James McCartney – Me (2013)
James McCartney has always been one of my favourite “Beatle kids”. The fact that he remained in the background for so much of his life, waited tables for a living whilst going through college and seemed determined to live as normal a life that the son of one of the most famous musicians on the planet possibly could are all to his credit. Occasional appearances on his Dad’s albums (the guitar solo on “Heaven On A Sunday” from the critically acclaimed 1997 album “Flaming Pie” and a couple of co-writes and appearances on 2001’s “Driving Rain”) made it clear that he had inherited some of the McCartney music genes and, for years, it was speculated on whether James would actually release anything of his own. Just when the Beatle community had resigned themselves to the fact that it would probably never happen, the first E.P.s appeared in 2010 and 2011 with little fanfare or fuss. I both bought these as well as going to see James perform with his band at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London. My initial impression was that he was a good musician with some interesting songs and a very reserved stage presence – a genuinely nice, modest guy. Oh, and that he didn’t really sound like his Dad, either vocally or compositionally.
Now, a couple of years later, we have his first proper album, “Me” and, objectively, it’s actually very good indeed, better than his earlier material. Calling the album “Me” is almost self-explanatory, the need to stand or fall on his own merits is evidently a strong part of James’ personality and, although there are going to be many fans of Macca senior buying this for Paul’s involvement, this album has a distinct character of its own and, unless you knew previously, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that this album was by the son of Paul McCartney, just by listening to it. Fans will draw parallels and will be consciously listening out for similarities, but they would be better served by just listening and enjoying the album for the likeable, mature piece of creative, contemporary rock it is. It also packs a much more substantial punch than his previous work, so even if you were nonplussed by the E.P.s, “Me” is well worth checking out.
The vast majority of “Me” is excellent. The first album highlight, “Butterfly”, a superb anti-racism song, has a winding, twisting acoustic guitar line coupled with visually descriptive lyrics which leads into an arresting, thundering, powerful chorus. “Snap Out Of It” is a great song, with an acoustic guitar-led verse and a dramatic, exciting refrain. “Life’s A Pill” is a very catchy piece of power pop, with a lovely melody, nice harmonies and appealing use of layers of acoustic and electric guitars. “Home” is a pumping, high-energy rocker, as is the fantastic “Wisteria”. The folky, but pounding “Virginia” is a strong way to finish the album, with some nice backing vocals from Paul. The rest of the album is also pretty good too, above average songs with lovely instrumentation and arrangements; the strings on “Bluebell”, for example, are just beautiful and the piano line on “Snow” enchanting. The only track I really don’t care for on this release is “Mexico”, with the lyrics being a little shallow and perhaps not bearing a resemblance to the country that most who live there would particularly relate to – in other words, a bit of a tourist’s tune.
If there was to be one overall criticism of the album, it would be the vocals. James’ voice isn’t the strongest, but it isn’t exactly weak either. It’s quite a gentle instrument which suits the quieter songs a little better and tends to get slightly lost amongst the heavier tracks on the album. If it was slightly higher in the mix on those pieces then it may stand out more, but there may well be a personal reason it has been mixed to blend into the music a bit more than other lead vocalists’ performances generally would. It’s one of those competent but not outstanding voices, unfortunately, but that’s what James has been given and he makes the most of what he has. Being a “Beatle kid” is, in my opinion, much more of a curse than a blessing, but given the way James has conducted himself during his life and listening to the strongly individual, intelligent music on display here, he has the integrity and talent to succeed as a respected musician in his own right and, more importantly, on his own terms.