Swift, McCartney give fans stellar lockdown listening

Just last month, Rolling Stone magazine raised eyebrows by pairing Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney on the same cover. This prompted a lot of generational grumbling: How dare they put a ‘60s pop icon on the same cover with a millennial pop icon?
Turns out that Swift and McCartney have something in common: They both released their latest lockdown albums last week — “McCartney III” was a relative surprise (word of its release leaked out a few weeks ago) and Swift’s “evermore” was a total surprise (It dropped with no warning last Saturday, a mere five months after the much-acclaimed “folklore”). Beyond that, both albums represent modern pop at its warmest and savviest.
Sequels can be less fun than the original, so it’s no shame that “everrmore” doesn’t feel quite as adventurous as “folklore”: The first album opened up new territory, the second feels like a return to a place that’s already friendly and familiar. The same collaborators (including Aaron Desner of the National) are back, and compared to “folklore” it’s more lushly produced and a tad more subdued: Instead of clicking right away, most of the songs take a few listens to grab hold.
But grab hold they do, and the delicate tunes of “champagne problems” and “gold rush” (she still hates capital letters) will head straight to your subconscious. The tune “cowboy like me” might have been a country song if she’d done it earlier in her career; now it’s a mix of twangy harmony and smoky piano ballad. The biggest surprise is “no body no crime,” which brings in the terrific indie band Haim for harmonies. Harder-edged than the rest, it sports a killer chorus hook and lyrics about an actual killer.
Once again, the isolation prompts Swift to reflect on past relationships — whether she’s mourning her grandmother on “marjorie” or on “dorothea,” recalling youthful good times with a future TV star. The song “tis the damn season” is probably as close as she’ll get to writing a Christmas song; it’s about getting over someone while you’re stuck crashing with your parents for the holidays. Most of these stories don’t end well; the title track opens with one of the album’s few shutdown references (“Grey November, I’ve been down since July”) and brings in Bon Iver to air both sides of a doomed relationship. All the emotional messiness winds up making the album more inviting: In a year of shutdown, it feels great to visit a world full of intense friendships, romantic intrigue and late-night revelations.
This cover image released by Capitol Records shows “McCartney III,” by Paul McCartney. (Capitol via AP)
When Paul McCartney last made a completely solo album in 1980, he was obsessed with synthesizers (the eternal earworm “Wonderful Christmastime” came from those sessions). Not to worry, however: “McCartney III” has plenty of guitars, and he makes his multitracked self sound like a real band. But this band is versatile enough to do lyrical folk-rock (“Winter Bird,” which both opens and closes the disc), spacey prog rock (the eight-minute “Deep Deep Feeling”), and arena fistwavers (“Slidin’). On the lightly psychedelic “Kiss of Venus” and the exuberant “Find My Way,” this one-man band also manages to sound a whole lot like the Beatles.
McCartney’s worked a few deeper thoughts on his recent albums, and this one offers a bit of good-natured advice: “Women and Wives” reminds people to take care of each other, and “Seize the Day” reminds them to have a good time doing it. On “When Winter Comes” he allows himself a bit of late-life reflection but maintains his trademark optimism; there’s still a new season round the corner.
Most of all, McCartney challenges the idea that rockers of a certain age need to start making depressing mortality records. He still likes to rock and as he reveals in a couple of lyrics, he still enjoys sex quite a bit. The quirkiest track, “Lavatory Lil,” is a punky rocker that looks lustfully at the sort of character you might meet in your favorite rock dive. “Wonderful Christmastime” it sure isn’t, but it’s wonderful just the same.

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