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Friday 27 April 2018

McCartney's yesterdays

Fab -- An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney Howard Sounes (Harper Collins, £20)

Considering his goldfish existence, McCartney emerges from Fab as abnormally normal. He's no angel, though. During the recording of Press To Play, possibly the worst album of his career, the producer Hugh Padgham suggested that one of the songs needed a little more work on it. "Hugh, when did you write your last No 1?" was McCartney's snippy response.

Anyone shocked by Paul's petulance has to be unfamiliar with Ram, his second post-Beatles album, which included a raucous Lennon spoof called Too Many People, several songs about how content he now was with Linda and 3 Legs, which indicated what he thought of the remaining Beatles: "My dog, he got three legs, but he can't run."

Sounes has a reasonably solid grasp of his subject's foibles and he never resorts to nastiness. McCartney, he reckons, has a genius of sorts and astonishing melodies seem to flow out of him. But he often resists putting in the extra effort to ensure that a song is emotionally riveting, rather than merely pretty.

Describing When I'm Sixty-Four as "one of Paul's best songs", Sounes admits it's "an attractive song with a facile lyric. The song may ask a challenging question -- 'Will you stand by me when I'm old?' -- but the listener has no doubt the answer will be a cheery, 'Yes, of course I will, silly.'"

Up against the likes of Ian MacDonald's thorough Revolution In The Head, this gentle Beatles scrutiny barely begins to scratch an itch.

Much more is to be gained from the post-Beatles story: the familial cosiness of the Wings American tour, when the whole band and their roadies watched movies together; McCartney's decision not to tell the band his father had died while they played in Germany; Paul and Linda's setting up of a Fun Club for younger fans that ran right up until Linda's death in 1998.

McCartney is a very generous man -- on his own terms -- but he is also a very private one: the "intimate life" of the title is only grazed. Fab rarely attempts deep analysis but Sounes certainly knows his Back To The Egg from his Things We Said Today, pulling out plums from the less obvious corners of McCartney's back catalogue.

He compares 2007's Memory Almost Full, with its sanguine post-Heather Mills lyrics, to Dylan's Blood On The Tracks and singles out End Of The End "in which the star faces down death itself. The lyric is original, poetic and true in a way that had eluded Paul for much of his career," he says.

It really is a beautiful and moving song -- "On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told/ And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets that children have played on."

McCartney being McCartney, he followed Memory Almost Full with a children's book about squirrels called High In The Clouds.

The tone of Fab is matey, occasionally sniping, pub-chat enjoyable. Still, you feel that until someone sits down with McCartney and really quizzes him on his astonishing catalogue, one song at a time, we will never get to feel particularly intimate with him.

People will still think of motormouth John as the true genius of the Beatles and that extra artistic credibility that Paul craves will remain elusive.

He's my favourite Beatle. I think he deserves better.

Irish Independent

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