Various Artists – ‘The Art Of McCartney’ Album Review

The Art Of McCartney

Paul McCartney is an artist who divides opinion quite profoundly in the music world. Mention the former Beatle’s name on social media and there will usually be either on outpouring of love or bile. However, you will usually be able to prise one McCartney song they like out of even the most ardent critic, such is the breadth and appeal of the songs he has written in a career spanning way over half a century. Personally, I have been a huge admirer of Macca’s talents over the years and, although am not one of those fans who believe that every single song he has written is unadulterated genius, I genuinely love the large majority of his catalogue. The man is one of the greatest songwriters of his, and perhaps any, generation. Evidently, many of the greatest names in music share a high opinion of Paul’s work and this led to producer Ralph Sall gathering together an impressive cast of musicians and, over the space of a decade, recording what can only be described as a star-studded declaration of love for McCartney’s music. With names such as Brian Wilson, Billy Joel, Roger Daltrey, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Smokey Robinson and Alice Cooper (just a handful of the most popular artists involved) recording some of Paul’s most loved songs, it’s almost guaranteed to be a fantastic album, isn’t it?

Well, not entirely. There are a few undoubtedly excellent covers on “The Art Of McCartney” and I readily admit that these songs are well worth buying the double album for. From the first CD, Steve Miller’s “Junior’s Farm” captures the spirit of the original brilliantly, Brian Wilson’s “Wanderlust” is a work of beauty, Jeff Lynne’s crafted “Junk” is simply wonderful, Jamie Cullum’s “Every Night” has a sound particularly faithful to the original and wins me over with charm alone and Paul Rodgers supplies an impressive vocal performance on his cover of “Let Me Roll It”. The highlights of the second CD include Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander & Rick Neilsen giving “Jet” a great workout, Heart supplying a superb vocal performance against some gritty bluesy guitar on “Letting Go”, an impressively different and winning version of “No More Lonely Nights” by The Airbourne Toxic Event and Alice Cooper’s surprisingly tender “Eleanor Rigby”. Other treats which only fall slightly short of greatness are Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday”, an energetic “Got To Get You Into My Life” by Perry Farrell and a fun, ska version of “Come And Get It” by Toots Hibbert wih Sly and Robbie.

Perhaps the most disappointing contributions to this album come from Billy Joel. It’s not that they’re terrible versions of “Maybe I’m Amazed” or “Live & Let Die”, it’s just that Billy is so obviously out of his vocal comfort zone on the former that he sounds strained, struggling to give a convincing performance against the powerful instrumental performance backing him and the latter simply falls a bit flat. For an artist of Billy’s calibre, the fact that he doesn’t ace these two songs is both a surprise and a pity. Of course, it could be worse; Bob Dylan’s vocal performance on “Things We Said Today” is utterly painful, whereas Harry Connick Jr.’s version of “My Love” is dreary and Barry Gibb’s vocals on “When I’m 64” leaves him almost sounding like a parody of himself. Owl City’s annoying rendition of “Listen To What The Man Said” is particularly dreadful, with the heavily treated vocals sounding totally out of place compared with the feel of the rest of the album and Dion’s “Drive My Car” is the last of the real duds, feeling laboured and not containing any of the energy or sparkle of the Beatles original.

The rest of the album is perfectly decent, if unspectacular, and if any particular cover version has escaped being singled out for my praise or ire, then I enjoyed it just fine. I think, for a listener such as myself who is very familiar with Paul McCartney’s back catalogue, I would have appreciated more of an adventurous choice of material, whereas this whole project is almost a greatest hits, with a couple of curve balls. I suppose it is no surprise that I enjoyed the less obvious covers a great deal more than hearing yet another rendition of “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be” for the gazillionth time in my life. Even then, B.B. King’s “On The Way” and Smokey Robinson’s “So Bad” weren’t obvious choices and neither of them particularly improved on the originals. There are, however, lots of nice versions of McCartney classics to be enjoyed here, but only a handful of songs particularly excel which, I suppose, balances out the handful of stinkers nicely. I’m sure that other people listening to the album will have their personal favourites as well as the ones which don’t quite hit the mark, but “The Art Of McCartney” is a worthwhile purchase for anyone who loves Macca’s music, as well as fans of the artists who have contributed.

Track Listing:

Disc 1:
  1. Maybe I'm Amazed – Billy Joel
  2. Things We Said Today – Bob Dylan
  3. Band On The Run – Heart
  4. Junior's Farm – Steve Miller
  5. The Long & Winding Road – Yusuf
  6. My Love – Harry Connick Jr.
  7. Wanderlust – Brian Wilson
  8. Bluebird – Corinne Bailey Rae
  9. Yesterday – Willie Nelson
  10. Junk – Jeff Lynne
  11. When I'm 64 – Barry Gibb
  12. Every Night – Jamie Cullum
  13. Venus & Mars/Rock Show – Kiss
  14. Let Me Roll It – Paul Rodgers
  15. Helter Skelter – Roger Daltrey
  16. Helen Wheels – Def Leppard
  17. Hello Goodbye – The Cure (featuring James McCartney)
Disc 2:
  1. Live And Let Die – Billy Joel
  2. Let It Be – Chrissie Hynde
  3. Jet – Robin Zander & Rick Nielsen
  4. Hi Hi Hi – Joe Elliott
  5. Letting Go – Heart
  6. Hey Jude – Steve Miller
  7. Listen To What The Man Said – Owl City
  8. Got To Get You Into My Life – Perry Farrell
  9. Drive My Car – Dion
  10. Lady Madonna – Allen Toussaint
  11. Let 'Em In – Dr. John
  12. So Bad – Smokey Robinson
  13. No More Lonely Nights – The Airbourne Toxic Event
  14. Eleanor Rigby – Alice Cooper
  15. Come And Get It – Toots Hibbert with Sly & Robbie
  16. On The Way – B.B. King
  17. Birthday – Sammy Hagar
  18. C Moon – Robert Smith (Amazon version exclusive)
  19. Put It There – Peter, Bjorn and John (Amazon version exclusive)

“The Art Of McCartney” is available on Columbia Records now from all music retailers.  For more information, visit the project’s website.

Andy Sweeney, 17th November, 2014. 

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