Cult Classics Album Breakdown 19

Stephen Bishop – Careless (1976)

What a very special record this is.

I was gifted Careless by a fellow muso with twenty years worth of information gathering on my musical taste. It fell through the letter box one day with the kind of clink that makes you wince. Yes, the case was shattered, but the CD emerged like an untouched pearl. I put it straight in the record player and was instantly gripped. Like that moment when the music starts in a rowdy pub and it all goes quiet.

Stephen Bishop. The name had floated round in conversation for years, though any further investigation had never been undertook. Better late than never, as they say. When you think you’ve heard it all and then something this good appears it’s so exciting. It makes me feel like the search is endless – even if I live a hundred years (I’ll have to give the biscuits up, like) I think I’ll still be discovering amazing music I’ve never heard. Isn’t that great?

The album begins with the very intimate On and On, a delicate song with sublime production. It struck me that the audiophiles would be rampant with this record – it has that perfectionist element of Steely Dan about it. The irony about the following track, Never Letting Go, is that this is exactly how the song makes you feel. I find myself watching the seconds ticking down on the song and hating it when it reaches the end. Bishop’s voice is like silk mixed with hope mixed with bright white light and trust and a gorgeous, warm sunny day. Honestly, his voice – at times Paul Simon-esque, at other’s knocking on McCartney’s door – is just about as accessible and feel-good as I’ve ever heard.

Careless, the beautiful title track, features backing vocals from Art Garfunkel, and is probably my favourite on a stunning album. It’s very early, solo McCartney, with a totally unique melody. In fact, having mentioned Garfunkel, a host of familiar names feature on this album. Session regulars Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour are heavily involved, and there are even contributions by Andrew Gold, Chaka Khan and Eric Clapton. Quite a roster for a debut record. Maybe they knew something that everyone else didn’t.

It’s got lazy Sunday afternoon written all over this album. Sinking In An Ocean Of Tears has something distinctly Boz Scaggs about it, with those emphatic horns and slight infiltration of 70’s Soul. Madge could well have been lifted from James Taylor’s debut record, and Every Minute written on a balcony overlooking the California surf. Maybe it was. Bishop’s sound is very scenic, and very emotive. Great music does that to you – places you somewhere and makes you feel something strongly. This music makes me feel very relaxed, satisfied, mellow and content. Little Italy breaks the mould slightly, with its slightly chirpier tempo – maybe one for late afternoon when the drinks arrive.

The album can be, at times, deeply introspective and moody. One More Night is personal, but again soaked in melody. He appears not to take himself as seriously as say, Jackson Browne, but the instincts to penetrate are there. Save It For A Rainy Day feels like the Bee Gees and solo-career Paul Simon have met on the street corner and decided to collaborate – and I mean that in as complementary a fashion as possible. Clapton rips out a tantalising little solo too that pulls an otherwise inoffensive record into rockier territory.

Bishop goes on to declare “I’ll be your Rock and Roll slave / I’ll be your warm sunny day” in the penultimate track, and for this 35 plus minutes that’s exactly what he is – serving us magnificent soundscapes as we lie back and inhale. The Same Old Tears On A New Background closes the record with a poignancy – it’s light but heavy, if you get me. He sings this like it’s the last song he’ll ever sing. That’s an achievement in itself.

Bishop has never been a chart star, despite this album making number 11 on the Billboard Album Charts, though he has remained in hot demand by movie studios to write or record title themes for their films. Most of his contemporaries from the 70’s wouldn’t have dared. He’s respected by the very best, and this is an absolutely brilliant, soulful, honest, immaculately crafted cult classic.

Oh, by the way. I let the postman off.

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Stephen Bishop

Top track trio:

On And On

Never Letting Go

Careless


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 2

Paul McCartney – McCartney III (2020)

It’s absolutely remarkable to me that a man of McCartney’s age is still doing what he’s doing at 78. The man is a melody machine. I mean, how can one guy have so many incredible, magnetic, dopamine soaked, feel-good bangers in ONE BRAIN?!

Paul McCartney is not only the most successful commercial songwriter in contemporary music history, but he is also one of the richest, has record breaking stats falling out of his jacket pockets….and most importantly….he was a BEATLE! He could have retired in 1970 when Liverpool’s famed fab-four split, and lived more than just a comfortable life. Instead, fifty years later, after already showcasing a body of solo and Wings work that the world will never see the likes of again, he’s been back in the studio completing his trilogy of indie inspiring, self penned, produced and engineered masterpieces in what only Macca could coin ‘rock-down’.

McCartney III proves one thing for sure – the man is still in love with his one true love….music. This album is far from going through the motions. It isn’t in the least bit stagnant, over-chiselled, sappy or contrived. Yet again, the genius that is (staggeringly…) heading for 80, has pulled out an absolute gem from yet another wardrobe door in his Narnia of imaginations. I’m not gushing over this record because it’s McCartney. I’m gushing over it because it’s bloody great.

As a writer myself, it always amazes me to see someone as prolific as Macca. Consider his discography: 23 studio albums credited to The Beatles, a further 26 studio albums credited to Paul McCartney, either solo or with Wings, 7 classical albums, 5 electronica albums (as The Fireman), and countless live albums, compilations, EP’s and box sets. I know his career has spanned almost 60 years, but the man has literally never stopped. That can only be down to his burning desire to create, and the need to fulfil that incredible gift that he has been given to craft a melody and pin it down with words the world over can relate to.

McCartney III opens with what is already an iconic riff – an almost eerie descent into Long Tailed Winter Bird, an all out attack on the musical senses, and the signature theme for this surprise release. It left me thinking shit, there’s so much more left in his tank! The album really takes off with Find My Way – a classic McCartney hook, and though the power of that crème-de-le-crème vocal has faded, he’s found ways to still work it. The very best in every walk of life adapt rather than disappear.

Lavatory Lil could have been on the classic B-side of Abbey Road, Slidin’ shows that Macca has been listening to the Foos (and that he’s no slouch on lead guitar), and Deep Down is the most contemporary McCartney track I’ve heard this side of the millenium. Fascinating to hear an old man singing about throwing parties every night. I’m sure Macca is no stranger to a party, even now. His eternal youth shines through this record.

The true highlight for me though is the mesmerising, 8-plus minute Deep Deep Feeling. For me, it generates a similar intensity that I Want You (She’s So Heavy) does, also on The Beatles’ seminal album, Abbey Road. The song swirls into a deep vortex of beautiful loops, and probably Macca’s most innovative vocal in years. Also….what a drummer he is!

The other highlight is the final track, Winter Bird / When Winter Comes. An outtake from the 1997 Flaming Pie sessions, McCartney has finally put the finishing touches to what is a beautifully raw, singer-songwriter masterpiece – the likes of which James Taylor, Stephen Stills, John Martyn or John Prine would be proud of.

Paul McCartney’s importance in the realms of contemporary popular music doesn’t need to be chanted from the rooftops. The man is the Beethoven of our times. Yes, he’s made better albums. Not many, but he has. I’m actually a fan of much of McCartney’s 21st century output, but I think this album probably snatches top spot of that batch from the 2006 album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which was also outstanding.

It leaves me excited for what else may come from the master tunesmith. It’s so refreshing to see the likes of Macca, Dylan, the Stones et al in the studio producing music that stands up. With his 80th birthday looming, we may be in for yet another original surprise from Paul….and if so, all hail the old guard!

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Mary McCartney

Top track trio:

Find My Way

Deep Deep Feeling

Winter Bird / When Winter Comes