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Paul McCartney’s “Working Classical” Reviewed

The third in his post-Linda trilogy, the third classical album, the 31st solo endeavor, released a month after Run Devil Run, near the end of the 20th Century, it was his third terrific album in succession and while not his final great album or song, his final on that rush of renewal bridging centuries and millenniums. With only his family beside him, in 1999 Paul McCartney continued. Performing new, classical arrangements were  the London Symphony Orchestra and the Loma Mar Quartet, with special orchestrations arranged by noted musicians Richard Rodney Bennett, Jonathan Tunick and Andy Stein, according to the liner notes, November 1999 saw the release of a magnificent work by McCartney.

Working Classical (a terrific pun on working class), opens with “Junk” -a song Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter would nail two years later, and closes with “The Lovely Linda” -that being the clearest tribute to his late wife if you don’t include the concert for Linda in April, 1999, the two songs off his debut album, the former all strings, the latter with flutes moving the music, parenthesis some new songs, yet another song from McCartney, and a handful of tracks that hark to hearth. They all at least improve on the originals, and “Warm And Beautiful,”  a song I’ve skipped not just when it was first released on At The Speed Of Sound, but when I returned to it in 2016. The violins are hushed and familiar, and Familiar, and the tug is nostalgic in ways the original weren’t, the lyrics were all pathos (which is what put me off the song for so long), but without it the sentiment of true and comforting love is sublime. With the very next composition, “My Love,”  the lack of vocals works again to the songs credit, there are those who believe the vocal track is one of McCartney’s great arrangements, and it is a great arrangement for a song that improves with a less astounding performance. The oom pah pah “Maybe I’m Amazed,” another song with Linda sitting at its side, doesn’t need improving upon, but it isn’t bad or overblown or silly. Finally, he turns left onto the lovely “Calico Skies” and what remains on the album is melody, melody, melody. I’ve always claimed McCartney was on a par with George Gershwin, and this set of songs are among the most glorious tunes ever written,  and he hasn’t even looked at the Beatles once.

The new material, “”Haymakers”, “Midwife”, “Spiral” and “Tuesday, is a little too Fantasia, a little too classical for people who don’t want the rough and tumble of Shostakovich or, for that matter, Tchaikovsky,  it is the musical equivalent of light opera, but every time he returns to older material, he pulls a song that I missed, “Golden Earth Girl” isn’t wonderful on Off The Ground, but it is on Working Classical.

Working Classical isn’t a perfect as such, but it is perfect  in the way bothe the orchestral and chamber are at service to melody always. It isn’t  Run Devil Run is, but it isn’t Standing Stone either. It functions as a retrieval of past feelings of love and hope from his years of marriage, it excavates deep into an instant nostalgia for the immediate past, and it is carried by a handful of gorgeous melodies winningly performed. On Run Devil Run, McCartney performed a Linda favorite “Lonesome Town” and on Working Classical he performed “Maybe I’m Amazed,” his greatest Linda song. And then, once it was all over,  Paul did something even more difficult, he moved on.

Grade: A-



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