what many consider McCartney's definitive post-Beatles statement, but not as much as its admirers overrate it. Pop masterpiece? This? Sure it's a relief after the vagaries of Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, and most of side one passes tunefully enough--"Let Me Roll It" might be an answer to "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Jet" is indeed more "fun" than "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." But beyond those two the high points are the title track, about the oppression of rock musicians by cannabis-crazed bureaucrats, and the Afro-soul intro to "Mamunia," appropriate from relatives of the Nigerian children who posed for the inner sleeve with Sah and helpmates. C+

McCartney II [Columbia, 1980]
Paulie's 1970 DIY sounded homemade--its unfinished musings intimated an appealingly modest freedom. This one was recorded on a sixteen-track with an engineer in attendance. The instrumentals are doodles, the songs demos by a man who scores the occasional hit only to prove he's a genius. Which he isn't. C

Tug of War [Columbia, 1982]
Most rock-and-rollers look like simps or cynics by the time they hit thirty-five. Others retain the irrepressible exuberance of a Stevie Wonder, or grasp it again in magic moments the way Carl Perkins does on this album's most affecting cut. A few rare ones age gracefully into fresh-eyed wisdom, like Neil Young and John Lennon. But no matter how serious and sensible he gets, McCartney's perpetual boyishness conveys the perpetual callowness of a musical Troy Donahue. I don't think this is intentional--in his personal life he seems at least as adult as anyone I've named, and he's put his hard-earned craft to mature use on this LP. But it might almost be dumb love songs. B

Pipes of Peace [Columbia, 1983]
I've finally figured out what people mean when they call Paulie pop--they mean he's not rock. But to me pop implies a strict sense of received form whether crafted by the dB's or Billy Joel. McCartney's in his own world entirely, which is the charm of his music. And of course, a reliance on charm has always been his weakness. This is quite pleasant except when Britain's number-one earner preaches against violence as if self-interest wasn't an issue, which is also the only time it comes into firm contact with the great outside. B-

All the Best [Capitol, 1987]
Of the seven cuts this doesn't share with 1978's twelve-cut, fifty-four-minute Wings Greatest, only the lost 1972 B side "C Moon" and the 1983 M. Jackson duet "Say Say Say" (in its flimsy non-Jellybean mix) are worth anyone's trouble. And "My Love" is among the survivors. Somebody call . . . the Better Business Bureau? C+

Run Devil Run [Capitol, 1999]
I don't want to call McCartney the most complacent rock and roller in history. The competition's way too stiff, especially up around his age, and anyway, I'm not judging his inner life, only his musical surface. From womp-bom-a-loo-mom to monkberry moon delight, his rockin' soul and pop lyricism always evinced facility, not feeling, and his love songs were, as he so eloquently put it, silly. This piece of starting-over escapism isn't like that at all, as, robbed of the wife he loved with all his heart, McCartney returns to the great joy of his adolescence in a literally death-defying formal inversion. So light it's almost airborne, Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Baby" opens; so wild it's almost feral, Elvis Presley's "Party" closes. Some familiar titles are merely redone or recast, which beyond some Chuck Berry zydeco gets him nowhere. But arcana like Fats Domino's "Coquette" and Carl Perkins's "Movie Magg" could have been born yesterday, three originals dole out tastes of strange, and on two successive slow sad ones, the Vipers' hung-up obscurity "No Other Baby' and Ricky Nelson's lachrymose hit "Lonesome Town," the impossibility of the project becomes the point. Teenagers know in some recess of their self-involvement that their angst will have a next chapter, but McCartney's loneliness is permanent. Not incurable--the music is a kind of new life. But its fun is a spiritual achievement the man's never before approached. A-

Back in the U.S. [Capitol, 2002]
The broad arena-rock of expert nonentities robs the Beatle songs that jam this tour merch of all quirk and precision. Yet the Beatle songs still dwarf the proofs of his solo existence, which get lamer as he gets older. Either way his relentless smiley smile cloys on contact. And when he whips up some now-the-fellas now-the-ladies on "Hey Jude," it is to cringe with dismay at the survival of a generation. D

Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard [Capitol, 2005] Dud

Memory Almost Full [Hear Music, 2007]
"I hope it's not too late/Searching for time that has gone so fast" ("Ever Present Past," "Nod Your Head"). ***

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