Various: The Art Of McCartney

All-star Macca tribute album is a long and grinding road towards soft-rock karaoke.

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An entire double album devoted to Paul McCartney cover versions spanning both the Beatles era and after is a splendid idea, especially with marquee names like Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Aerosmith, Chrissie Hynde, Roger Daltrey and BB King on board. But which Macca is being celebrated here?

The radical art-pop genius who pushed the envelope with avant-garde sonics, orchestral arrangements and political protest songs? Or the populist crowd-pleaser whose saccharine melodies and sensible-jumpered hits have earned him soft-rock immortality in the drivetime heartlands? Take a guess.

The Art Of McCartney was first conceived a decade ago by LA-based producer and songwriter Ralph Sall, whose production credits include Macca himself, Aerosmith, Jane’s Addiction and many more. Sall previously produced similar tribute albums to The Doors, the Eagles and the Grateful Dead. Though McCartney himself does not appear, he gave his stamp of approval via the loan of his regular backing band plus a cameo by his son James.

Inevitably, many of the stronger tracks feature superlative vocal guests. Dylan transforms Things We Said Today into an agreeably gravelly boogie-woogie trundle, but Willie Nelson’s bare-bones country-folk take on Yesterday is better, his parched autumnal croak lending this over-exposed jukebox standard a new emotional weight. The Cure’s remake of Hello, Goodbye, featuring James McCartney, is sufficiently clattery and Love Cats-ish to escape comparisons with the original.

Chrissie Hynde, one of the few female voices here, also gives Let It Be a slinky and soulful new lick of paint. Less impressively, there are way too many overly respectful karaoke numbers, from Jamie Cullum’s anodyne Every Night to Alice Cooper’s polished Eleanor Rigby. Harry Connick Jr’s syrupy lounge-jazz mannerisms can’t quite sabotage My Love, but Billy Joel succeeds in trashing both Maybe I’m Amazed and Live And Let Die with his slobbering, clobbering bombast.

What’s missing? From the Macca-penned Fabs canon there’s no Blackbird, Penny Lane or Fool On The Hill. From the solo years, no Coming Up or any of those enjoyably new wavey electronic digressions. Anyone fancy a 21st century reboot of Mull Of Kintyre? Or a politically engaged young artist revisiting the explosively controversial Give Ireland Back To The Irish? Not here, sadly.

The Art Of McCartney cannot help but contain a few all-time classic songs, but, essentially, this is Macca’s 50-year career boiled down into an Alan Partridge mixtape./o:p

Stephen Dalton

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.