Departing the Comfort Zone
By Paul Rigg
This album might have perhaps been called Chaos and Creation in the Recording Studio
if some of the stories behind it are to be believed.
McCartney seemed to be looking for something fresh and new by hiring Nigel Godrich – of Radiohead and Beck fame – to produce his latest record, and he got precisely that when the producer pushed McCartney to ditch his band. This caused stress, for example, with guitarist Rusty Anderson from his regular touring band, but McCartney rolled with it, put his faith in his own talent, and ended up playing all the instruments himself on many of the tracks.
On the other hand, McCartney must have felt he himself had been pushed too far, as he admitted that he was thinking: “you know, I could just fire this guy" during the recording process. He further described working with Godrich as "painful" and "like being pulled through a hedge backwards".
The stress in the relationship is palpable but let’s not forget that there was no small amount of it in McCartney’s most famous song-writing partnership – and look where that got him.
With Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, released on 13 September 2005, McCartney was said to have done a kind of McCartney III, in the sense that he was seeking to chart a new path. And it has to be said that this new path contains some pleasant surprises.
"There is a fine line, between recklessness and courage," McCartney sings on the first track Fine Line; in some ways perhaps reflecting his own preoccupations about this new direction. This rocking opening track preceded the album’s release and reached a respectable number 20 in the UK charts.
Jenny Wren is, as McCartney says himself, a wink at the Beatles’ Blackbird, which sees him gently strumming an Epiphone Texan Acoustic Guitar. It also features a Duduk, an Armenian woodwind instrument, that takes the listener into an alternative dream-like realm. “How we spend our days, casting love aside, losing sight of life day by day," he sings in unusually reflective mood.
English Tea is so unbelievably twee, that it is difficult not to believe that McCartney has not having some fun with his own saccharine image. This is shortly followed by A Certain Softness, which again sees McCartney throw a curveball at his listeners with a distinctly latin rhythm.
Next up is the outstanding and radically different Riding to Vanity Fair, full of ominous sounding string instruments and dark intent. Some critics have seen this song as a bitter comment on his collapsing relationship with Heather Mills but, whatever the inspiration, the result is superlative. Here, Godrich’s influence must be acknowledged as he doggedly stood by his decision to slow the track down; of course McCartney must take great credit as well for being big enough to allow him to do it.
This is followed shortly after by the chirpy Promise To You Girl, and This Never Happened Before, which both appear to be more than a nod to previous Beatles’ hits. Promise To You Girl in particular sees McCartney let rip on his Epiphone Casino electric guitar to good effect.
The album closes with Anyway, and a return to McCartney’s favourite theme, with the lyric: "If a love is strong enough, it may never end."
It is a testament to both Godrich and McCartney’s characters that this album is both more textured and replete with ideas than has normally been expected from the ex-Beatle in his solo work. McCartney left his comfort zone and the resulting sparks with his producer clearly helped lift the album a good notch or two above what it otherwise might have been.