- Back in high school, my best friend was such an obsessive Beatles fan that he sought out not just every 4CD bootleg set from the band-destroying Get Back sessions but also every single solo outing, from John and Yoko's Fluxus-inspired Life with the Lions to Ringo's hammy Goodnight, Vienna. That field of exploration all came to a grinding halt when he purchased Paul McCartney's 1980 solo album McCartney II. Listening to its bonging drum machines and Gloucester cheese synths one stoned night, we came to the conclusion that it was the most excruciating thing we had ever heard in our life (and this after having already listened to Yoko's screech on "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)").
Then a funny thing happened. In the post-Sarcastic Study Masters era of the 21st century, where everything from Klaus Schulze-produced jazz to dollar bin curios could become dance floor fodder, a new generation of DJs dug into every nook and cranny to find "disco" cuts. At an early James Murphy DJ gig on the Lower East Side, I found myself dancing to "Temporary Secretary" and soon after DJs ranging from Radio Slave (whose toughened-up edit of the track is what Murphy had in his bag) to Lovefingers to Dixon began to spin the album out.
Recorded during the hiatus (and impending break-up) of his post-Beatles band, Wings, McCartney retreated to his farm in Scotland with a battery of new-fangled drum machines, synths and 16-track recording equipment and began to, in the chorus of a B-side, "Check My Machine." Some 20-odd recordings were cut at the end of 1979, but then shelved for a Wings tour of Japan. At customs, however, McCartney was busted for 219 grams of marijuana and sent back the way he came.
Perhaps to mind the gap, McCartney II was released into the world. On the strength of the buggy, boingy first track, "Coming Up," it topped UK charts and went to #3 in the US, but was critically snubbed and soon became overshadowed by McCartney's successes with Michael Jackson. Critic Robert Christgau deemed McCartney's penchant for "simulated offhandedness" missing even amid this album's "instrumental doodles."
Simulated, slight, scattered, most definitely stoned out of its fucking gourd. It all holds true for the album thirty years on. And yet, Macca's melodic whimsy (or is that whimsical melodicism?) interfacing with primitive technology is what keeps DJs coming back to these tracks. Even when he takes on the role of a creepy, groping boss on "Temporary Secretary" or a lecherous photographer on "Darkroom," the incessant electro bubbling of his machines stick fast. The maudlin "Waterfalls" may not have aged well but its B-side "Check My Machine" (included on the second disc) still manages, despite its childish simplicity, to mesmerize. It's closest contemporary would be Neil Young's Trans, and much like that album, it's that uncertainty of one of the world's biggest and most successful pop stars experimenting with new-fangled technology that gives the biggest pay-off. The pop moments of the album have aged drastically, yet it's a bedroom id-squirt that others have followed, from R. Stevie Moore to Aphex Twin (especially circa Richard D. James Album) to Ariel Pink.
Unfortunately, those hoping to have the oft-booted "The Lost McCartney II Album" tacked on will still have to resort to less-than-legal channels. In repackaging the album, the curators were stingy with the B-sides and bonuses, making it necessary to splurge on a 3CD/ 1 DVD hardbound book just to get at the meat of it. Perhaps a bit more handy is a 12-inch floating around in some shops that puts all the bizarrely Balearic instrumentals like "Blue Sway" and "Sunshine Sometime" onto one piece of wax instead. Can't say I'm looking forward to reevaluating Ringo's oeuvre anytime soon though.
01. Coming Up
02. Temporary Secretary
03. On The Way
05. Nobody Knows
06. Front Parlour
07. Summer’s Day Song
08. Frozen Jap
09. Bogey Music
11. One Of These Days
01. Blue Sway (With Richard Niles Orchestration)
02. Coming Up (Live at Glasgow, 1979)
03. Check My Machine (edit)
04. Bogey Wobble
05. Secret Friend [Full Length Version]
06. Mr H Atom / You Know I’ll Get You Baby
07. Wonderful Christmastime [Edited Version]
08. All You Horse Riders / Blue Sway