Paul McCartney – Kisses on the Bottom (review)

Paul McCartney – Kisses on the Bottom (Hear Music / Concord) review

An entire album of Frank Sinatra-styled standards isn’t quite the stretch you might think for Paul McCartney.  Considering he wrote similarly-themed songs like “When I’m 64” and “Honey Pie” way back in his tenure with the Beatles, and tracks like “Ballroom Dancing” in his solo material, the real question is “what took you so long”?  And while those aforementioned tunes all were done with gleeful abandon, there’s a decidedly somber tone to Kisses on the Bottom (which is actually a line from the opening cut, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” – he’s referring to the bottom of the letter.)

The pre-rock “Great American Songbook” has been mined by many a contemporary artist; usually succeeding by adding a unique approach.  Some, like Rod Stewart (in his Great American Songbook series), tackled this material with a wink and a smile, while others like Michael Buble conquered them with their sheer vocal prowess and styling.  McCartney does neither, choosing to play it straight.  Yet, in doing so, he places more focus on his aging voice which, especially on the more morose cuts, doesn’t really add much to these classics; he’s lost some of the warm quality of his younger days, yet his voice isn’t quite the scratchy mess of a Billie Holiday or modern-day Joni Mitchell that would add a little more charm.  Even more important is the fact that McCartney doesn’t seem to be having fun.  Despite the sometimes dark subject matter, the original versions of these songs were usually sang (whether by Sinatra, Nat Cole, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett) with a smile on their face.  Even on the children’s nursery rhyme, “The Inch Worm,” Sir Paul doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying himself.

The bottom line is, we want Paul to have fun – after all he was the “cute” Beatle who wrote all those great effervescent pop tunes, right?  That’s why when the tempo is turned up a bit, as in “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” he sounds right at home.  Perhaps an entire album of more like-minded upbeat material would’ve been more appropriate (“Get Your Kicks on Route 66” or “You Make Me Feel So Young” would’ve sounded great in his hands).  Paul does pen a couple of originals that fit right in with the older material.  The lead track, “My Valentine,” features Eric Clapton on some tasty guitar.

You can’t blame him for trying to be authentic – McCartney recorded the entire disc at the famed Capitol Studios, where Sinatra, et al, recorded many a magical moment.  The arrangements are gorgeous, many featuring just bass and guitar.  Producer Tommy LiPuma, who’s worked similar outings by Barbara Streisand and Natalie Cole, gives everything a classic feel.  Perhaps Sir Paul was aiming for an In the Wee Small Hours feel, the famous darkly-themed album by Sinatra.  But, while “Ol Blue Eyes” had the swagger to pull it off, McCartney doesn’t seem quite at home with this material.

In the liner notes, Paul says “this is an album you listen to at home after work, with a glass of wine or a cup of tea.”  While it does make for some pleasant background music, with some more upbeat song choices, and more engaging singing from McCartney, this could’ve been a lot better –Tony Peters