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Paul McCartney With Youth As The Fireman’s “Rushes” Reviewed

Color me perplexed but I was under the impression that the ambient music was like Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, a sound so subliminal that you lose track of actually listening. But perhaps I misheard Music For Airports myself, because listening to it now it is a lot louder than I recalled. A coupla decades ago I spent a week at a very expensive hotel in Miami and they piped in ambient sound, dolphins singing, very restful and beautiful, Music For Airports isn’t really restful and neither is the Fireman’s Rushes. But both have a strange sense of displacement. Rushes was Paul McCartney’s second album with Youth, and while Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest was essentially Youth remixing Paul, this was fresh stuff.

Rushes is also the first album McCartney released following the death of his wife Linda at the age of 56. Recorded before her passing, it was still the first of a trio of albums that found Paul at the peak of his creativity, ambient, rock, and classical, all three albums in succession, all three works of absolute brilliance. The rock one would be followed in 2001 with his worst rock album of all time.

But that doesn’t express how excellent Rushes is. Not exactly and solely ambient, it is electronic sounds mixed together. The first two songs, “Watermark Colours” and “Pala Verde” share a tinkling, guitar arpeggiated, that, according to the Beatles Bible “swirls and ends the same way, backwards”. It changes solely through  moogish backing tracks that get larger and larger and more intrusive till they seem to have shifted from sound coloration to beat slimmed mood music. By the last song on the album, “Watercolour Rush,”guitar arpeggios has returned to where it started only louder and more intrusive still. This all of a piece aspect of the album, this sound as a recurring thought, gives Rushes a depth and a feel that is both fascinating and different: experimental, yes, but not impenetrable, the return of sounds is like the “yeah yeah yeah’s” Paul wrote long before, it works through repetition even while scaling sounds not always familiar.

Rushes is McCartney’s 29th solo release, recorded in early 1998 and released in September 1998, it wasn’t a reflection of McCartney’s inner life, the way the closing “The Lovely Linda” would be on Working Classical a year later, it was art for the sake of the artistry, it was painting music with synth strokes. Youth is obviously behind the dubby bubble of “Pala Verde” while “Appletree Cinnabar Amber,” is McCartney getting his rock and roll jones on while the beats are thicker than Wings ever were. This is a fine album, the end result of a lot of time working on soundscapes.

Grade: A-

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