McCartney III Imagined  Can Ironically Be Unimaginative

The original McCartney III disappointed. Overall, I felt it was musically and lyrically weak. Fellow analogPlanet reviewers agreed, though those opinions were expressed in private communications and not published on the site. Then, on March 22nd, Paul McCartney announced McCartney III Imagined, where artists including Beck, Dominic Fike, Khruangbin, St. Vincent, Blood Orange, Phoebe Bridgers, EOB, Damon Albarn, Joshua Homme, Anderson .Paak, 3D RDN, and Idris Elba cover or remix original McCartney III tracks. McCartney himself handpicked the selections, taking a second crack at his self-titled trilogy’s third installment, though it seems he’ll require another layer of polish before this record rivals its predecessors. The old saying rings true; the third time’s the charm, and unfortunately McCartney III Imagined is merely the second.

McCartney III Imagined splits into two groupings. First there are full-on covers where the artist performs his or her own rendition, if necessary, making musical and/or lyrical changes. For example, Dominic Fike’s magnificent “The Kiss Of Venus,” Phoebe Bridgers’ ethereal “Seize The Day,” Joshua Homme’s lame “Lavatory Lil,” and Idris Elba’s hip-hop interpretation of “Long Tailed Winter Bird”.

“Seize The Day” and “Lavatory Lil” show no lyrical modifications, though with her cover Phoebe Bridgers makes strong musical strides using subtle, masterfully implemented key-changes. On the contrary, on his “Lavatory Lil,” Joshua Homme sings much too gently thus failing to meet the song’s energetic demands.

Dominic Fike and Idris Elba go further and in Elba’s case, completely reimagines the tune. The original “Long Tailed Winter Bird” features an acoustic guitar milking a mildly catchy riff. Idris Elba constructs a catchy, feel-good hip-hop explosion overtopping the original guitar, which he brings significantly down in volume, letting his creation shine. Elba also recruits McCartney to sing sappy chorus lyrics that while unimaginative, suit the song’s cheery energy. Dominic Fike’s cover ditches the original’s awkward lyrics in favor of his witty replacements. Original lines like “this golden circle has the most harmonic sound” give way to Fike’s lines, a clever example being “go to college, go find your major, realize you’re minor in the scheme of everything.” Fike abandons the original’s slow and careful approach, making a brash instrumental reform that works wonderfully.

In the second grouping, the artist remixes McCartney’s work, leaving a product that better communicates their own ideas. Most of the album’s songs fall into this category, though a few don't work at all. Beck’s “Find My Way” best exemplifies a correctly done remix, shifting the song into a minor key in which the lyrics become more interesting. St. Vincent gives “Women And Wives” a similar treatment. The remix adds an atmospheric instrumental backing that gives to the lyric “hear me women and wives” a new sense of urgency and importance.

The original “When Winter Comes” needs no special treatment; it was already classic McCartney material. Anderson .Paak, however, thinks otherwise and adds to the song a brisk drum beat and pleasing keyboards. Both elements undeniably improve the tune, giving it a previously lacked groove.

Blood Orange does his best with “Deep Down,” adding introductory harmonies and placing McCartney’s falsetto howls throughout the song. These additions help the tune, as do the new horns. However, owing to the original material being so weak, the song still falls flat emotionally. EOB ups the tempo on the previously underwhelming rocker “Slidin’”. He also compresses McCartney’s original vocals to life, adding to the recording song serving distortion.

The remaining remixes, Khruangbin’s “Pretty Boys,” 3D RDN’s “Deep Deep Feeling,” and Damon Albarn’s “Long Tailed Winter Bird” (yes, there are two on the album, with Elba's being exclusive to physical editions) are all that could’ve gone wrong when remixing. All three tracks too greatly tamper with the original and so drag beyond reason on the running time. Simply put, these songs are “club music,” if not worse in the case of “Long Tailed Winter Bird” where the instruments spend four minutes picking a style. Some listeners may be into this material, but I suspect for the majority it will not be accessible. The originals have these beat.

McCartney’s premise to compile covers and remixes into an album clearly has its flaws. There’s too much creative variation between the tracks, which destroys any potential for the album to carry a coherent message. Both the music and sound quality suffer. Some tracks sound outstanding while others are average. Thankfully nothing sounds awful, but because of the various studios used, each track has its own unique sonic character. Mastering engineer Randy Merrill, does his best to counter this. Noisy vinyl also isn’t normally desirable, but when it helps conceal the sonic variations, it strangely becomes welcome. This shouldn’t be the case, yet it is. The packaging equally disappoints; rough paper sleeves house both records, which are then placed into a single-pocket jacket. This should be a gatefold. It all feels cheap, and while this album is an afterthought, it shouldn’t feel like one.

McCartney III Imagined is a mixed bag. It contains neat takes on the original tunes, but also truly mediocre remixes. It’s far too inconsistent in nearly every way. I’m sure we’ll see a few copies of this under the Christmas tree come holiday season, though it may be wise to save the money. Stream the album and add only the tracks you enjoy. Curate your own McCartney III Imagined, because the real one can be messy.

(Nathan Zeller is a 17 year-old Beatles fanatic and budding audiophile found in Western Canada. Currently, he’s convincing more and more young people to get into records. It’s going swimmingly!)

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lilrecords's picture

i don’t understand why idris elba’s song made it onto vinyl and not the streaming version of the album, but it works for people like us who buy records we like