It has been 30 years since I’ve heard Press To Play, Paul McCartney’s 1986 17th post-Beatles album, and I just remember it as being unspeakably horrible and it isn’t at all. I thought it made Pipes OF Peace sound halfway decent in comparison but it is actually a better album. W’appen? The album cover is so ghastly it put me right off, a black and white homage portraiture of golden age Hollywood by George Hurrell, one of the greats -he took that famous snappie of Jane Russell circa Howard Hugh’s “The Outlaw,” laying in a haystack. Paul ain’t Rita and neither is Linda, and they look like twits.That was a problem and so was producer Hugh Padgham, an 80s stalwart who’d worked with Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, and then his way around digital and synths, giving the sound a clean and cool simplicity at odds with the songs.
But the songs weren’t bad, they weren’t great, and it didn’t peak very high, but “Press” and “Move Over Busker” proves he still knows his way around a hook, and as far as big ballads go “Only Love Remains” is slight but deep, he underplays nicely till the second verse and then lets the tale take him for a little ride till the sweet and high end. “Pretty Little Head” sounds like proto-EDM, the drum machine a kick in the trunk on an otherwise stillborn effort and what is that talking word crap? “Angry” is a modern day “helter Skelter” meets Big Audio Dynamite counterpoint in rabble rousing. “However Absurd” is a somewhat pure McCartney song, it has the ring of an informed take, an off-center self-portrait. It would be a great song but he blows the bridge, and to a less extent, th chorus, so only the verses are left to carry it.
The other half of the songs sound not slap dash, but not up to the job. This is McCartney in 1986 nearing the half way mark of his career, and it takes more effort to give us less, his great giftedness is back peddling and the air of infallible ineffable well being is well dented here. Expectations are low on Press To Play, but the album is good enough to be acknowledged as a minor work by a major artist. Paul doesn’t embarrass himself.