The Fireman: Electric Arguments

Ron Hart

It's no McCartney III, but Paul’s first album after unveiling himself as the Fireman is as freewheeling as anything he has done in nearly 30 years.

The Fireman

Electric Arguments

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2008-11-25
UK Release Date: 2008-11-24

It’s no secret that Paul McCartney was the member of the Beatles with the major jones for experimental music.

Though George Harrison may have beat him to the punch in releasing a solo album with his understated 1968 Moog jam Electronic Sound, it was Macca’s infatuation with musique concrete and the compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen that inspired the found-sound collagist nature of such late-period Beatles nuggets as “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Revolution No. 9”. And just because he was the one member who enjoyed the most mainstream success, gauged by a steady stream of oftentimes gorgeous and inspired, other times corny and contrived radio hits throughout the course of his nearly four-decade long post-Fabs solo career, doesn’t mean the man doesn’t still have a few avant-skeletons in his closet.

Yet while the grand majority of Macca’s material both on his own and with his successful '70s band Wings was primarily rooted in pop songwriting, a deeper look into his catalog will show you that the man still has a pinky toe dipped in the experimental hot tub, primarily in the form of the Fireman, his secretive side project with Killing Joke bassist and ambient producer Youth. The duo’s previous two albums together, 1993’s Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest and 1998’s Rushes were both rooted in the downtempo ambient club music of groups like the Orb, whom Youth has worked with in the past.

In fact, their union was originally conceived as a remix project by Youth himself after Macca invited him to the studio to deconstruct and reassemble Paul’s 1993 album Off the Ground, perhaps one of the three worst albums McCartney has ever put his name on. Youth wound up taking pieces of Ground, reassembling them and incorporating found sound samples, old Macca-related demos, pieces of Wings’ 1979 swan song Back to the Egg and new music recorded by McCartney into the fray. It was a wild, leftfield experiment that yielded more satisfying the results the second time around on Rushes, which added more guitar and live bass elements to the mix and coalesced in 2000 with the excellent Liverpool Sound Collage, a one-hour continuous tape collage of Beatles music and studio chatter created by McCartney, Youth and members of Super Furry Animals that comes off like 2006’s Cirque De Soleil soundtrack Love after a few months with the Maharishi and some seriously laced John Cage chewing gum.

Over the last ten years, McCartney has released perhaps his strongest continuous string of albums since the early '70s, starting with 1997’s outstanding, Jeff Lynne-produced Flaming Pie right on up through to last year’s label debut on Starbucks Coffee’s Hear Music imprint, Memory Almost Full. So what a better way to add to the winning streak than revive the Fireman from its decade-long hibernation and unmask the thinly-veiled mystery behind Macca and Youth’s collaboration by releasing the new album, entitled Electric Arguments, as an out-in-the-open Paul McCartney project. Meaning that McCartney is actually singing and playing guitar on this particular Fireman album, prompting a 180-degree turn from the duo’s initial vow of anonymity and reconfiguring the concept of the Fireman as a more freewheeling artist-based work along the lines of the first McCartney album and Ram.

So is it any good? Well, that all depends on where you stand as a Macca fan. Electric Arguments, by all accounts, is the most diversified work McCartney has put his voice to since McCartney II back in 1980. Eschewing the ambient house concept of the first two Fireman albums, Youth and Macca instead spent 13 non-consecutive days over the past year recording each of the album’s 13 tracks, which, helps to give Arguments its sporadic nature. Some of the tracks evoke a heavier vibe, like the bluesy stomp reminiscent of Led Zeppelin-by-way-of-Tom Waits on the opening number “Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight” and the uptempo rocker “Highway”.

Others find McCartney tapping into his unrequited affinity for traditional English folk, namely the Pentangle-esque “Travelling Light”, gospel music on “Light from Your Lighthouse” and, for some odd reason, new age pan flute music on “Is This Love?” Then you have songs that reflect upon the varying degrees of McCartney’s solo career, ranging from the inspired (particularly the beautiful, Ram-like folk ditty “Two Magpies” and the mid-tempo “Sun Is Shining”, which could easily be mistaken for a Flowers in the Dirt outtake) to the insipid (tracks like “Sing the Changes” and “Dance ‘Til We’re High” rank up there with “Silly Love Songs” and Give My Regards to Broad Street amongst the cheesiest material in the Macca canon, quite arguably).

Shades of the original Fireman style emerge on Arguments’ last couple of tracks, as predominantly instrumental cuts like “Universal Here, Everlasting Now” and the ten-plus-minute “Don’t Stop Running” bridge the gap between the soundscapes of Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest and Rushes and the musicality of the new material with satisfying results.

Though perhaps a more serious fan of the Paul McCartney songbook will certainly continue to cite the likes of 2001’s understated Driving Rain, 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and the aforementioned Memory Almost Full as much stronger releases on almost every level, Electric Arguments does harbor its own unique charm that will certainly appeal to longtime fans moreover than Macca’s previous pair of Fireman jaunts. Could McCartney III be not too far off the beaten path? That remains to be seen. But nevertheless, it’s good to see the old man get a little weird once again.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.