New, the title of Paul McCartney's latest album, is a gag, you see—it should be framed in quotation marks. Arriving at what could be considered the final phase of his recording career, and sounding every bit like a compilation of past tricks (pastoral folk, skittering electronica, stately pop), McCartney means the title to be ironic. Yet the joke is ineffective, as New plays largely with current pop idioms and features a consortium of "now" producers (Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth). The resulting album, slightly uneven and occasionally mawkish, transcends its blunders and offers another satisfying slice of (Sir) Paul being Paul (see: Sirvana).
Macca opens New with the power-pop burst "Save Us," sounding like any number of current pop tunes injected with more gravitas and fatalism, before transitioning into more familiar electro-pop quirkiness ("Alligator") and juicy balladry ("On My Way to Work"). McCartney sounds especially retrospective on New—part of the album's true irony—mining his past and his hallowed relationship with Lennon for the wistful "Early Days."
Because we are dealing with a living legend, even botched experiments chart as curiosities. "Appreciate" sounds, in a good way, like a Monte Carlo discothèque club hit; "Everybody Out There" seems at first blush like a play for the Mumford crowd before transforming into a shredding salvation anthem; "Queenie Eye" gives fangs to glam rock; and "Hosanna" imbues MOR with gospel flare.
Always the master showman from the album era, McCartney is savvy enough to conclude New with something vital, offering listeners "Road," a tune of burbling electronic noir and supernova bursts.