"PRESS TO PLAY." Paul McCartney. Capitol.

After a long artistic tailspin that ended with the resounding crash of the "Give My Regards to Broad Street" film last year, it's time to see if this former idol can pick up the pieces with this new album. There are reasons for hope: McCartney has entered into his first extensive writing partnership in years (with 10cc's Eric Stewart), and the first single, "Press," is a sprightly, sunny delight--one of the most playful, positive pop songs ever written about the joy of sex and its link with love.

More good news: The album leads off with two inviting tunes. "Stranglehold," an enjoyable, jazzy offer of new love, and "Good Times Coming/Feel the Sun," a simple, put-a-smile-on-your-face winner.

But beyond this point (except for "Press"), the album finds McCartney as lost as usual and Stewart of little help (of the three good songs, he co-wrote only one, "Stranglehold"). It's hard to decide what's more aggravating--the continuing slog through Barry Manilow slop ("Only Love Remains"), the empty attempt at social observation ("Talk, More Talk") or the tentative stabs at funky abstraction ("Pretty Little Head," "Angry").

"Press to Play," though it shows some signs of recovery, is basically just another in a long line (over 12 years!) of post-"Band on the Run" letdowns by a once almost unimaginably creative artist.

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