I’ve listened to Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Paul McCartney’s new album multiple times over the last 48 hours and I’m convinced that this album has more depth than almost anything else he’s done since the Beatles. “Paul gets serious” is the tag line for many of the reviews that have come out this week and, to a certain extent that’s true. It’s tempting to just say that producer Nigel Godrich just got rid of all the cheesy stuff but that’s just not true. The sense one gets in listening to this album is one of vulnerability. Paul has never sounded this vulnerable on an album. In many ways, this is the album I sort of expected after his wife Linda died. Perhaps he needed to be happier to sing about how sad he was. A big part of this is the production, however – Godrich allows us to hear Paul sing without many effects on his voice and without going back and giving us pitch-perfect, no quivering vocals. We can actually hear that Paul is older and wiser for the first time.
Some have complained about a lack of rockers but I think that adding more up-tempo stuff to this album would have severely damaged the mood of the piece. It is interesting to read different reviews online – one reviewer singles out for praise what other reviewers call a misstep. For me, a few of the so-called weaker songs are among my favorites; “English Tea” and “Friends to Go” are among my favorites. There are a few melodic and chordal surprises on the album. The unexpected minor in “Jenny Wren” brings us up short and causes us to pay attention when we’d otherwise just let the song wash over us. The tempo changes in “Promise to You Girl” are surprising (although it is tied with “A Certain Softness” for my least favorite song on the album). On my first listen I found the first few lines of “Too Much Rain” are almost too much to listen to after hearing how emotionally open the album had already been – and that’s before I got to the stunning “Riding to Vanity Fair” and “This Never Happened Before.”
Overall, this album sits nicely on the shelf with McCartney’s finest post-Beatles work; Band on the Run, Tug of War and Flaming Pie.