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PRESS TO PLAY
At last, on September 1st, the waiting was over: Press To Play, Paul's first all-new opus since Pipes Of Peace in 1983, was finally out. A first eager glance at the packaging reveals a number of famous names involved, but a listen to the contents soon makes clear that this is no flashy showcase for individual skills. As befits the world's most successful songwriter, Mr. McCartney knows just how to employ their various talents to benefit a particular tune.
But before discussing the musicians, let's touch on the man who will help decide just how they sound - Paul's co-producer, Hugh Padgham, veteran of sessions with Phil Collins, The Police and XTC. Impressed by the drum sound he had achieved with The Police in particular, Paul picked Hugh as just the man to provide a new angle on his music when it became clear George Martin would not be available.
When it came to musicians, Hugh immediately proved his worth, as Paul relates: "He mentioned Jerry Marotta, he mentioned Phil as well, but I didn't want to get Phil too heavily involved because of the risk of people saying 'Oh you're just going for flavour of the month', and I really wanted a drummer to do the whole album. I knew Jerry's work from Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears, and Hugh recommended him as a good thwacker of a skin!"
The choice of guitarist was a typical piece of McCartney wisdom: "Carlos Alomar came in when we realised that there were certain types of guitar that neither Eric (Stewart) nor myself could play." Carlos is perhaps best known for his work with David Bowie, including co-writing David's huge 1975 hit 'Fame' with the two singers, the other being one John Lennon. Thankfully, however, Carlos' presence did not deter Paul from assaulting the six strings himself: "I play quite a bit of guitar, which is one of my departures on this album."
As those who have seen the Composer/Artist book will know, Paul McCartney knows how to doodle; one of the novel features of Press is the inclusion of his 'stereo drawings' - (see pp 8 and 9) cheerfully coloured diagrams showing the positions of the voices and instruments in the mix - on the inside of the gatefold cover. A study of these reveals a tremendous number of percussion instruments: cabasa, tambourine, congas, claves, wood blocks, shakers, bell tree, wine glass, triangle, cowbell, maraccas, percussion stick and that most human of noises -handclaps. And, yes, it is a highly rhythmic album, and not only on the up-tempo numbers: 'Footprints' is full of rattles and clicks, Elton John's percussionist Ray Cooper embroiders 'Only Love Remains' and Jerry Marotta programmed the percussion on 'Pretty Little Head'.
Mention of programming reminds us that Paul has always used the latest technology without being dominated by it: the warmth and humanity which you expect from a McCartney record are never smothered. Listen to the man himself: "Some of the tracks are completely live-with real people! But the bass on 'Press', for example, that's a machine playing it. (On McCartney II I was) familiarising myself with... noise gates, synthesisers, sequencers...Once you understand it, it's not difficult at alt-it's like someone talking about a carburettor when there were blacksmiths... We did have a lot of these gimmicks to play around with, and sometimes they are more trouble than they're worth, but occasionally you crack it and go 'Oh, I haven't heard that before!'"
By contrast, the new songwriting partnership with Eric Stewart was something of a return to basics: "We started off with 'Stranglehold', putting rhythmic words in, using lyrics like a bongo, accenting the words. We enjoyed the experience, then went on to write the six that are on the album... I remembered the old way I'd written with John, the two acoustic guitars facing each other, like a mirror, but better! Like an objective mirror, you're looking at the person playing chords, but it's not you."
And so, on to the track-by-track rundown.