Paul McCartney’s solo album series began with his 1970 debut, McCartney, and presumably concluded when McCartney II released in 1980. At the time of their respective releases, both albums drew harsh criticism for either being too banal or off-the-wall, and for departing from The Beatles’ original sound. Then, on December 18, 2020, these two unique records surprisingly united with a third installment—McCartney III.
Written and recorded during lockdown in a Sussex farmhouse, McCartney III is a welcome return for the Liverpudlian rock legend, who eschews radio friendliness to explore newer, weirder, and more whimsical sonic pathways. The third album in the self-titled trilogy is genuine and fresh, and it shies away from basking in nostalgia.
In the years leading up to and culminating in this release, McCartney was adapting to a modern-pop relevancy through collaborations with Mark Ronson and Rihanna. Egypt Station (2018), widely deemed his best solo record to date, became his first Billboard number one hit since Tug of War in 1982, which was the longest duration between Hot 200 albums in history.
The opening track, “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” is a folk-blue record beneath rustic acoustic riffs. “The Kiss of Venus” delivers a playful lullaby in a charming folk falsetto—a standout against the album’s rockier tunes. It’s the most resonant, heartfelt moment in an album shrouded in off-kilter storytelling and production.
“Pretty Boys,” a deeply personal tune, is another quarantine-cognizant piece, similar to other artists who’ve portrayed their inner dilemmas through familiar musical styles. This acoustic number about male models sheds cynical light on McCartney’s younger Beatles days by referencing “objects of desire” who will “set the world on fire.”
The most rock-infused head-banger, “Lavatory Lil,” further cements the album with McCartney’s cynical charm. It’s a spiteful ‘50s roadhouse jam targeted at a former untrustworthy associate: “You think she’s being friendly, but she’s looking for a Bentley.”
These tracks in McCartney III break-free from the more sorrowful sounds in McCartney, which was written after bandmate John Lennon acknowledged his desire to leave The Beatles in 1969. A decade later, McCartney II was a far more positive production, filled with experimentation of an electronic synth-pop oddity. Fifty years later, McCartney III embraces the solo artist’s musical journey.
With his third solo album, McCartney proves that aging is like fine wine, as his musical touch has become better over time. McCartney III beautifully ties his earlier musical freedom with modern touches—a sure-fire sign that McCartney never stopped evolving.