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Reviewed by Will Harris
If you went into their debut release, 1993’s Strawberries Oceans Ships Forest, expecting the proceedings to sound even the slightest bit McCartney-esque, then you undoubtedly experienced a rude awakening when you found nine tracks worth of ambient electronic music. As such, it would be only natural if you had therefore opted to take a pass on the 1998 follow-up, Rushes, and that would have been a wise choice, given that, while slightly more sonically appealing, it was still nothing at all like Macca’s classic material. With these points made, however, it must be said that longtime McCartney fans will be making the biggest mistake of 2008 if they presume to skip out on the duo’s latest release, Electric Arguments.
It would seem that McCartney has decided to change the parameters of the Fireman. Where once it would seem to have been solely a place for instrumental tomfoolery, it has now has been expanded and simply become a general haven for Sir Paul to write and record material that doesn’t necessarily have to sound like "a Paul McCartney" album. The irony is that this decision has resulted in him providing us with the most interesting Paul McCartney album in decades.
This isn’t to say that Macca hasn’t been on a roll for the past few records. Indeed, Bullz-Eye has made its position quite clear on this matter, doling out four stars to 2007’s Memory Almost Full and a full five stars to 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. But although he’s still been putting out solid material for the past few years, this is the first time in a long time where you can tell that McCartney was putting his creativity first. When listening to Electric Arguments, you will find that there is no moment when you can imagine him thinking, "Say, this would make a cracking good first single," or, if we’re to be a bit more cynical, "Say, I’ll bet we could sell this to Apple for a commercial and make a tidy profit."
This is not a record by someone who’s thinking about the financial bottom line. This is a record by a musician.
There are, of course, songs which bring to mind the Beatles, and it should be no surprise that they’re reminiscent of the band’s later, more experimental era. Opening track "Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight" has a bluesy feel and guitar work not so far removed from the verses of "Helter Skelter," "Highway" vaguely resembles "Birthday," and "Two Magpies" is a slight but breezy tune which could’ve easily fit onto Let It Be or, perhaps more appropriately, McCartney’s solo debut. Granted, there are also songs which can only be described as typical Macca, like "Sun Is Shining" and "Sing the Changes," but the former is never less than pleasant, and the latter soars so high that its enthusiasm cannot be denied.
What makes Electric Arguments such an enjoyable listening experience is the diversity of the material, ranging from the country stomp of "Light from Your Lighthouse" (you can easily imagine the Man in Black offering up a fantastic rendition of the tune) to the Uilleann pipes of "Is This Love?" Reports that "Dance ‘Til We’re High" sounds vaguely like the Bunnymen are not entirely inaccurate, and "Lovers in a Dream," believe it or not, verges on being a synth-pop song. The album closes with two of its most interesting tracks, however, with "Universal Here, Everlasting Now" and "Don’t Stop Running" crossing in and out of different musical styles and instrumentation. How much of the more experimental material comes from McCartney and how much comes from Youth will likely always remain a mystery, but whatever the case, it’s clear that the two of them have found a nice chemistry that no longer needs to be limited to instrumental compositions.
Some will say that McCartney should’ve just released Electric Arguments under his own name and listed Youth as a collaborator. Perhaps he should have. But if this is the kind of material we can get out of him when he "hides" under another guise, then long live the Fireman.