I mentioned a couple of days ago about a theory I had regarding why Paul's output has arguably been so "interesting" of late in comparison to some of his earlier solo work. By "interesting" I am referring to creativity and the amount of ideas packed in to his work, not to be confused with how good or otherwise a song/album is!
Let's look at 2 periods, each covering roughly a period of 16 years - 1980 to 1996, and 1997 to 2013.
I hope it's not a controviersial statement to say that Paul's output over the 1997 to 2013 period has been generally strong, certainly well received by a large number of posters to this site (i.e. those who know what they're talking about!), and, I would say, creatively stronger overall than the preceding 16 years.
Why should that be? It flies in the face of logic.
To answer this, I think first of all we need to go back to 1963, and some quite revealing interviews "the boys" did. I'm sure you've seen the ones I mean, where they are interviewed individually in what looks like a dressing room, and they discuss how they got to where they are, and what they expect for the future. Paul says that he and John will continue to develop their songwriting, but also says that by the age of 40 they "might not know how to write songs any more", and that "no one wants to hear old men singing She Loves You" (or something like that).
Fast forward to 1980, Paul releases McCartney II, arguably his most experimental solo/Wings album to date. That he was "creative" during the making of that album can hardly be denied, regardless of whether you like the end product. Paul, of course, was fast approaching 40, the age at which he had publically stated as being an important milestone, where it might just all end . At that time, there was no precedent for pop/rock stars getting older and still hitting creative peaks. Nowadays as rockers hit 40, they have countless examples of their elders just carrying on and selling out stadiums, releasing hit albums, winning Grammy's etc. Back then, different. With each birthday the likes of Paul, Dylan, The Stones, The Who etc. were hitting an age where no one had dared be creative or a "rock star" before, so I think there was something of an assumption that maybe their time could be up soon, commercially and creatively.
So, McCartney II comes out and, despite how it's regarded these days, bombed, and was panned. Paul, approaching 40, and starting to go grey on top, had dared to be creative, and it seemed to backfire (at the time). Triple whammy.
Then John died. Quadruple whammy.
Whether he would admit it to himself and the public or not, John was always in his sights as someone who would be listening to his output, and not being afraid to savage it if he felt it warranted. John was no longer there, did this cause Paul to take his foot off the gas a little, or did it put pressure on Paul to carry the flag as "the last surviving member of Lennon & McCartney"?
Look at Paul's next 3 albums - Tug Of War, Pipes Of Peace, Give My Regards To Broad Street. Remember I'm talking about creativity here, rather than quality. Tug Of War is a well respected album generally, but creatively probably not up there with his highlights. It gains it's respect from the good songwriting. Pipes of Peace and Broad Street followed. Creative? No. In the case of Pipes of Peace downright dull in my opinion.
Press To Play next. This could have been the fly in the ointment of my whole argument, because, whatever you think of the quality of the album, it is PACKED with creativity, ideas, experiments, some good, some not so, but bursting with ideas. Why would this be? Mainly, I think, because it followed 2 such uncreative albums, Paul knew that he couldn't get away with it a third time.
By the time of Press To Play, Paul had not toured, and hardly played live at all, for 6 years. What contact was he having with his own back catalogue at this point, to remind him of how great an innovator he had been? Possibly very little. Had Broad Street, and his dalliances with some of his back catalogue, partly inpsired the creativity on Press To Play?
Flowers In The Dirt and Off The Ground followed, some great songs on those albums, but creative? Not massively.... (apart from maybe Ou Est Le Soleil)
In terms of studio output, that covers that first period I mentioned of 1980-1996, and we then move on the last 16 years, with one behemoth of a project sitting between the 2.
The Beatles Anthology.
We've discussed separately, very recently, the effect that the Anthology project might have had on Paul, suffice to say I'm convinced it rejuvinated him.
By this point (the mid 90s), Paul has toured the world extensively over the last 5 years. He's embraced the Beatles back catalogue, playing songs from Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road etc., and he's come through his 40s, that decade he thought would signal the end, playing sell out concerts in the largest stadiums in the world. "I'm here to stay, I'm in this job for life" he must have thought to himself.
Flaming Pie - Perhaps not the most creative start to this 16 year period, but wow, what an album, at a time when he needed it. The Beatles are cited as the major influence on Britpop so there's renewed interest in them because of that and the anthology. What's needed here is quality, a songwriting masterclass, and he delivers. I think we can forgive it for not being the most creative output ever. It delivered what he needed in other areas.
Driving Rain - I've said before, I don't like this album. What I have never said about this album is that it's not *interesting*, because it is. It's packed with ideas and experimentation, for me it's Press To Play II. He's forsaken the great songwriting of Flaming Pie, but shown us instead that he's not going to settle down and reel off meaningless pap like Cliff Richard. He's still a creative force.
As we approach Chaos & Creation something else happens. Something I'm sure we've all noticed, but we've never really heard Paul publicly acknowledge (until interviews about "Early Days"), and that's his changing voice.
It happens, you get older, your voice changes, in the same way that you can't run 100 metres as quickly as you could when you were 20, it's nothing to be ashamed of or deny, it's just life.
I remember when "Fine Line" was released as a CD single. "Growing Up, Falling Down" got its first play on my CD player and my jaw dropped. "What the hell happened to his voice!?" I thought, "It's an old man's voice!". Then I realised, almost at the same time, that I actually loved this new voice he was using. Loved the voice, loved the song. Then I got the album, Jenny Wren used the same voice in places, and I loved it again! He can still blast out the rockers on recent albums (Nod Your Head for example) but it's a very different screamer to the one that did Long Tall Sally, Kansas City etc. in the 60s, and why wouldn't it be? As I said, that's life...
I do wonder though whether Paul knows that what was an incredibly versatile voice (that recorded the studio versions of Yesterday and I'm Down on the same day) can't cut it in the same way these days, and that instead he needs to put the effort in elsewhere to make up for it (i.e. in creativity)? He certainly has made up for it in my opinion. Memory Almost Full and New are both, in my opinion, so far above what we should have any right to expect from a man of his age in terms of quality and creativity. The pace of the album releases is slowing down, giving him time to really take his time and deliver what he wants.
To sort of sum up, I think Paul lost his way creatively in the early 80s to early 90s, mainly becuase that's what he *expected* to happen, he'd predicted it in 1963! When he suddenly came out of it the other side as the undisputed elder statesman of rock, with a still interested public, he could have put his feet up and enjoyed the spoils. Instead, he's stuck with his incredible work ethic, and seemingly decided to go for a "whole life sentence" creative career, with hopefully no chance of paroll. He wants that legacy, and he bloody loves it, and deserves it.