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With the impeccable pedigree of Diana Krall and Tommy LiPuma behind the boards as producers (and with Krall’s band backing Sir Paul), there’s no question that Paul McCartney’s new album, “Kisses On The Bottom,” is going to sound tasteful and smooth. And it does. At times, so much it hurts. It’s as if you can hear every bristle on the brushes as they hit the drums and every plucked upright bass string. There is not a note out of place.
This is your grandfather’s McCartney: forget about imagining any cute head shaking, that he still, improbably, pulls off at 69. Focused primarily on songs from the ‘20s-‘50s, McCartney is paying homage to the music his father loved and that he grew up listening to. Plus, he penned two originals. That means we hear McCartney crooning, which, quite frankly, he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable doing at times, such as on “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” "Kisses," which takes its cheeky title from a line in the opening track, Fats Domino's “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter," is out today.
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He seems most relaxed on songs that come closest to ones he’s written such as “Guys and Dolls’” “More I Cannot Wish For You.” Listen to that and then put on “Michelle,” and it’s easy to see the lineage McCartney draws upon. So it’s no surprise that the pair of tunes that work best here are the two originals: the lovely and elegant “My Valentine,” which features Eric Clapton on guitar, and “Only Our Hearts,” with Stevie Wonder.
There’s always been something endearingly goofy about McCartney, so he also seems pleasantly adorable on Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive” and children’t tune “The Inch Worm,” which have much lower stakes than some of these standards.
There’s nothing egregiously wrong here, although even McCartney has to know he’s treading in dangerously deep water when he takes on “Get Yourself Another Fool.” But hey, if he turns even one listener on to Cooke’s mournfully beautiful version, this whole exercise has been worth it.
Conversely, there’s also nothing here that seemingly plays to McCartney’s strengths: he’s not playing any instruments here (or only very sparingly) and he sounds so restrained at times, that I wanted to run screaming to my turntable and put on “Helter Skelter” when the album was over. I don’t think that’s what he was aiming for.
Your tolerance for “Kisses” will depend upon your devotion to Sir Paul. There are those, and I won’t disagree with them, who believe that he has earned the right to try whatever he wants and he certainly had been adventurous over the last few decades. But this feels more like a novelty than anything else... Plus, he probably wouldn’t have called the album “Kisses On the Bottom,” if he meant for us to really take it all so seriously.