Art of McCartney, Hubris of Music Industry
I am the target audience of the recently released record The Art of McCartney. I see the word McCartney, I click "Add to cart." In this case, however, I clicked "Add to Christmas list" (thanks, Ginny!) which explains this late review of the album. Sorry. Paul McCartney is, undoubtedly, one of the most prolific musicians/songwriters of the past fifty years. Indeed, he's been actively contributing to the canon for more than half a century now, and he shows no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by his even more recent collaboration with Kanye West. Based on output, consistent quality and global influence, McCartney is certainly a good candidate for a tribute album by "the world's greatest artists." If only there were such an album. I was eager to get into The Art of McCartney, and I should probably admit at the outset that I've listened to little else beside it since I opened my Christmas presents. That said, the album is, on balance, disappointing. And it could hardly not be. The album is an odd marriage of incredible hubris and, in many cases, creative laziness.
"Put it there
If it weighs a ton" -
That's what a father says to his younger son.
"I don't care if it weighs a ton.
As long as you and I are here, put it there."
- When I, for one, see the word artists, I imagine a gathering far broader than music. I'm sure Terri Riches-Black (art director) and Stuart Crouch at Peacock (design) and David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images (cover photo) are great people and highly talented at what they do, but The Art of McCartney packaging is hardly on the fast-track to inclusion in the Louvre or the Smithsonian. It's text upon text upon text upon text, with a faint background photo of "Young Paul" behind the album's title and a centerfold of "signatures" from the "world's greatest artists" in an unimaginative script font.
- Maybe it's unfair of me to expect art when I'm handed the word artists; this is, after all, a collection of songs. But that only buys the producers of The Art of McCartney a few nanoseconds before I notice that "the world's greatest artists" are all in the field of popular music. What, Yo Yo Ma wasn't available to try his hand at "My Brave Face"? Wynton Marsalis couldn't give three minutes of his time to "The Pipes of Peace"? Is pop music (with the lightest touch of blues and jazz) the best art the world has to offer?
- And while we're at it, is the best pop music really dominated by white men from North America and Northern Europe? I mean, my collection of pop music surely is, but this is a collection of "the world's greatest artists" - 75 percent of whom are white and male, all of whom (with the possible exception of Toots Hibbert) are firmly ensconced in the First World. I thought pop rock was huge in Korea, but no Korean artists grace the album. I thought Paul loved Pussy Riot, but no love from Russia. I bet Ladysmith Black Mambazo would kill "Blackbird," but they, like "Blackbird," are nowhere to be found. There are, of course, artists closer to home who would have nicely diversified The Art of McCartney. Kanye is, apparently, a fan, and I for one would love to see what he could do with "Say, Say, Say." Stevie Wonder collaborated with Paul on "Ebony and Ivory" and "What's That You're Doing" and did a killer version of "We Can Work It Out" when Paul was awarded the Gershwin Prize a few years ago. But Stevie makes no appearance on this album. I count eight women and people of color combined on an album of thirty-six songs. The producers seem to think that, by and large, white men make the best music.
- But wait: at least the white people represented are, in fact, the world's greatest white artists. Right? Let's see: KIss, Def Leppard, Cheap Trick, Owl City, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar ... No disrespect to Owl City - I actually like their rendition of "Listen to What the Man Said" - but including them on a collection of the world's greatest artists is like giving Tina Fey the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor two years before giving it to Carol Burnett, or like opening the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Ringo Starr, Bill Withers and Green Day at the exact same time. I'm no enemy of the young, but there are some designations that only time can earn.
- One last complaint: these songs are "sung," yes, but they're also performed. I like Billy Joel's singing as much as the next guy, but the appeal of Billy Joel on "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Live and Let Die" is his talent as a pianist; same with Alan Toussaint on "Lady Madonna." Paul McCartney is distinguished from John Lennon most by his ambitious musicianship, so to reduce his songs to things that are sung is to fundamentally misapprehend why Paul is one of "the world's greatest artists."