Review of the reviews for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

True story:
I’m driving by Vinyl Fever Tuesday, and I’m thinking: Does the new McCartney album come out today or tomorrow? I think it’s coming out Wednesday, so I keep driving. Even if I’m wrong, it won’t be a wasted stop because I’m coming back Wednesday anyway and I had places to get to Tuesday.

So Wednesday, I look up the release date and realize I was wrong: it came out Tuesday. Whatever – no biggie. So I go to Vinyl Fever and look at the new release section. No album. Well, it’s McCartney. Who cares about him, except for geeks like me? He’s probably just going to sell himself nominally in the regular album section. So I go there. No album. What the hell? So I go up to the counter.

“Do you have the new McCartney album?” I ask.
They respond in tandem, kind of dumbfounded, “We sold out yesterday.”
“You SOLD OUT?!”
“Um, yeah. I guess it’s really good.”
“You SOLD OUT?!”
“Yeah. It’s getting great reviews.”
“When’s the last time he sold out?”
They look as flabbergasted as I do and shrug their shoulders.
I continue, “The last two times he released an album, I called you to reserve copies and you laughed at me.”
They laughed at me.

So I reserve a copy, which kind of worked out, because through that process I discover there’s a special edition, which I probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

In the meantime, I start getting e-mails from people like maladr1n who’s telling me about the mad reviews… for an album I’ve been waiting months for, but can’t listen to.

Finally I get my copy and start listening to what the big deal is.

First, two very fine and accurate reviews from AMG Music Guide and Rolling Stone.

In a nutshell, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard is clean, organic, elegant. Familiar with a few new, subtle twists. Sincere and earnest, but without ever being pretentious, sappy or fluffy in many of the ways that have been negatively associated with McCartney in the past. Parts of it are simply beautiful, and occasionally, like with “English Tea”, you’d swear on your mother’s eyes that it was a something from a Beatles album you’d never heard.

Lots of credit goes to production. McCartney asked now retired George Martin to recommend someone. Martin recommended Nigel Godrich, previously known for producing Radiohead’s OK Computer and Beck’s Mutations. Godrich developed a very clear vision that would enable McCartney to make an album that sounded like McCartney without letting McCartney get in the way of himself. He flat out refused to produce some things he didn’t like and directed McCartney to take some new directions with other songs. The result is what usually happens when McCartney is challenged to rise above what’s he’s already done: solid work that you want to listen to again to see what you missed the first time.

Godrich says on the special edition DVD that Paul hasn’t gotten a lot of respect in the recent past that he really should be getting, and he wanted to produce an album that would hopefully garner some of that respect. Godrich and McCartney have apparently succeeded.

I should say this: if you’re not an avid McCartney fan, you might not immediately see the big deal. The album is a grower, but in the best of ways. Upon first listen, there won’t be anything immediately “special”. There are no hard jamming McCartney songs. The first track – the single “Fine Line” – is about as rocking as it gets, which ain’t much. It’s actually a bit misleading, because most of the album finds a deeper, slower level. On the other hand, there are no cheesy, overproduced McCartney songs either. It’s only after another listen that you start to realize that McCartney is reaching a sophistication that he’s shown in the past, but never so consistently across one album.

What’s surprised me more than anything isn’t the album, but how much attention it’s gotten, whereas Flaming Pie sounds like an album that people are going to notice, but didn’t. Many people are amazed that McCartney plays almost everything on Chaos and Creation. Not a surprise to me. Admittedly, he did that more here than on Flaming Pie, but he did it more on Flaming Pie than critics realize. And while Flaming Pie has some songs that are definitely weaker than anything on this album, Chaos and Creation doesn’t have anything that reaches Flaming Pie’s high-points – namely “Somedays”. Flaming Pie also has a great sense of humor in places. This album does, but in fewer and darker ways.

Perhaps people are just impressed to see cute ol’ Sir Paul being darker and more sophisticated than they’ve given him credit for. Again, not a surprise to me. But it’s clearly evident on Chaos and Creation. Maybe people who’d been shrugging McCartney off in the past finally can’t deny it after hearing this album.

I agree with Wikipedia: “after delivering Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run, Driving Rain and this album – all in an uninterrupted succession – McCartney is in a late-career creative peak.”

If that’s the case, then I hope Chaos and Creation makes more people realize that. The respect is certainly long overdue.

In other news, guess who I’m seeing tonight?

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