On Dec. 18, 2020, former Beatle Paul McCartney released McCartney III — the third installment of his esteemed solo album trilogy. From the classic rock anthem “Slidin’” to the bluesy ballad “Women and Wives,” McCartney unapologetically experimented with multiple musical styles, and the result was a divine testament to the strength of his songwriting. McCartney III Imagined, released April 16, sees the musician continuing in this creative streak by handing his work over to a string of A-list artists to be reworked and reimagined. This impressive lineup consists of old and new musicians alike, ranging from Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien to rising indie sensation Phoebe Bridgers.
This is not a simple remix album; rather it is an ode to imagination — a celebration of the fluidity of music and its making. Each featured artist takes advantage of the opportunity to reimagine McCartney’s work, and the result is a bridging of past and present that alerts the listener to an important truth: Paul McCartney is as relevant as ever.
With each song, the listener is transported into a different artist’s world; each excursion offers a new sound in which to indulge, even if it’s just for a brief few minutes. Beck takes full artistic liberty in funky opener “Find My Way,” opting for more danceable, synth-infused rhythms to accompany the optimistic lyrics. Texan trio Khruangbin confronts “Pretty Boys” with the same transformative spirit, inserting McCartney’s aesthetic musings into a psychedelic dreamscape; McCartney’s low rumble only emerges between lengthy periods of disco bass lines and ethereal harmonies.
McCartney III saw McCartney occasionally wandering into blues territory, and St. Vincent is more than ready for the journey in her sultry remix of “Women and Wives.” With her glimmering harmonies and commanding guitar solo, she immerses the listener in a world of cosmic wonder. McCartney’s vocals seamlessly glide over her glossy accompaniment, and the shimmering track lives up to St. Vincent’s celebrated name.
Some tracks cling to their original counterparts a bit too much, offering little in terms of imagination. Josh Homme’s “Lavatory Lil” barely deviates from the original, and Ed O’Brien’s “Slidin’” really only changes the original’s tempo. On the other hand, former Soundcloud artist Dominic Fike opts for a radical reimagination, inserting his own lyrics into an R&B rendition of “The Kiss of Venus.” McCartney’s sound is catapulted into the year 2021 as Fike takes full artistic liberty, and the already successful song takes on a second life.
Strong tracks become stronger still when they hover between artistic worlds, and Phoebe Bridgers does a beautiful job of combining the optimism of “Seize the Day” with her signature sadness. “It’s still alright to be nice,” she sings with the alluring flow of her airy vocals. The song assumes a haunting quality, and the listener drowns in the dizzying effect of her warped instrumentals. The result is an intimate intersection between seemingly irreconcilable worlds, and there is an inexplicable beauty in their collision.
Nevertheless, there are some songs that these reimaginations cannot save — and in some cases, they become worse. The original “Deep Deep Feeling,” which ran for nearly 8 1/2 minutes, meandered through its own redundancy, delivering a host of shallow introspections. The 3D RDN remix only exacerbates these issues, lengthening the track by over three minutes and replacing its guitar and piano accompaniment with an electronic blend of nothingness. Even as it aims for experimentalism, it loses its focus before it is halfway done, and the track serves as a sorrowful close to an otherwise successful album.
Paul McCartney isn’t afraid to admit that he gets by with a little help from his friends, and as McCartney III Imagined demonstrates, this collaborative spirit reaps generous rewards. With his all-star lineup, McCartney expunges any doubt: the former Beatle is as relevant as ever, and his music is as welcome now as it was in the ’60s.