Of all the McCartneyesque types who've blipped and beep-beeped on the pop-music radar over the years (think Gilbert O'Sullivan, Neil Finn of Crowded House, Badfinger's Pete Ham, etc.), few, if any, have managed to ape Paul McCartney's artistry quite like Pete Mitchell.
A singer and songwriter of indeterminate cuteness, Mitchell manages to capture the "Macca" sound to near perfection on his album "Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard," from industrial-strength pop melodies and pristine production to simple if occasionally trite lyrics and a voice that's pure Paul.
But Mitchell doesn't do silly love songs -- and he isn't nearly as optimistic as McCartney. He's what the eternally sunny McCartney might sound like while working under some serious cloud cover or with a pebble in his sensible shoes.
But here's the thing: Pete Mitchell is Paul McCartney -- never mind the name on the advance copy of "Chaos and Creation," sent to us by the press-and-paranoia department at Capitol Records.
Fearful of piracy, Internet leaks and -- just maybe -- music critics who, as a breed, tend to have violent reactions to new Paul McCartney records, Capitol went into cloak-and-dagger mode for Sir Paul's 20th studio album since that popular little band of his broke up. (And we don't mean Wings.)
Reviewer copies can't be played on computers, and they were "watermarked," whatever that means. For good measure, "Pete Mitchell" was slapped across the CDs, lest a Beatles fan wander by a critic's desk and decide that there's no better time than now to hear the new Paul McCartney.
On the retail edition of "Chaos and Creation," though, McCartney gets his name back. Which may or may not be a good thing.
The problem with Paul McCartney is that he's Paul McCartney. Anything he does is measured against his best work, of which there is plenty. The pretty but bittersweet "Chaos and Creation," then, is hardly the new "Revolver." It's not even "Band on the Run" redux.
Produced by Nigel Godrich, whose studio credits include Radiohead, Beck and Pavement, "Chaos and Creation" is something of a long-overdue sequel to 1970's "McCartney" and 1980's "McCartney II" in that it's an almost all-Paul affair. At Godrich's urging, McCartney played almost everything himself, from Hammond B-3 and harmonium to flugelhorn and melodica.
The breezy, Brian Wilson-ish lead single, "Fine Line," for instance, is McCartney multi-track mania, as he's on drums, shakers, tambourine, spinet, grand piano and three kinds of guitars; the only instrumental interloper is the Millennia Ensemble, which provides the strings in the song that Lexus is using in a national ad campaign. Elsewhere, it's McCartney playing eight, nine, even 10 instruments on a single song.
The result, however, hardly sounds of chaos. Though producer Godrich has been known to push musicians to the artistic edge (as on Radiohead's "OK Computer"), McCartney comes out sounding like a quasi-orchestral version of himself.
Which is to say, the true king of melodic pop.
The album's arrangements -- layered and yet somehow spare-sounding -- frame lyrics that are some of McCartney's most intimate and emotionally complex in years, particularly on the exquisitely uplifting "Too Much Rain" and the George Harrison-inspired "Friends to Go." On "Riding to Vanity Fair" he sings of a failed friendship, "I think I've heard enough of your familiar song." And on "At the Mercy," he sighs: "I guess you'd rather see me grow into a better man than the one you know."
Alas, "Chaos and Creation" is not dud-free. There is, for one, a Dickensian number about sitting down for a cup of English tea, an idea that, he sings, is "very twee, very me," but an execution that, we should note, is very lame.
Still, for a new McCartney record, it's not half bad. And for Pete Mitchell, well, a fantastic debut!