Paul McCartney has had the most successful, albeit least consistent, solo career of any Beatle. His last four albums, beginning with 1997’s Flaming Pie and continuing through Chaos and Creation in the Backyard have been hailed as a “McCartney renaissance,” a return to the aesthetic of his debut solo album, McCartney, and his only true classic, Ram. Oh, lowered expectations.
Chaos and Creation in the Backyard may very well be his most consistent effort since Ram, but none of its songs are better than his worst Beatles tune. While it’s unfair to hold him to that standard, it’s mind-boggling to think about where all that talent went. Listen to the Beatles’ Anthology Three demo of “Mother Nature’s Son” and it’s clear that if McCartney had put out a solo album in 1968, it would have been the greatest singer/songwriter album ever. Years of absolute shit, from Back to the Egg to the horrific Give My Regards to Broad Street, have diminished McCartney’s legacy so much that Chaos and Creation may really be his best solo album in 34 years.
McCartney plays all the instruments, a wise choice since his effortless musicality makes for a more unified sound than any backing band besides the other three Beatles could provide. His voice, though still good, just doesn’t hit those high notes like before. That wouldn’t matter so much if his melodies weren’t so conventional. While there’s none of his patented Wings-era saccharine drivel, there’s also none of his legendary experimentation.
First track and lead single “Fine Line” kicks off the album with a rollicking piano riff and shows that Sir Paul is still capable of rocking. “Fine Line” is buoyed by the production of Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck), who manages to make even complicated arrangements sound simple and the simplest instrumentations sound grand. The following track, “How Kind of You,” is an interesting tempo change, but it’s twice as long as it needs to be. Like other middle tracks, “Jenny Wren” opens with a promising acoustic guitar line but is killed by abnormally vapid lyrics.
“Friends to Go,” the album’s most memorable melody, is the logical choice for a follow-up single to “Fine Line.” It’s concise, clear and to the point. Unfortunately on the next track, “English Tea,” the album begins to falter. “Would you care to sit with me / For a cup of English tea / Very twee / Very me / Any sunny Morning / What a pleasure it would be / Chatting so delightfully / Nanny bakes fairy cakes any sunny morning.” The rest of it is nearly as cringe-worthy.
The major weakness of Chaos and Creation is that McCartney never really says anything. Life can’t possibly be too hard when you’re worth a billion dollars, have a beautiful wife and were a frontman in The Beatles. His life, however, should be more of a hint to move away from the autobiographical songwriting approach than an excuse to stay there. At 63, it’s hard to get away with singing lovelorn lyrics inferior to the ones you wrote when you were 23.
Despite this, McCartney does sound like he’s having fun, and though mediocre, is still better than most everything else that’s out there. Chaos and Creation continues his streak of crafting consistent albums that find a middle ground between his soft-rock schlock and his early acoustic gems. He may never get back to his glory days, and it’s insane to expect him to, but he’s still capable of more than this. The man is a fucking Beatle for Christ’s sake.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars