Saturday, 1 April 2017

Press to Play: Paul McCartney album review

1986 and sythpop is the big thing - the year had started with the Pet Shop Boys at number one in the British single charts and would end with Jackie Wilson's Reet Petit sitting in pole position. In between we had No 1's from The Housmartins, Diana Ross, Wham and Berlin to name but a few. The album charts that year were dominated with compilation albums and platters from the likes of Queen, Genesis, The Police and Dire Straits. It was also the year that Paul McCartney released an album that was as experimental as anything he did with either the Beatles of Wings, and marked a huge return to form after the bland Pipes of Peace and the wrong-headed, Give My Regards to Broad Street. That album was Press to Play and yet for all its wonders, and there are many, it remains McCartney's weakest selling album and is mostly hated by fans. Even McCartney himself has very little to say about the album...go figure!

'What the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do with my life.'

Side 1
Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun
Talk more Talk
Only Love Remains

Side 2
Pretty Little Head
Move over Busker
However Absurd

The album has a then contemporary full sound and whilst this may have dated the album somewhat we can't hold that against it. This was the age of synth overkill and in fairness Macca doesn't let the electronic sounds interfere with those melodies of what he is so skilled. The first side opens with Stranglehold, a full on rocker with an insanely catchy middle eight, and then we are into Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun which is really two songs snipped together. This is something Macca has done to varying degrees of success several times through the years but these songs work really well and the join is seamless.

'I was talking about that summer, so long ago
pack up your bags and yell, 'Geronimo'
That was a golden summer, wasn't it hot?'

 Next up is Talk More Talk, which is a surreal slice of futuristic rock that may have seemed too far out there for lovers of safer albums like Tug of War and Pipes of Peace, but the song pays dividends with repeated listening.

A master can highlight the phrases, sleazy instruments, half baked ideas....
Dad you didn't say OK
The window was open, outside was a spaceship
It took off into the sky
Leaving a trail of smoke behind it.

Talk more talk, chat more chat
Words of a father are worn in a hat.'

The lyrics are basically nonsensical, hanging on rhyme rather than clarity but the song is an undiscovered powerhouse that is criminally ignored in Macca's catalogue. Brilliant. Sheer brilliant.

The next track is Footprints which is a beautiful ballad, co-written by Eric Stewert, that evokes the beauty of a winter landscape McCartney had been responsible for some wonderful ballads in his time, and this is up there with the best of them. Maybe it is a bit overproduced and it would be wonderful to hear an acoustic version of this track, but nevertheless the 80's production can't smother the hypnotic melody.

'Music is ideas'

Side one end with Only Love Remains - one of those big production numbers that McCartney is so fond of and whilst it is a more run of the mill song than any of the others on side one, it does serve as a wonderful side closer.

Intermission: On release, Press to Play received a mixed critical reception and it was McCartney's poorest selling studio album up to that point. Although it failed to make the top 20 in America, the album peaked at number 8 on the UK Albums Chart and achieved gold status from the BPI in September 1986. Four singles were issued from Press to Play: "Press", "Pretty Little Head", "Stranglehold" and "Only Love Remains". "Press" was a minor success, peaking at number 21 in the US. The music video for the song featured McCartney walking around Piccadilly Circus tube station in London, catching a tube train and speaking with members of the general public.

Side 2 opens with Press - a terrific slice of catchy pop with fatherweight lyrics that perfectly fit the mood of the piece - it's not really substantial but it's fun.

Next comes Pretty Little Head - again co-written with Eric Stewert this is an experimental piece that is fucking amazing, and the nonsensical lyrics sum up a feeling of unease. This is futuristic music and I for one think it rocks.

Move Over Busker comes next, a far more conventional rocker in the style of tracks such as Junior's Farm and Hi, Hi, Hi and although the lyrics are insane it is a damn fine song.

'Well the rest of my life lay in front of me, I was struggling with a rhyme, when I saw Nell Gwynne with her Oranges and I said I'll have one of those.'

Angry follows - a bitter screaming track that sees Macca giving two fingers to the critics who constantly criticise his songs. You can hear him spitting into the microphone and the song really is angry

The album ends with a slice of Orchestral rock that is the perfect album closer - the lyrics are abusrdist but then that's in fitting with the title of the song - However Absurd.

'Custom made dinosuars
too late now for a change
everything is under the sun
but nothing is for keeps.'

To sum up then - McCartney couldn't win at this point. When he played it safe with albums like Tug of War he was praised and yet when he dared to experiment, to push the envelope as with Press to Play he was mocked and criticised. And yet the Macca of Press to Play holds much in common with Beatle Paul. Both men are unafraid to experiment, to search for new sounds and glue them together with his incredible gift for melody. Press to Play is not the turkey that many fans claim but a classic that is still waiting to be discovered.

'His friends have flown away, he's left out in the cold
He won't sit by my fire, he says he likes it in the snow.'

Why then is the album considered a failure? - this is not without precedent in the Maccaverse - These days an album like Ram (1971) is hailed as a Macca classic, some say the best thing he ever did outside of the Beatles and yet upon its original release it flopped and it  took decades for it to be appreciated for the work of melodic genius it truly is. The same thing with McCartney (1971), the charming homespun debut solo album which was hated for the first few years of its life. I have no doubt that as subsequent generations explore the solo catalogue of the ex-fabs that Press to Play will one day be recognised for the momentous work it truly is - the good times are coming, mark my words.

10/10 from me...a bloody wonderful album.

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