Thank you, Paul McCartney. With "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," you gave us a studio album that has next-to-no fill and has so much atmosphere and mood that I get transported every time I listen to it.
Following "Driving Rain," an album that I found rather flat and disappointing, I feared that Paul was maybe on a downward cycle (hey, it happens to all artists, I'm not judging). Considering the high quality of "Flaming Pie" and "Run Devil Run," I really couldn't blame him if he was a bit tapped out creatively.
Then this album came out. I bought it at Target more out of a respect for the stuff of his in the past that I loved so much than out of any real expectation that the material would be good.
I popped it into my car CD player and started to drive.
And I drove, and I drove. Song after song, I was just enamored with the lyrics, the performances, the production. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich really coaxes the best out of Sir Paul. (The DVD that accompanied my copy of the album described their dynamic, and how Godrich wouldn't let Paul settle for a take or bring in people to do parts that Godrich knew Paul could do. Good for him!)
Now, I can appreciate how some of the more melancholy and introspective songs may make this a downer for a lot of listeners, but listen to that instrumental bedding! Listen to the dynamics (loud and soft, the chord progressions and the drop-outs) and tell me that it isn't effective and evocative. And Macca doing melancholy and introspective material is OF ITSELF interesting, as he doesn't tend to dwell in the low-key that often. He's peppy or maudlin at times, but you don't usually expect much of a peek inside the man when you listen to his stuff.
Not that there aren't moments of whimsy on this album. "English Tea" recalls a little bit of the light moments of Sgt. Pepper, like "When I'm 64" from an older perspective.
On the DVD, Godrich talks about how blown away he was from the "Tug of War" lyric "in years to come / they may discover / what the air we breathe and the life we lead are all about / but it won't be soon enough, soon enough for me." He said he wanted to recapture that "moment" with Paul, that lyrical approach and that type of musical mood and directness. With Paul as a willing participant, I think he got it.
I could go track by track and discuss at length how beautiful I find just about every thing here ... but that would just belabor the point. Suffice it to say that every track on this album has SOME element to it of genuine expression and worth.
My favorites are "Fine Line," "How Kind of You," "At the Mercy," "English Tea," "Too Much Rain," "Riding to Vanity Fair" and "Follow Me."
I saw Paul McCartney tour this album. It meant a lot to me, as it was the first (and to date, only) time I've been able to attend a McCartney concert. What made it even more meaningful was I got to see it with my father, who was a huge Beatles fan and whose favorite Beatle is Paul.
My father had a chance to see Paul back in the "Tripping the Live Fantastic" era, but had to work (to support a very young family) instead. This was his first (and so far, only) Paul concert too.
To be able to stand next to him and hear him sing his lungs out to "Hey Jude" and to experience the fire display during "Live and Let Die" alongside him was a thrill. He liked the new material, and after the show we watched the DVD for this album and he commented on the songs that we'd just seen Paul perform in the show. So I have a lot of sentiment attached to "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard."
Paul's musicianship on this album is top-rate, his vocals are superb, his songwriting is honed to a point of honesty and eloquence that he doesn't always willingly employ, and he keeps the maudlin elements to a dull roar ("This Never Happened Before" is the closest to the schmaltz McCartney sometimes produces, but it's sung with such genuine feeling and understated backing that it feels genuine).
For me, this is on par with "Flaming Pie" in terms of out-and-out quality and merit. I feel it's one of Paul's absolute best albums. I can listen to it in any mood and find a handful of songs that all relate to that mood (doesn't matter if it's happy or sad, optimistic or depressed). Paul really communicates here, and that's the best compliment one can give to an artist.