Self-styled rock revisionists tell us that Paul McCartney wasn't only the cute Beatle; he was also the least cool. Baloney. McCartney's wizardry as a pop melodist was as fundamental to the Fab Four's magic as was John Lennon's acerbic brilliance. Granted, McCartney's post-Beatles oeuvre has seldom approached the impossibly high standard that he set while still in his 20s; but on his latest effort, the old bloke sounds more inspired and, well, less goofy than he has in years.
Recorded at his home studio, McCartney's new album has a relaxed, relatively off-the-cuff feel and stripped-down arrangements that showcase the knack for yummy hooks that has always been his strong suit. The driving single "The World Tonight" and the equally buoyant "Young Boy" prove that he can still crank out a bouncy rocker, while more delicate numbers such as "Little Willow" and the gently soulful "Heaven on a Sunday" are executed with an unforced simplicity that many of McCartney's peers--and progeny--would do well to study. One elegant acoustic ditty, "Calico Skies," could even work as a sequel to Lennon's "Norwegian Wood," in which the guy finally persuades the girl to stick around. It's nice to know that the long and winding road can sometimes lead to a happy destination.
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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips