Paul McCartney hasn’t run out of firsts. Fifty years after the English rocker debuted his first solo album, ‘McCartney’, in 1970, the 78-year-old Beatle is getting ready to debut another kind of solo album — his first that he made during lockdown. Or, as he put it, ‘rockdown’.
The Liverpool legend is set to release ‘McCartney III’ on December 11, as per an announcement he made across his social media channels this week. The album will be ‘written by’, ‘composed by’ and ‘produced by’ McCartney himself; in the background, a teaser can be heard, with McCartney crooning, ‘Do you, do you miss me?’
McCartney joins the ranks of A-listers who seem to have become restless during quarantine. Lockdown has given way to boundless creativity for the likes of McCartney, Taylor Swift, Charlie XCX, and even, it seems, Adele and Ariana Grande.
“I was just messing around, never suspecting for one second that this was going to be an album,” McCartney told BBC 6 Music.
“That was me reminding myself, and anyone listening, that you’ve got to grab the good stuff and get on through the pandemic,” he added.
McCartney found himself spurred on by his parents surviving the Liverpool blitz during the Second World War.
“They survived … They survived the bombing and losing people left, right and centre, and yet they came out of it with an incredible spirit,” said the rocker. “So, it’s good to think, ‘Well, if they could do it, I can do it.’”
Following suit from his previous solo albums, McCartney will play almost all instruments on the record himself, as well as sing.
McCartney has been locked down on his countryside farm with his daughter, Mary, and four grandchildren. He would record in his home studio then come home in the evening to spend time with his family.
“Most of it’s new stuff,” he told BBC 6 Music. There are “one or two” older songs that he brought out of storage to rework.
“When I’d done them, I was going, ‘Well, what am I going to do with this?’ And it suddenly hit me: this is ‘McCartney III’. You’ve done it all yourself, like the others, so this qualifies,” said the Beatle.
The result, as one would expect from an unplanned album penned during lockdown, is raw and spontaneous.
“I wasn’t aiming at a proper record release, I was just having a go. So I think it has ended up being exactly what it is — which is me not really trying very hard, except to have fun,” he said.
Taylor Swift delivers ‘Folklore’
McCartney is not the first chart-topping artist to get to work during this global pandemic.
Taylor Swift surprised fans with the hugely successful ‘Folklore’ in July. The stripped down album reached new heights this week — it just returned to No 1 for the eighth time since its release, and it became the first album in 2020 to sell a million copies in the US.
But, much like McCartney, Swift, 30, hadn’t planned on releasing a new album so soon. She had just dropped her seventh studio album ‘Lover’ in 2019, and as her fans know, she’s prone to leaving at least two years between her releases.
“Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my 8th studio album, ‘Folklore’,” wrote Swift, in a personal essay accompanying her release.
“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve,” she continued.
“A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables,” she wrote.
“Now it’s up to you to pass them down.”
Unlike McCartney, however, Swift was able to bring on collaborators despite the restrictions that the lockdown has put on travel and social gatherings.
That’s the magic of making music in 2020 — you don’t have to be in the same room, or even in the same country, to join hands on a song.
Fun.’ s Jack Antanoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner, co-wrote and co-produced the album with her. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver featured on ‘Exile’.
Another mystery co-writer that appeared on a couple of tracks goes by the name of William Bowery, but even Dessner doesn’t know who that is.
“I haven’t actually met him because of social distancing, which is kind of funny,” Dessner told Pitchfork. “I think he’s a friend.”
Charli XCX works through anxiety on ‘How I’m Feeling Now’
Charli XCX was perhaps the first major artist to deliver a lockdown album. Released in May, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ was partially a way for XCX to work through her anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been up and down like most things during this time: especially the first two or three weeks I was very focused, really happy. I’d found my purpose in this time,” she told Zane Low for Apple Music.
“Four week [comes] and now I feel anxious, and overall I just realised this quarantine time has kind of reconfirmed something that I already knew about myself, which is that I am a workaholic… I love my job, I want to do it all the time, but [with] a self-punishing [mentality] of like work-myself-into-the-ground, can’t sleep at night, punish myself if I don’t complete things that are on my list… get angry if things don’t go the way I want,” continued the 28-year-old singer-songwriter.
While Swift’s album was a journey of the imagination through fantastical woods, and McCartney’s album is a way to not take himself too seriously, XCX struggled with the anxiety that underlined the creation of ‘How I’m Feeling Now’.
The need to get this album off her chest left her wondering if she will “ever be able to truly relax and switch my brain off.”
“That probably doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to some people, but it’s really stressful because I wake up with a ball of anxiety in my chest most days, especially these past couple of weeks,” she said.
“I want to know — will that ever go away? And then, also, can I be happy without experiencing the flip side of what happiness is? The stress, the sadness, the rage. Can I balance myself out and just feel neutral? Or do I have to experience the highs and the lows? I think that’s something that a lot of people are probably always going through, but particularly going through during this time,” she continued.
But the artist conceded she was happy to make the album, and glad that it brought her so close to her listeners. She took on a DIY approach with the entire record, from artwork to videos, and collaborated with her fans over Zoom calls.
Though not a Top 40s album, ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ was a massive hit, receiving widespread acclaim from music critics and her followers alike.
Adele and Ariana — more to come from lockdown?
Ariana Grande is the latest to join the ‘rockdown’ craze. Earlier this week she revealed the tracklist to a surprise new album, ‘Positions’, dropping on October 30.
The album, which Grande describes as “my favourite for many reasons”, features collaborations with Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign. The self-titled lead single released on October 23.
In May, Grande declared that she wouldn’t release an album during lockdown, but it seems that has changed as the pandemic stretches on longer and longer.
“It’s a great time to create because you’re stuck with your thoughts and left in your head a little bit, so I think all creatives are extra inspired right now … I didn’t have a home set up until quite recently and that’s been so much fun, but also so bad for my sleep schedule and my eating schedule,” said Grande, 27, to Lowe on Apple Music.
She added: “As far as creating goes, it feels really good. But I know that a lot of people don’t have that luxury and a lot of people whose jobs they can’t do from home, so I feel guilty and blessed … I don’t really feel comfortable putting anything out right now … It’s a really tricky time for all of that ... I’m not putting [an album] out. I’ve been making stuff. I’ve been making a lot of stuff, but that’s not where my head is at right now.”
Adele might join Grande, XCX, Swift and McCartney soon as far as unexpected albums go.
Making an appearance on SNL, Adele addressed rumours that a new record is coming soon.
“Now I know there’s been a lot of chatter about me just being the host. I’ve seen all of it. Like, ‘Why isn’t she the musical guest?’ and stuff like that, and there’s a couple of reasons,” said the 32-year-old singer-songwriter. “My album’s not finished, and I’m also too scared to do both.”
In February, Adele was filmed telling guests at a wedding to expect her album in September. However denials from her team were quick, as her manager Jonathan Dickins said: “It isn’t coming in September, it’ll be ready when it’s ready. I can’t put a date on that yet. We have music, but we’re still working.”
The release date may be up in the air, but one thing’s for certain… If there’s anyone who can perfect the raw feelings of a lockdown album, it’s Adele.
Until then, we have McCartney and Grande’s records to look forward to, and Swift and XCX’s albums to keep us company while we wait.