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Critic's picks: Paul McCartney, 'McCartney' and 'McCartney II'

Critic's pick

Paul McCartney

McCartney and McCartney II

Separated by almost exactly 10 years, McCartney and McCartney II are postscripts of sorts to the two most significant chapters in Paul McCartney's mammoth pop career.

McCartney, first released in the spring of 1970, coincided with the demise of The Beatles. McCartney II, released in the summer of 1980, followed the far quieter split of Wings.

Re-released a few weeks ago as part of a campaign to make McCartney's '70s-era music for the Capitol label available again, the two albums today stand as unassuming indulgences in the former Beatle's solo catalog. Designed less as proper albums and more as scrapbooks of demos and assorted oddities, the recordings are solo works in the truest sense. Aside from some meager harmonies from wife Linda and the additions of live recordings from 1979 that are, curiously, spread over both albums, the two recordings are homemade works, with McCartney playing every note.

McCartney remains, on comparative listens, the better of the pair. The sound is simpler and more homespun. Songs including That Would Be Something, Junk (the album's sleeper gem) and Every Night are so slight in texture that they could pass for outtakes from The Beatles' famed White Album.

McCartney II pales mostly because of the times. The pop technology — primitive synthesizers and drum machines — clutter the soundscape of the album's 11 tunes, especially the ridiculous Temporary Secretary and Darkroom. But dated devices aside, there is an ample sense of pop adventure on the record.

Coming Up, a significant hit that preceded the album's original release, is all animated pop charm that percolates around a simple but infectious funk groove, while Waterfalls and One of These Days downshift into the kind of balladry that has always been a McCartney specialty. There is even an instance when McCartney's electronic noodling is forged into a bouncy pop instrumental called Front Parlour.

The show stealer, though, is On the Way, a loose, open blues jam that sounds more in line with the organic charm of the earlier McCartney.

The new editions of McCartney and McCartney II also come with bonus discs of largely B-side-quality extras.

McCartney's bonus disc sports an attractive alternative version of the album's foremost hit, Maybe I'm Amazed, and a wonderfully like-minded outtake, Don't Cry Baby. Elsewhere, the disc cheats a bit by offering live versions of Every Night, Hot as Sun and Maybe I'm Amazed from a 1979 performance.

That same concert provides a fun live take of Coming Up for McCartney II's bonus disc. The rest of the extras are limited to electronic scrambles of melodies that probably were never intended for release in the first place. Here they stand as indulgences of a former Beatle as he calibrated his next artistic move.

Walter Tunis, contributing music writer

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