None of the four producers who worked on Paul McCartney‘s 16th album, ‘New,’ were even around when he was making music with the Beatles that would shape both his career and the past 50 years of pop culture. And that’s a key factor to the success of McCartney’s first album of new material in six years.
Working with secondhand knowledge, or remembrances formed after the fact, of McCartney’s storied career, Paul Epworth, Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns and Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer George Martin) don’t try to re-create the legend’s legacy so much as they piece it together by their individual perceptions of it. The results make up McCartney’s best album in 30 years. And McCartney, doing his part, takes a cue from his forward-thinking producers and cooks up a batch of songs that sounds very much part of the 21st century while still rooted in the nostalgia that has driven his career from the start. ‘Early Days’ may sound like it stems from any one of the acoustic ballads McCartney has written since ‘Yesterday’ — and it does, make no mistake. But the subtle production touches by Johns (whose father, Glyn, mixed the Beatles’ troubled ‘Get Back’ sessions before they were shelved and later resurrected by Phil Spector as ‘Let It Be’) also lend it a spark of modern-day electricity.
‘New”s best songs expand on McCartney’s pop and rock pasts without ripping them off: the opening fuzz-drenched rocker ‘Save Us,’ the late-Beatles bass-and-drums bounce of ‘Queenie Eye,’ the bubbly harpsichord-graced title track. They, along with a handful of other songs on the album that glide along similar paths, make the obvious Beatles/Wings connections without hanging onto them like a crutch.
But they don’t try to completely reinvent McCartney either, which is a credit to the producers’ willingness to step back and let a master do his thing from time to time while consistently nudging him out of his comfort zone. After spending the past few years getting reflective on records like the 2007 album ‘Memory Almost Full’ and the 2012 standard collection ‘Kisses on the Bottom,’ McCartney sounds revitalized on ‘New,’ ready for a future he helped pave all those years ago.