Paul McCartney has been a solo artist for a lot longer time than he was the Beatles' bass player. Yeah, he co-wrote a ton of hits for that band, but he really got a chance to spread his wings in 1970 with the release of his first solo record, the one with the catchy title, "McCartney." Forty-one years after its initial release "McCartney" still sounds very Beatles-esque, you might even think at times that Ringo's in there playing the drums, but in fact McCartney plays every instrument himself. The album has a stripped-down, return-to-basics feel; a real contrast to his work with the Beatles in the late 1960s. Song sequencing in the analog era was part of the art of making records, and the flow of one tune to the next on "McCartney" was perfect. The best tune, "Maybe I'm Amazed" comes late on the record, but I still think the album as a whole is very listenable from beginning to end. The newly remastered "McCartney" sounds clearer and more immediate than the previous versions.
McCartney and II are two very different albums. "McCartney II" was released in 1980, when Paul wanted to get away from working in studios. He recorded this one entirely on his own at home, with the mics hooked up directly to the tape recorder, with no mixer, EQ or anything inbetween. He didn't set out to make a record, he was just fooling around, playing with sound and music. This second one is more pop, starting with the very first tune, "Coming Up." McCartney had settled into being a solo artist, and he was using a lot of synths, keyboards and drum machines, so it's very much a 1980s style record. McCartney's way with melody is as reliable as sunrise; "Waterfalls" is gorgeous, and "One Of These Days" stands with his best Beatles era tunes. While some might say McCartney's post-Beatles work can be summed up with his "silly love songs," I think his sonic experimentation is fascinating. Honestly, I was never a big fan of "McCartney II," but I now kind of love it.
This newly remastered one is a wee bit more faithful to the original analog sound. It's warmer, and "McCartney II's" vocals sound more natural. We're not talking big differences here, but I definitely prefer the remasters over the older CDs.
The Beatles were great in so many ways, but it was the way they played with sound that still amazes me. The early stuff was straight-ahead rock, but they next entered a long period of experimentation, constantly manipulating the sounds of their voices and instruments. According to Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick's excellent book, "Here, There and Everywhere," McCartney took the most active role of the four in crafting the Beatles' sound. Emerick recalled that in the early days McCartney would bring in his favorite-sounding records, because he was interested in learning how they were made. To hear McCartney at his most experimental, check out his more recent "Electric Arguments" album that goes under the band name "Fireman." The old guy still has a knack for making awesome-sounding records.