Paul McCartney is one of those artists who could put out any old crap and people would still buy it. So it’s satisfying to see that he’s still having fun.
McCartney’s new live double CD, “Back in the U.S., Live 2002,” radiates relaxed energy and playfulness. That’s not an unfamiliar vibe for McCartney, so I don’t think anyone expected anything more revolutionary.
“Back in the U.S.” gives the impression that McCartney had a good time on tour. That’s not really a surprise — I’m sure that was his motivation. I mean, I doubt that he needed the money.
The two CDs cover a range of music, from the Beatles to Wings to some of his solo stuff. Tracks like “All My Loving” sound like the polished old favorites they’ve become, without the bite that they held originally.
Both McCartney’s voice and his musical prowess have matured and mellowed, making the earlier songs sound good, if a little boring and comfortable. But then again, how interesting can Paul McCartney really find it to be singing “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
There’s an interesting twist on “Something” at the end of the first CD. McCartney gives a simple, up-tempo rendition, backed only by a couple of unplugged guitars strumming along like ukuleles. It sounds great and the audience shows their appreciation.
Some of his later material is showcased to great effect here. “Live and Let Die” is a song that seems to beg for an audience cheering in the background. “Vanilla Sky” is an interesting little track that he wrote for the movie of the same title.
Even though McCartney’s voice is aging, he still rocks out at the end of “Let it Be.” He does get a lot of help on “Hey Jude” — it’s one of those songs that seems to require that the audience sing along, so even though he doesn’t risk wrecking his voice by screaming like he used to, the end of the track sounds like a giant party. The band pulls back and lets the audience take a lot of the “na na na na”s.
Paul McCartney apparently likes uncomplicated fun. That’s something that’s been evident for a while now. If you do too, you should enjoy his new live album. If you’re searching for something that covers new ground, you’re looking in the wrong place.
But even if you’re not really into Paul McCartney, “Back in the U.S.” would make a great gift for anyone you know who’s a fan. I can think of a lot of parents who would definitely enjoy a CD like this one.