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Paul McCartney’s “London Town” Reviewed

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Paul McCartney tenth solo album, Wings’ London Town, is not a great album, but it is not Speed Of Sound, and if you are really interested in McCartney it illuminates his skills in ways that a better album might not. It is Paul’s first solo album that owes absolutely nothing to the Beatles, it exists outside their shadow.  It is also the first album that exists so inside its own bubble it can’t break through into a wider world. It is average in a McCartneyish way that sheds huge light on the man’s gifts, the way, the much better Venus And Mars doesn’t at all. At 36 years of age, already nearly a quarter of a century into his career, he clocks in here and let’s his mood swings take him where they meet, “up and down the carousel” as he sings. If 1976 was the peak of McCartney’s commercial success, in 1979 he is happy to let “With A Little Luck” do the work for him.  It feels as though the muse has left him but the craft remains.

The result is an album  simultaneously slick and slight, smart and conceptually skinny. It longs to be great but it doesn’t want to allow the effort to show. Heavy on the snyth pop, heavier still on English folk aberrations and heaviest on the sort of whimsy that leaves “London Town” the title track somewhere between baffling and irrelevant -“Mull Of Kintyre” was a better tribute to a place and time. The album is insulated in a Wings world, it is melodic enough yet seldom captures you, dimwitted though sharp. Punk was over, New Wave ruled, yet McCartney seemed to have nothing to do with any of it. Like”London Town” itself, the songs  came from somewhere else: a fountain of pop sweet nothings that worked when it did and didn’t when it  didn’t. When you listen to albums by the greats, even the bad albums, you wait for the album as an entirety to announce itself. That’s true of Band On The Run, true of Venus And Mars, even the dreaded Speed Of Sound, but London Town is never more than its parts. If Venus And Mars was a rock show comic book come to life, Band On The Run a 007 movie, and Speed silly love songs at Disney Time, there is nothing to figure out on London Town. The song are exercises in style by a man nearing forty years of age and who should be a little more, you know, grown up.

The other problem is that the hallmark of great pop is consistency, and this isn’t consistent. I am not a fan of the title track and “Cafe On The Left Bank” is Eurodollar Paris sidetrip  prog rock solo turning left into typical Wings pop track. By the third song, a folkie soft sell “I’m Carrying” it sounds like an after tea biscuit commercial. Song for song, this is the most Wingsy had (or would) ever do, instead it is a version of McCartneyisms, the sort of songs he was given to perform then and now. The 50 minutes continue endlessly (though not in 2016, when you can pick and choose), with so many disappointments you want to shake yourself out of it. “Famous Groupies” isn’t funny or snarky enough, apparently a response to the lingering claim that Linda was precisely that, it doesn’t cut deep. The instrumental “Cuff Link” is an irritant. “I’ve Had Enough” a flop single. “”Don’t Let It Bring You Down” an over orchestrated folk mess. If McCartney is weak and  Linda missing in action, Denny Laine has a terrific album: “Children Children” -a kids song with immense folkie beauty is among the best songs of the set and “Deliver Your Children” with that folkie lick is Fairport Convention as House Of Pooh. This is the only time, perhaps because he was co-writing with Paul, in which Denny manages to keep up.

Let’s talking about the undeniables. “Name And Address” is terrific rockabilly  plus Presley vocals and a beauty and that “if you want more love…” is so cool. Do I mean Carl Perkins?  “Girlfriend” is a hidden funk track written for McCartney’s highest vocal range and a song so strong, Michael Jackson saved it on Off The Wall. It doesn’t strut, it shuffles, it strikes a pose and maintains it, this is so great it beats EVERYTHING on Speed. The hooks are plentiful, the tune a masterpiece and, look it fit on Michael’s greatest album, what else do you need? “With A Little Luck” is everything that “Silly Love Songs” isn’t, it isn’t silly, it is optimistic, with a childlike smartness, “The willow turns his back on inclement weather” is true poetry, a real idea as to handle the sadness and strife that comes with living. When we aren’t loving McCartney for being the greatest melodist of the 20th century, we love him for being so positive, so hopeful: as bad as life is, he always sees a way out for us. After Linda died he recorded  Baker Knight (made famous by Ricky Nelson)’s “Lonesome Town” -and it is so achingly sad and lovely, look again:

Goin’ down to lonesome town, where the broken hearts stay
Goin’ down to lonesome town to cry my troubles away
In the town of broken hearts the streets are paved with regret
Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget

In his deepest sorrow, Paul sees a future. “With A Little Luck” finds some joy among the sorrow, some happiness behind the veils of tears, with a little luck.

Grade: B-

 

 

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