Even the greatest rock legends hit a point when their creative powers begin to diminish. Questionable artistic choices become more frequent, and it can be a struggle for fans to hang in there once that dreaded standards album drops.
Lauded as a primary architect of 20th century music, Macca seems to have his eye on claiming the 21st century for himself, as well. Though well past retirement age, he’s more prolific than ever—delivering seven full-length albums and countless featured appearances on tracks since the turn of the millennium. All showcase an unbridled and supremely talented artistic soul that has never stopped evolving.
Today we’d like to pay tribute to his often neglected later-era work, from 2001’s Driving Rain all the way through to his current work with pop’s new vanguard.
“Lonely Road” from Driving Rain (2001)
As the millennium turned, McCartney issued his first album of totally original material since the tragic death of his wife Linda in 1998. Not usually one to wear his deepest emotions on his sleeve, this opening track seemed like an uncharacteristically honest expression of his heartbreak and fear of growing older without his beloved companion of 30 years.
“Vanilla Sky” from Music FromVanilla Sky (2001)
Rock-loving filmmaker and former Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe hit the musical mother lode when Macca agreed to pen the title song to his Almost Famous followup. Sadly, the film was not as well received as the previous one. But hey, it had a killer soundtrack! This spacey folk-gem was the crown jewel, of course.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (featuring U2) Live at Live 8 (2005)
Obviously this isn’t a new composition, but it certainly was a thrill to watch Bono back the Beatle as he opened the international Live 8 festivals. The performance was released as a charity single on iTunes later that day, breaking records for the fastest selling online song of all time.
“Promise To You Girl” from Chaos and Creation In The Backyard (2005)
Paul lulls us into a false state of complacency on this one, starting things off with a mournful piano ballad about “looking through the backyard of my life.” Then he kicks out some pretty funky boogie-woogie piano, the most furious and complex he’s done (arguably) since “Lady Madonna” nearly 40 years before!
“That Was Me” from Memory Almost Full (2007)
Paul spent the greater part of his solo career trying to distance himself from his Beatle past, and was originally reluctant to play songs from the Fab Four days during performances. It wasn’t until recent years that Beatle tunes began to outweigh the Wings-era cuts, and his Hofner violin bass -the trademark of his Beatlemania persona- became a staple at his gigs. On this stomper, he finally seems to gleefully take a look back and embrace what he’s achieved. “That was me!” he sings with almost a trace of disbelief, as he recalls moments “in a cellar…Merseybeatin’ with the band.” Personal memories for him, but it’s musical history to the rest of us.
“House Of Wax” from Memory Almost Full (2007)
Passion drips from every line of this apocalyptic barnstormer. Apparently written about his views on celebrity status, the track is noticeably darker than his usual sunny musical outlook. And we dig it! The haunted ascending howls at the end of the chorus are chilling. His voice is raw but strong as it strains to hit the notes, as if making one last shot to revisit his own high-water mark.
“Dance Till We’re High” (as The Fireman) from Electric Arguments (2008)
The secret’s out! For years, music fans theorized that the mysteriously anonymous electronica collective known as The Fireman was actually a McCartney side project. But for this 2008 record (their third since 1993), the group finally came clean as Sir Paul and master producer Youth. Going for a looser approach, each track on the album was recorded in only a day, and the result was arguably McCartney’s most interesting work in years. While pegged as ambient and airy, there were some seriously heavy bluesy tracks (“Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight”, among them), as well as this uber catchy cut. “We had a ball making this album,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It was a great departure because it seemed more like improv theater. In the improv spirit, there are William Burroughs-type cut-ups in the lyrics.”
“Out Of Sight” by the Bloody Beetroots ft. Paul McCartney and Youth from Hide (2013)
Speaking of the hard rockin’ “Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight,” McCartney and Youth teamed up with the Bloody Beetroots’s Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo in 2013 to revisit the song as an all out aural assault, fit to fill a stadium or a dance club! For those of you who think John Lennon was solely responsible for the Beatles’ hard edge, just listen to those raunchy vocals. Even at 71, Macca can get down and dirty with the best of ‘em!
“New” from New (2013)
With a little help from master producer Mark Ronson, the “New” track sounded surprisingly retro— reminding listers of mid-period Beatles. Thousands (if not millions) of artists have paid tribute to that particular sonic style, but Sir Paul gets a pass considering he invented it. The first single off the album of the same name, “New” earned critical praise and we featured as the “Song Of The Week” on BBC Radio 2.
“FourFiveSeconds” ft. Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney (2015)
We know, we know—classic rock lovers are going to hate us for including this cut bolstered by omnipresent Top 40 mainstays Rihanna and Kanye West. “C’mon, Paul’s not even SINGING on this one!” we hear you scream. That may be so, but his influence is clearly felt with the irresistibly cheerful melody and deceptively simple chugging guitar. If you squint really hard, it almost looks like an off-cut from his early-’70s McCartney/Wildlife fare. With stark effects-less vocals front and center, it just might be the most stripped down hit of the year. Considering it’s McCartney’s first Top 5 Billboard single of the new millennium, it seemed wrong not to include it. Hate all you want, but you know you’re still dancing.