2 out of 5 stars
Most people wouldn’t associate Paul McCartney with dance music, and for a while he didn’t associate himself with it either. Releasing his first effort of instrumental dance-rock in 1993 under the playful alias The Fireman, he initially took no recognition for his work, only claiming involvement in the project months after the release.
Enter Electric Arguments, his first release as The Fireman in 10 years after the 1998 album Rushes, a new work promising a fresh interpretation of the rarely treaded area where dance and rock’n’roll meet. Redirecting his talents to a more vocal-driven, soulful sound, and once again enlisting the help of British electro-rocker Youth, McCartney creates a daring combination of swampy hard rock, trance-inducing polyrhythms and soaring electronic melodies. With high atmospheric arrangements and heavy, anthemic choruses dotting the album, one might imagine an exciting blend of two very distinct sounds. But sadly behind all the yelps, swirls and swells, it doesn’t quite mix.
Electric Arguments can essentially be split into two albums, the first half resembling the straightforward pop typical of more recent McCartney releases and the second half with a darker, more cavernous sound focused on texture rather than substance.
Beginning with “Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight,” McCartney’s vocals are brought to the forefront as he wails over bluesy guitars and trashy percussion that make the entire track sound like a modern reworking of “When the Levee Breaks.” With this track — above all others — McCartney proves he can still sing with the same fervor as in his prime.
The album continues with a few pop numbers, “Two Magpies” and “Sing the Changes,” the latter packing an over-the-top chorus with enough pomp to become self-parody. The soulful moments of “Highway” and “Light From Your Lighthouse,” complete with gospel choruses supporting a gruff and howling McCartney, are among the album’s few redeeming moments. After the simple pop melodies of “Sun is Shining,” Arguments descends into the depths of an all-out dance freakout with sinister electronic ambiance taking charge.
The remaining tracks, driven by heavy dance beats, more or less bleed together, with the lifeless drones of “Is This Love?” and “Universal Here, Everlasting Now” marking sleepier moments in an otherwise eclectic and abrasive album. Closer “Don’t Stop Running” includes the classic four-minutes-of-silence-followed-by-a-hidden-track routine, resulting in an unfulfilling reprise of recycled sonic textures that are hardly worth the wait.
With a musical career now spanning over five decades, there’s nothing Paul McCartney can do to either tarnish or improve upon his perfect legacy with The Beatles. Though fans of McCartney’s earlier work may not be impressed by the explorations of his latest release, it nevertheless proves his never-ending penchant for experimentation and creativity. The genre hopping on Electric Arguments serves its title well; McCartney conjures everything from back-to-basics blues and soul to the trip-hoppiness reminiscent of late-‘90s club music, and throws it together to form a conflicted album polluted with little continuity or consistency. Lasting just over an hour (though seeming like much longer), Electric Arguments is a tiring work with few memorable moments, serving only as proof that McCartney’s best work is far behind him.