McCartney II (EMI Paul McCartney Collection 89137)
I don't think anyone has ever listened to this album all the way through, except me of course. I've never seen one review of McCartney II that acknowledges its most obvious characteristic: it is without question the single most marijuana-drenched album ever recorded. You can make your arguments for Lee Perry or Ween or whatever jam band you can name, there's no album more clearly influenced by pot smoking, period. All it takes is one listen to the insects-crawling-all-over-me creep-out of "Temporary Secretary" (track TWO?!?!) to demonstrate this, and if that doesn't convince you, just pop on the utterly baffling "Bogey Music," which I would be surprised if Paul even remembers. With delayed vocals over what sounds like a Casio preset "Rock & Roll" backing track, this is just pot-addled madness. Even the cover is a head trip, but it's all in Paul's head, not in the listener's. The whole experience is similar to the episode of "That 70s Show" where the guys record their pot epiphanies while they're getting high, and then play them back the next day only to find they're not as brilliant as they seemed at the time. Similarly, I'm sure Paul thought much of this album was his best ever, til he came down.
All that said, let me reveal I LOVE McCartney II. As with the original McCartney, this one features Paul alone in the studio throwing together a bunch of simple songs for his own amusement (at times, a bit TOO much amusement, if you catch my drift). It's actually a really coherent album in its total incoherence, because although the songs are about as disparate as you can get, the DIY vibe holds them together. And Paul's off-the-cuff stuff is often much better to hear than his intentional masterpieces, when he's conscious that he's writing a "big song." There's no mistaking the likes of "Nobody Knows" for a big song, that's for sure. But like the tiny gems on McCartney, many of the songs on McCartney II pack the surprise of "Wow, what a great song, that sounds just like Paul McCartney!" He experiments with synths and drum machines, not always well, but these are interesting excursions anyway. There are straightforward moments "Coming Up" is well known, and no one disagrees that it's a great Paul song, but there are some hidden greats here too the sublime "Summer's Day Song," which almost sounds like an English anthem, the weird stomp of "Frozen Jap" (a clearly improvised instrumental, but in its way, as charming as "Junk"), the esoteric instrumental "Front Parlour." And Paul manages to tuck one of his all-time best acoustic ballads into the album at the very end "One of These Days," a beautiful one right up there with "Blackbird" and "Put it There" and it follows the creepy "Darkroom!" No doubt Paul was quite befogged throughout the making and deployment of this album.
"Waterfalls" is another great unheralded Paul ballad on this album. It was a single, but it's sandwiched between the blues exercise "On the Way" and the rock & roll exercise "Nobody Knows," so its impact is diminished. And yet that is precisely why I love this album. Paul's not the subtlest chappie around, so for him to include some weepily brilliant songs on here along with the more obvious throwaways is a wonderful thing you get tired of him "announcing" his big songs, and here they're just tucked away amid the bramble. It's like getting a tape of unpolished recent material from Paul, and you listen in the car, listen by listen sorting out "Hey, that's a fucking great song" once you've gotten past "Hey, THAT'S a fucking crap song!"
Speaking of crap, did I mention "Temporary Secretary?" Easily one of Paul's worst. He takes the basic idea that fuels "Paperback Writer" and produces a pure piece of horseshit. It sounds like he heard a Devo album and thought, "Well, I bet I can do that." Well, he can't. And he released it as a SINGLE! Even worse is "Check My Machine," the b-side to "Temporary Secretary" that is added here as a bonus track. It's an insulting piece of claptrap that someone could probably use to successfully lobby for Sir Paul to be committed to the nursing home. "Secret Friend" is another b-side, but that one's very good, actually almost ambient. Could almost pass for Berlin-era Bowie. And you can't fault "Goodnight Tonight," also included as a bonus track. Sure, it's Paul hearing disco and saying "Well, I bet I can do that." But in this case he can. Final tally: McCartney, II, listener, confused. It's a mishmosh of an album, but I absolutely cherish it, and yes, I've rated it equal to Sgt. Pepper. I don't think Paul himself could even argue me down from that point.
Review by Ivan Loverling