Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of the past few years, Paul McCartney has been trying to infiltrate a younger demographic, so it wasn’t a surprise when he enlisted Nigel Godrich — the hipster who helped Radiohead to sculpt OK Computer and Kid A, Beck to craft Mutations and Sea Change, and R.E.M. to re-imagine itself on Up — to produce his latest endeavor Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. Given the histories of each, it’s an interesting collaboration to contemplate, but although this union pushed McCartney to make the most musically challenging album of his career, the end result is frustratingly flawed. It’s been widely reported that Godrich not only turned up his nose at several of McCartney’s proposed songs, but also was behind the jettisoning of his backing band. Therefore, the effort largely features the former Beatle accompanying himself, and since both men are control freaks of the worst kind, it’s no wonder that the tension that resulted from this monumental clash of egos has seeped into the material.
Throughout Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, McCartney’s melodic sense remains intact as does his penchant for crafting lyrical odes to hearts that have been broken and mended by love, but the songs’ arrangements are moody, ambient, and full of eerie, atmospheric twists and turns that bend The Beatles’ psychedelic merriment in despairingly dark directions. This, no doubt, is a direct result of Godrich’s influence, especially considering his propensity for the sonic exploration of life’s weary, sad, and lonely corners, and, in a sense, his technique tempered McCartney’s typically jovial personality. The problem, however, is that although Godrich and McCartney made attempts to meet on middle ground, they remained somewhat disconnected. Consequently, what should have been a match made in heaven yielded an occasionally uncomfortable stylistic exchange of ideas that, regardless of what works and what doesn’t, has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the overall collection.
Indeed, although Chaos and Creation in the Backyard approaches McCartney’s compositions from a fresh perspective, too often, the thoughts are never completed or brought to fruition. As a result, there’s a superficiality to the weird instrumental interludes that fuse the tracks together as well as to the Beatle-esque overtones that dot its landscape. At the Mercy, for example, is a throwback to Abbey Road’s minor key dirge I Want You (She’s So Heavy); Jenny Wren dabbles in the acoustic folk of The White Album; the string section that envelopes the playful English Tea is drawn straight from the acid-laced etchings of the era that spawned Magical Mystery Tour; and the driving piano that propels both Fine Line and Promise to You Girl owe a debt to Lady Madonna. As for the concluding Anyway, it steps outside the environment of the Fab Four to nip a few moments from Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready. The intention likely was to build upon McCartney’s legacy rather than simply to revisit it, and there is a poetic quality lyrics as well as a deliberation to the manner in which the music is executed. However, the detachment that cloaks the affair makes it seem as if the former Beatles’ songs simply are tucked inside Godrich’s arrangements. They are, of course, but it should sound natural and not so apparent. Time will tell if Chaos and Creation in the Backyard provided the jolt that was necessary to wake McCartney from slumbering in his safe house, but for the moment, it merely makes it clear as to how unique and special his partnership with John Lennon truly was. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box