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Album reviews: Paul McCartney – III Imagined and AJ Tracey – Flu Game

Rachel Brodsky and Roisin O'Connor
·3-min read
Paul McCartney (Mary McCartney)
Paul McCartney (Mary McCartney)

Paul McCartney – III Imagined

★★★★☆

Paul McCartney’s status as pop-rock godfather has been long established. But getting a younger generation involved in “reimagining” his material? That’s a clever way to cement a legacy, and it pays off on McCartney III Imagined.

McCartney III, of course, came out toward the end of 2020 and was a sequel of sorts to Macca’s beloved McCartney (1970) and McCartney II (1980), with the former Beatles bassist writing and recording everything on his own. Here, he flips the script by handing his solo musings over to hand-picked artists like St Vincent, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien (aka EOB), Beck, Phoebe Bridgers, Josh Homme, Damon Albarn, 3D from Massive Attack, Anderson .Paak, and more. The result is a sonically diverse adventure where the guests successfully articulate their vision while sticking to their idol’s blueprint.

Reworked by Beck, “Find My Way” packs new punch and would have fitted well on his 2005 record Guero. Meanwhile, its tinkling intro and vocoder effects sound like a party-ready cross-pollination from Talking Heads and ELO. Further down, Phoebe Bridgers morphs McCartney‘s trademark jaunt into a lush, ruminative ballad on “Slidin’”. Already something of a harder rock anthem, the track, under Ed O’Brien and Paul Epworth’s tutelage, sounds much more chaotic.

It’s always nice when artists sound genuinely excited to participate in a collective project, and that comes through in spades on the delightful, crisply produced, and well-arranged McCartney III Imagined. The source material was released mid-pandemic. This assembly of talent feels symbolic of future social gatherings to come. RB

AJ Tracey – Flu Game

★★★★☆

Confidence isn’t an issue for AJ Tracey. The 27-year-old is famous for his brag-filled raps, to the point that it’s something of a running joke. But the west London artist has good reason to boast. He’s already had a No 3 album, without the kind of major label backing many of his peers enjoy. The follow-up happens to be even better.

In the past, AJ has stuck to a close circle of collaborators, including grime star Giggs and singer/rapper Not3s, both of whom appeared on his self-titled debut in 2017. He could easily have gone with the same names. A pleasant surprise, then, to hear curveballs like the Latin-inflected “Coupé”, dripping with the melodious vocals of US singer Kehlani. On “West Ten”, he reminds listeners that he’s had a lot to do with the ongoing garage revival, deploying a shuffly, bass-throbbing beat alongside a subtle hat-tip to Craig David, who was there for the genre’s birth: “Don’t you know I’m walking away?”

Theme-wise, though, AJ doesn’t stray too far from his roots. He’s aware of complaints about his bragging habits, so he flips it: “AJ Tracey’s such a d***head, all he do is boast,” he mocks on jittery opener “Anxious”. He ignores them completely on “Little More Love”, instead turning his attention to the persecution of young black men in Britain. It’s a thoughtful spin on what initially presents itself as a classic R&B sex jam, trading in sultry guitar licks and AJ’s gruff mutter. There’s a brief dabbling in US-crossover appeal with Chicago singer SahBabii, before he darts back to the familiarity of Ladbroke Grove. AJ’s still running this game on his terms. Fair play. ROC

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