Almost from the moment he peeled away from The Beatles, Paul McCartney has been one of the most-covered artists alive. His personal cachet certainly doesn’t hurt, but there’s undeniably something magnetic about the way he puts together friendly, accessible songs that seem to invite other artists to pick them up and put their own spin on them. Last year’s homespun, largely acoustic quarantine album was no exception — with the time and pretext to play with whatever ideas came into his head, he ended up making some of his most well-regarded work in years.
Like so much of his work, McCartney III was already begging to be covered from the moment it landed, so it’s no wonder he would get ahead of the game. McCartney III: Imagined (★★★☆☆) turns his mostly cozy, DIY songs over to a curated selection of artists, who each put their spin on them with wildly divergent results. Some of the tracks end up sounding entirely reimagined. Others, like Anderson .Paak’s lo-fi cover of “When Winter Comes,” are much more faithful to their source material. And then there are the ones like Beck’s take on “Find My Way,” which finds itself somewhere in between, keeping McCartney’s guitar riffs, but shifting the mood by flipping the key and providing his own vocals.
Beck’s remix, already a strong opener, is followed by another hit, Dominic Fike’s cover of “Kiss of Venus,” easily stronger than the original. Together, these tracks are two of the strongest on the album, getting it off to a promising start. By its nature, however, Imagined is an incredibly heterogeneous album, which has the drawback of making for an uneven listening experience. Sleepier tracks that worked well in their original homey, easy-listening context end up feeling like afterthoughts on their own. These less memorable tracks are still solid enough and more die-hard McCartney fans will likely appreciate these reinterpretations, but otherwise they are somewhat unremarkable.
To the extent that Imagined suffers, it is from almost the opposite problem as its source material. The few clunky moments on McCartney III came when he diverged from its pared-down acoustic sensibility. Here, on the other hand, the most memorable tracks are the ones that depart most starkly from the originals. St. Vincent’s remix of “Women and Wives” transforms that song into a characteristically scintillating, distinctly St. Vincent track. Blood Orange’s take on “Deep Down” takes a similar approach, resulting in a sunny, memorable track that he embodies so flawlessly that a listener unfamiliar with the source material could be forgiven for thinking he had penned it himself.
McCartney is, of course, no stranger to teaming up with other artists, and at this point there is really no such thing as a surprising McCartney collaboration. The one constant in his roster seems to be star power, whether it comes in the form of seasoned, proven talent or newly-risen stars. Spoiled for choice and at least as eager as his fans to hear his work covered, there was no reason to think Imagined would be anything other than a solid collection of covers, and on that, he has delivered.
McCartney III: Imagined will be available for streaming and purchase starting Friday, April 16.
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