Paul McCartney, "New"

Over the past couple of decades while his detractors have been dismissing McCartney as the "Silly Love Songs" peddler of sappy pop, the ex-Beatle has been building up a terrific "oeuvre" of late-career polished gemstones. Arguably beginning with Flowers in the Dirt in 1989 and certainly since 1997's Flaming Pie, McCartney has made a series of albums that would be considered the envy of most artists if not for the sheer historic weight of Paul's back catalogue.

On New, McCartney seems to be making one final attempt at swinging for the fences and knocking one out of the park commercially and not just creatively. He teamed up with four producers with recent notable success stories solid track records, particularly Paul Epworth (the Grammy-winning producer of Adele's recent work) and Mark Ronson (who helped shepherd Amy Winehouse to mainstream success). Also behind the glass as producer were Giles Martin (son of Beatles collaborator George Martin) and the recently ubiquitous Ethan Johns.

Interestingly, it's not the son of The Beatles' producer who guided McCartney through some of his most Fab Four-like tracks on New. The title cut, with its distinctive mid-period Beatles sound, was produced by Ronson, as was the White Album-styled "Alligator." And the song "Early Days," in which McCartney harks back to his formative years as and before The Beatles ("I live through those early days/So many times I had to change the pain to laughter/Just to keep from getting crazy"), was a collaboration with Johns.

But although his choice of producers would lead one to think McCartney badly wants further pop success, New has more subtlety and onion layers than pop sheen. His last rock record, 2007's Memory Almost Full, had more typically McCartneyesque hooks than New. His latest album is full of tension between reminders of the past and the hope and fears involved in his latest marriage (to his third wife, Nancy Shevell). It's a rewarding listen, but New takes repeated engagement before one can fully appreciate the well-crafted songs.

(Mike Sauter, Midday Mix)