(MPL/Concord Music Group)
1/2 (out of five)
The common perception of Paul McCartney as an inveterate schmaltzmeister persists to this day—justifiably. Soft-rock radio and Muzak™ still air his more treacly Beatles tunes and his most trite Wings hits with cruel regularity. If there's a more efficient musical route to misanthropy than hearing "Silly Love Songs" or the excrementitious Stevie Wonder duet "Ebony and Ivory," please keep it to yourself.
But there's a flipside to McCartney's predilection for lyrical sentimentality and melodic cutesiness. The multimillionaire composer hosts an alter ego who occasionally spurts vital strangeness in the studio. While John Lennon's florid psychedelic excursions and George Harrison's sitar-laced sojourns into Indian music certainly deserve respect, McCartney's more adventurous sonic proclivities largely have gone overlooked. McCartney II—and a few stray cuts from the sessions that produced the album—contains some seriously odd music, anomalous tangents made all the more delectable because they surfaced in a long career stuffed with more accessible songcraft.
McCartney II dropped in 1980, a decade after McCartney, his first solo LP—which, remember, boasts the tribal-percussive curio "Kreen-Akore." Throughout the 1970s, the former Beatles bassist/vocalist enjoyed a commercially successful run with his band Wings, but he seemed ready to get self-indulgent and bizarre. (Try to ignore II's three syrupy ballads; I do.) Album opener "Coming Up" is one of the most euphoric songs in McCartney's gigantic canon, rendered with controlled pep and compact, twitchy funk. The guitars exhibit that rapid highlife-like jangle that Talking Heads flexed on Fear of Music and Remain in Light. (Linda McCartney's backing vocals here sound eerily like Yoko Ono's.) Things zip further into WTF territory with "Temporary Secretary," a half-joking Kraftwerk-go-new-wave jam powered by a percolating Morse-code synth motif that will careen around your brain for hours. Over this background, McCartney sings like a bumpkin automaton. WTF? The glam-dub ballad "On the Way" evokes Roy Orbison singing over David Essex's "Rock On."
Further quirkiness appears on "Frozen Jap," a dance-floor reverie with a majestically melodic hint of Yellow Magic Orchestra, and "Front Parlour," a cheerful electro-pop doodle à la Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley. "Darkroom" offers "oriental," faux-naïf dub, while the countryish stomp "Nobody Knows" could be Bob Dylan fronting the Glitter Band. But it's on the bonus CD where you'll find the zenith of McCartney's experimental impulses, "Secret Friend," a serpentine, vaguely Japanese cha-cha that goes in and out of phase, not unlike parts of Haruomi Hosono's psychedelic-synth classic Cochin Moon.
This reissue comes with a bonus DVD featuring seven audio tracks and a 25-minute mini-documentary. You will learn things—one of which is that Paul McCartney can be a perverse mofo in the studio... thankfully.