If it feels like people keep forgetting that Paul McCartney can still write good songs, well, that's because this is precisely what happens: The commentary cycle on a new McCartney release often begins with a small morsel, such as news that Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich is helping with the next record. Or it's said that a forthcoming release will be distributed at Starbucks locations. Jokes are made, and then everyone gets on with their lives. Until the album in question hits, and, whaddya know: It's deemed to be unexpectedly strong! (These were the public-reception narratives for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and Memory Almost Full, respectively.)
Much the same happened with Sir Paul's 2012 collaboration with the surviving members of Nirvana: First there was Internet chuckling about the "Sirvana" supergroup. Then, after "Cut Me Some Slack" went over well, hordes of commentators lined up to proclaim that the man hadn't rocked this hard since "Helter Skelter" -- even though much the same thing was said, circa 1999, when Paul reacted to his beloved Linda's passing by finding comfort in the ferocious old-school barnburners on Run Devil Run. (That album featured three smoking originals, too.) Probably these same critics had also missed "Rinse the Raindrops," which served as the cathartic 10-minute climax of Driving Rain.
Paul bears some responsibility for the public's wariness: A lot of his '80s and '90s catalog is notoriously rife with filler. And it's true that his live show is stuck in the pure nostalgia mode of well-worn Beatles-isms. But he's been on a studio-recording roll for over a decade now, and it's a trend that seems to be continuing with "New," the buoyant leadoff single from his forthcoming album. So catch up on late-period McCartney with our attached playlist. We put in one recent love-y ballad ("My Valentine") and one twee giggle ("English Tea") because these forms have always been part of the McCartney charm. But otherwise our mix is heavy on rocking blues (as on the Fireman record Electric Arguments), perfect pop ("Dance Tonight") and memorable, surprising melodies (like the one in "At the Mercy"). It all comes across as primo Macca.