Our boss, Mike, always finds things to live blog.  I’m going to suck up to him and try to live blog a CD review.  I have had the CD for almost two weeks but I have only listened to it while sharpening pencils or ignoring my ringing phone so it’s almost fresh.  It’s 10:45pm.  Mrs. Rock just went to bed. I’ll write a little background and then review the CD as I listen to it.  There will be no second impressions, but that’s OK because I know a lot of Beatles fans will buy this and only listen to it once anyway.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t.  I just know how they are.

Let’s remind ourselves what The Fireman is.  The Fireman is Paul McCartney and a British producer who calls himself Youth.  In addition to his production experience, Youth brings knowledge of electronica and dub to the collaboration.  Bass is really important in dub music, so it’s going to be pretty interesting to hear what he does with a bass player of Paul’s caliber.  Paul is known to be a fan of reggae music (not just ganja), so if you think of dub as an offshoot of reggae, maybe Paul knows something about dub himself.  The Fireman released two albums in the 1990s.  They made a half-hearted attempt to hide their identities first time around.  Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Electric Arguments filed under M in my local record store.

Speaking of which, you can buy the CD in the US on Monday 11/24, instead of the customary Tuesday.  There will be no deluxe CD package, however, the regular digipack has a cool design and contains a ¼ inch think booklet.  Vinyl will follow in December.  The initial pressing will be on 200-gram vinyl, instead of 180-gram vinyl.   You need the extra 20 grams if your stereo goes to eleven.  It is rumored that six people who purchase the LP will receive an extra record with additional music.  That would make it the third rarest release Beatles-related record.

Time to start.

Track 1 (“Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight”)  Harmonica. WTF?  Is this Jon Spencer or something?  “Heyyy   Oohhh”.  Man, this rocks.  Heavy riff.  Funky drums.  Great old school McCartney bass fills here and there.  This reminds me of “Nod Your Head” but actually kind of about something.  For once, we get some real emotion from Paul.  He sounds pissed off.  There isn’t much song craft here, just a heavy riff repeated in a few different tonal centers.  There’s distortion on some of the vocals and Paul is singing like we haven’t heard him sing in years.  Here’s a nasty slide guitar solo.  Imagine if Jack White wrote “Helter Skelter.”  Not that good, of course, but that gives you the general idea.  My friend MK e-mailed me when he got this about a month before I did.  He said “Holy shit!  It’s a Paul McCartney album.”  This is an awesome way to start an album.

Track 2. (“Two Magpies”) Like many songs on Driving Rain, this song is preceded by some strange noises.  This is an acoustic number with a jazzy vibe.  The lyric is based on a nursery rhyme.  I wonder if the child’s voice at the end belongs to Bea.

Track 3.  (“Sing the Changes”) This must be the single (ed. note: It is.).  It’s the most accessible track so far.  It’s Paul’s “Come and Get It” drum pattern with some maracas in the second half of the verses.  Or is that supposed to be a chorus?  Did I hear a bad edit around 1:42?  The guitars and backing vocals are heavily processed.  That must be where Youth’s influence comes in.  So far, this is a much “electron…  Another bad edit at 2:30?  This is a much less “electronic” experience than the previous two Fireman albums.  If this keeps up, this will be more of a quirky rock album.  Spoken word at the end.  I can’t remember if Paul ever did that before.  Oh right, “Magneto and Titanium Man” has some.

The big question:  Is this successfully arty or will it turn out merely pretentious?  It’s pretty good so far.

Track 4 (“Travelling Light”) kind of reminds me of “Tiny Bubbles” from Driving Rain.  Paul is singing in a low register and when the melotron and piano come in, it sounds like “Julia Dream” by Pink Floyd.  Verse two features falsetto singing.  Another bad edit just before 2:00.  What the hell is going on?  Did they forget how to use ProTools?  Verse three is sung low again.  This might be the lowest Paul has sung except for the frogs in “We All Stand Together.”  There are some keyboard sounds around 3:00 that might remind one of “Echoes.”  Remember that David Gilmour played in Paul’s oldies band who recorded Run Devil Run?  The last verse of the song seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the song.  It’s probably from another song entirely.  That worked OK in “We Can Work it Out” and Abbey Road, but not so well on Red Rose Speedway.

Track 5: (“Highway”) “Taxman” with some distorted harmonica.  Great chorus.  The verse melody sounds like something off Driving Rain again, but this has the energy Paul never had after Back To The Egg.  Great rock tune.  Actually, I think the riff is more “Come Together” than “Taxman” but the vibe at the opening was more like mid-60s Beatles.  The texture is very dense.  There is all this echoey stuff I can’t quite make out happening in the background, even with my “rock” headphones on.  (Old Sonys with unnaturally boosted bass.  Good for rocking out but not nearly as precise as my beloved Graco headphones.)  Ends with more distorted harmonica.

Track 6:  (“Light from Your Lighthouse”) What the hell is this?  Kind of a country beat, but the vocals in the verse remind me of Ween.  (One high voice and one really low voice.)   Could they have been listening to 12 Country Greats this summer?  I think he’s trying to write a countrified spiritual here.  “Let it shine on.  Let it shine on.  Let the light from your lighthouse shine on me.”  Let’s assume Paul is trying to have fun and not seriously trying to inspire us.  Actually, I think that Paul having fun is what this whole CD is about.

Tack 7:  (“Sun is Shining”) Opens normally enough with acoustic guitar noodling that could be from an America album, if they weren’t panning the guitar all over the stereo spectrum.  It’s not pleasant in headphones.  Some pretty cool “Rain”esque bass before the vocals enter.  Cool bass throughout, actually.  “Na na na na na na na.  Na na na na na na na” are the lyrics at the end of the chorus.  Paul’s not afraid to leave a lyric unfinished.  (Great in “Hey Jude”, good enough in “Bip Bop,” sloppy in “My Love.”)  Paul proves he is still one of the all-time best bass players.  Another bad edit around 3:00.  I don’t get it.  My copy has complete artwork, so this can’t be an advance with rough mixes.  God, did they use the wrong master?  The lyrics are more positive than most of the songs on the CD, not that I have been paying much attention.  The lighter tone of the song is a nice change here.

Track 8:  (“Dance ’til We’re High”) Starts off like it’s Springsteen.  Vocal arrangement reminds me of Midnight Oil (high voice and low voice together, but now it sounds like “The time has come, to make things clear, to pay our share.”  I forget the title.)  This is another positive-feeling tune.  The Springsteen thing only lasted a few seconds and now that the song is almost over I can’t even remember why I wrote that.

Track 9:  (“Lifelong Passion”) Keyboards like Styx start the tune.  Cool drumming with Arabic-sounding handdrum samples.  Or tabla played in a more Middle Eastern style.  This is the first song so far that leaves me cold.  Chorus repeats “Sail Away” which keeps Styx on my mind.  Faint Fender Rhodes is more Supertramp though. No, it’s “Magneto and Titanium Man.”  Oh I get it.  It’s a love song about someone being his life-long passion.  Maybe he is using the dated-sounding keyboard sounds to refer to Linda.  I’ll give him a pass for being clever.  More harmonica in this tune.

So far the themes are harmonica and ProTools errors.

Track 10: (“Is This Love?”) Atmospheric intro.  Swirly stuff surrounds what sounds like a wooden flute.  More Arab influence on the drums.  Had they been listening to Peter Gabriel recently?  The melody reminds me of the last song on a Moody Blues album.  “Om.”  That’s what it is.  Except this is “Home to me.”  Really interesting bass work.  You know how some Coltrane is really beautiful but actually quite strange?  This song isn’t within a million miles of Coltrane’s best, but Paul is using the same technique.  Every element is pretty strange but it adds up to something beautiful and actually kind of peaceful.  It’s nice to have a song like this at this point in the album. So far, it’s turning out to be very well-sequenced.  If you remember the days before you listened to 4000 songs on shuffle, you remember that the sequence of songs on an album really mattered.  Paul and Youth must remember those days too.  I bet it was difficult to make this song turn out this well.  All this strange stuff could have added up to crap.  Only complaint is that it’s a little long.  Followup complaint:  end ads up to crap.

Track 11:  (“Lovers in a Dream”) Like other songs, this starts with bowed double bass and a lot of strange sounds.  This is the weirdest intro yet.  It’s held together by Andy Summers-like guitar at first but then I hear Syd Barrett guitar and more Rick Wright organ.  What the?  Bass drum comes in reminding me of a dance club 10 years ago.  Is that what they are up to here?  Oh, I remember, we are listening to The Fireman, not Paul McCartney.  This is what I was expecting from The Fireman.  Now comes Paul’s slow crispy idea of indie rock drumming.  It sounds just like the drum pattern from “Free Now” off Liverpool Sound Collage.  Then they layer the club beats over it.  There probably aren’t a lot of people who would enjoy this track.  You can’t really dance to it and there isn’t much point to a track like this if it’s not danceable.

Track 12:  (“Universal Here, Everlasting Now”) I didn’t notice that this was not track 11.  I thought that the electronic crap at the tail end of track 11 was just going on too long.  After about two minutes, drums come in with swishy electronic sounds and heavily-processed guitar.  What’s that neo-prog band from the 90s that did an album called Jurassic Shift?  It sounds like them.  Ozric Tentacles.  Ends with piano that could have been in a movie about a teenage girl who imagined she was possessed by demons.  Not really mean demons though.  Just bad enough to give her bad grades and make her dog run away.  Oh listen.  Her dog came back.

Track 13:  (“Don’t Stop Running”) Stats with annoying burbling in my right ear.  Not recommended for headphones.  This track at least has a chord progression.  It might turn into an actual song.  Paul is using his vulnerable sounding falsetto again, but with lots of echo.  This is a real song, but it’s kind of boring.  I hope that Paul has now given us the most abstract numbers on the CD and how he’s bringing us back to more the real world.  Nice use of stereo just before 3:55 that actually sounded cool in headphones. There was a pointless passage where Paul amused himself saying “oooh ooh ooh” with heavy echo.  I did that when I had my first echo unit when I was about 19 but I never tried to sell it.  I wish I was enjoying this part of the album more. Patience.

Track 14:  Hold on, it’s not track 14 yet.  It’s still track 13 but there’s no sound.  Is Paul doing the “hidden track” thing?  Here comes some snyth burbles.  Steve Miller Band?  No, it’s more like Jean Michel Jarre. Here’s a big Patric Moraz-era Moody Blues chord with those bird sounds from “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  Occasional whispers that I can’t quite make out.  Oh, they are backwards.  I’ll wait until the LP comes out next month and run it backwards.  I don’t care enough to import this into my computer to find out sooner.

Conclusion:  Electric Arguments is the second-best Beatle solo album of 2008 for conservative Beatlefan ears.  If you don’t like many bands that formed after 1975, you’ll like Pete Best’s latest much better.  I swear!  It’s great 60s-influenced pop.  Same idea as Ringo’s last few albums but the singing and writing is better.  If you one of those folks, remember that Friday is “Buy Nothing Day” and celebrate it by not buying this CD.  More adventurous types who enjoyed following Paul through his last three albums will enjoy at least 9 ½ songs.  Assuming that you can find this for $9.99 this week, it’s worth it.