Electric Arguments

The Fireman

December 02, 2008|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

[MPL/ATO] *** 1/2

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How does Paul McCartney, 66, follow up Memory Almost Full, his grand autumnal (but still chipper) statement on life and mortality? By hiding his name and conjuring one kind of heaven: the 1960s as reconstituted with 21st-century multitracking. For Electric Arguments, he regrouped his not-so-anonymous duo the Fireman (McCartney produced by the bassist known as Youth), walked into the studio on 13 nonconsecutive days with no material and finished a track at each session, playing all the instruments. (There's also a fragment hidden at the end of the last song.) Some songs have verses and choruses, while others are just fleshed-out sketches, seeking and often finding what "Sing the Changes" calls for: "a sense of childlike wonder."

The two Fireman albums McCartney released in 1993 and 1998 were repetition-powered instrumental outings: the first close to dance music, the second more meditative. But Electric Arguments is a song collection, from skewed blues-rock ("Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight") to gospelly skiffle ("Light From Your Lighthouse") to East-West blends ("Lifelong Passion") to blissed-out one-man studio jams ("Is This Love?").

Although the songs took shape quickly, they're not sparse. The arrangements metamorphose as McCartney fills them with picking, tinkling and a dizzying array of backup vocals. Simple math would imply there are a lot of first takes, which is all the better; it's McCartney working by instinct and impulse, concerned with nothing more than sound. Electric Arguments suggests that he'd happily spend his afterlife in a recording studio, knocking out a song a day for eternity.

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