It’s clear from the first 30 seconds of Electric Argument that Paul McCartney wants to be a rebel again. Maybe he caught sight of himself in one of those millions of ads, strutting around in cute little sneakers, strumming a cute little ukulele. Or maybe he realized that his major market appeal was as an afterthought to a grande skim latte. He howls like he did in the old days, electric guitar growling alongside. Opening track “Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight” sounds a little Raconteurs-y. There are splashes of modern freak folk throughout the album as well, a kalimba here, echoey vocals there. Sometimes this all comes together just right; other times, it’s a real mess. But, with this latest Fireman release, at least it shows that Sir Paul is trying.
The Fireman is the front put together by McCartney and remixer/producer Martin Glover, aka Youth. Since leaving Killing Joke, Glover has worked with bunches of big names, including U2, Bananarama, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees. He also co-produced the legendary Guns N Roses disc, Chinese Democracy.
Fireman is like an outlet for McCartney’s experimentation in sound collage, dance music and electronics. Their first album, 1993’s Strawberry Ocean Ships Forest is a soundscape of some of the former Beatles’ work sampled and mixed together. 1998 follow-up Rushes was even more ambient. Electric Arguments, though, takes a hard left turn from there. McCartney’s vocals are pushed front and center, new instrumental tracks recorded.
After seeming over-enthusiastic and insincere on the opening track, “Two Magpies” hits the mark. The slick acoustic guitar and brushed drum shuffle play perfectly underneath restrained vocals. “Sing the Changes” is the anthemic pop you’d expect from McCartney. It’s the kind of song that The Killers have taken and run with: big reverbed singing, wordless background vocals, ballady guitar lines.
“Travelling Light” might be the standout of the album. McCartney’s voice is so low and smooth that it’s hard to believe it’s actually him. A watery, repeated guitar line and flute underscore this, leaving the tune with a morbid tone. Fans of Jethro Tull ok with a little less bravado might be interested in this one.
“Is This Love” walks an utterly strange tightrope between Yanni new age sleep induction and woodsy Campfire Songs era Animal Collective freak folk. There’s a weepy flute, lilting chimes and rustling wind. This is an ultimate example of trying too hard. There’s nothing to latch onto, just a lot of airy, affected aesthetic. It’s hard, then, to see how “Light From Your Lighthouse” follows it. McCartney’s vocals are laid back and slightly distorted, a la Bone Machine Tom Waits. The spiritual style suits him, keeps it much more plausible than anything else on the record.
The drum machine beat and slow picked guitar of “Everlasting Now” are disturbingly similar to Depeche Mode. After a strange new wave song, “Don’t Stop Running” ends with a few minutes of the ambient sound that Youth and McCartney had been doing on their last records. And, seeing as its some of the most interesting stuff on the record, sounds like a reminder of what they should be doing.