Paul McCartney is a man of many virtues. Subtlety isn't one of them.
When he names an album "New" (Hear Music), he's planning something different -- not just musically but in its delivery, as Macca's surprise shows with the students of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and in Times Square last week indicate.
After a decade of trying everything from Radiohead-influenced art-pop to lovey-dovey standards, McCartney is back to asserting himself as a current force in pop with "New." He has assembled a top-notch team to build something timely and potent, including Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, Adele collaborator Paul Epworth, and Ethan Johns, of Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams fame.
However, it is Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, who delivers the biggest prizes here. On "Appreciate," he surrounds McCartney's moving, upper-register vocals with fuzzy guitars and a trip-hop beat to create one of Macca's best songs in decades. On "Everybody Out There," Martin adds touches of vintage R.E.M. to the verses and Coldplay to the chorus for a compelling new stadium-ready sing-along.
Ronson also does well with the title track, making McCartney's ode to wife Nancy Shevell something Beatlesque and brashly pop.
Of course, the star of the album remains McCartney's songwriting. His melodies are as memorable as ever, while he uses different vocal approaches to suit the mood -- from warm and unadorned on "Hosanna" to fragile and filtered on the Radiohead-like "Road."
Even after five decades of unparalleled success, when McCartney promises something "New," he still delivers.
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BOTTOM LINE Fresh (mostly) takes on Macca's legendary songwriting