Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Electric Arguments - The Fireman

Paul McCartney describes his side project with producer Youth “The Fireman” as electronica and that it promotes “pure musical possibilities”. The Fireman exists as an avatar for McCartney to explore looser song structures and less traditional instrumentation, and their first two albums (Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest released in 1993 and Rushes from 1998) were explorations of instrumental post-ambient soundscapes. This is abandoned on new release Electric Arguments, which opts for the pop structures and sensibilities of McCartney’s 2007 solo album Memory Almost Full.
Electric Arguments takes its title from a line in an Allen Ginsberg poem, and McCartney admitted that he utilised a William Burroughs’ style cut approach to the lyrics. The idea that this will be a lo-fi experimental release is forsaken by the opening bars of opener “Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight”. McCartney was persuaded by Youth to add his distinctive vocal to the album. On this Zeppelin-esque blues stomp, McCartney truly hollers over the top. You only have to listen to “Lady Madonna” to know that he once had an impressive pair of lungs, but like many of his peers they have sadly diminished.
Where the album excels is in its more low-key moments, where McCartney’s vocal is sublimated into the mix. “Two Magpies” is a hushed acoustic number, reminiscent of “Heart of the Country” from Ram. “Travelling Light” is a pretty folk number, with McCartney’s vocal low in the mix amongst the commingled acoustic guitars, brushed drums, flutes and strings before showing the extent of his range in the chorus. It showcases just how consummate a songwriter McCartney is, and how a good producer can bring out the best in him. “Light From Your Lighthouse” takes a stomping country tune and adds a soaring gospel vocal melody. Elsewhere “Sing The Changes” has Youth’s trademark ‘Big Sound’ all over it, from the cavernous vocals to the reverb laden guitars, while “Sun Is Shining” is the most Beatles like cut on the album. There are few better at this type of transcendental, sky scraping pop than McCartney. Considering the upheaval he was going through, it is a surprise that the album is not a maudlin affair. While certainly there is a melancholy, keening air to some songs (such as the cry to fill his life with passion on “Lifelong Passion”) there is always a chance of redemption.
Along with the opener there are a few low points – “Highway” never escapes sounding like some session muso workout, “Universal Here, Everlasting Now” ruins two minutes of well observed aural texture with a drum beat and guitar sound from 1985, while the pan pipes that herald “Is This Love?” were an unnecessary addition on an otherwise well crafted song.
Recently McCartney has displayed a worryingly revisionistic view of his ‘legacy’ – witness the Lennon/McCartney, McCartney/Lennon authorship fiasco. The current notion proposed by McCartney himself that he is a pioneer of electronic music in Britain is yet another example of him purporting to be the experimental Beatle. His place in the canon of great 20th century songwriters and as a cultural icon is already assured, but this latest claim for the experimental high ground is both unnecessary and irrelevant. The public perception of McCartney – bowl-cut hairdo, Frog Chorus, two thumbs up – is so entrenched it is surely too late to be changed. John Lennon called him the best PR man in the business, and that belief still rings true. Electric Arguments is not the deconstructive album it professes to be, merely a continuation of McCartney’s recent dalliances with a looser version of pop. Despite the odd weak moment, it shows there are still few finer purveyors of the genre.
This article was originally produced for http://www.clickmusic.com/. To read the music review of Electric Arguments by The Fireman on the site, please click on the article title.

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