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Hey Jude, do you listen to Dominic Fike? Because Paul McCartney does

“McCartney III Imagined” is a strange, indulgent and wonderful collection of covers and collaborations

<p>“McCartney III Imagined” is an adaptation of Paul McCartney's 2020 release titled “McCartney III,” featuring covers and collaborations with modern greats across a wide range of genres.</p>

“McCartney III Imagined” is an adaptation of Paul McCartney's 2020 release titled “McCartney III,” featuring covers and collaborations with modern greats across a wide range of genres.

Paul McCartney — former Beatles member and brilliant musician in his own right — released his fourth installation to his “McCartney” album series April 16. “McCartney III Imagined” is an adaptation of his 2020 release titled “McCartney III,” featuring covers and collaborations with modern greats across a wide range of genres.

Any installation to the “McCartney” series promises something new and out-of-the-box — for better or for worse. McCartney’s 1970 self-titled solo debut hit the record stores only seven days after he gave the self-interview interpreted by Beatles fans as the band’s breakup announcement. The album’s successes — broken-down acoustics, raw sound and lyrical tact — were overshadowed by worldwide mourning for the fall of the best-selling band in history. 

Similarly, “McCartney II” received heavy criticism upon its 1980 release. Nevertheless, “McCartney” and “McCartney II” are cult classics among McCartney’s extensive and accomplished solo discography. Rather than seeking radio hits, he uses these albums to display his weirdest and most wonderful ideas, regardless of how fans and critics might receive them. Their greatness is obvious only in hindsight — convincing evidence that they were ahead of their time.

Forty years after “McCartney II,” the COVID-19 pandemic forced McCartney into quarantine in his East Sussex farmhouse. Like many other musicians, he used his time in isolation as an artist’s retreat, emerging with “McCartney III” — an unexpected addition to his “McCartney” series.

Like its predecessors, “McCartney III” takes risks and explores the less radio-friendly ideas rattling around in McCartney’s brain. Unconventional and at times downright absurd, “McCartney III” has all the makings for greatness.

The brilliance of “McCartney III Imagined” lies in the way McCartney enables each collaborator with complete creative freedom to adapt his work in ways that remains true to their style. The album shines a spotlight on a wide range of artists, from Dominic Fike to Phoebe Bridgers to Beck, but it also reveals the sheer force of Paul McCartney lyricism. The world knows the man behind “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be” and “Blackbird” can write a song, but “McCartney III Imagined” proves his lyrics defy any boundaries of genre. His songs remain brilliant, no matter who sings them.

Eight-time Grammy-winner Beck joined McCartney on the first track, “Find My Way (feat. Beck),” to build a new high-energy sound. The lyrics address the early anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You never used to be afraid of days like these / But now you’re overwhelmed by your anxieties,” McCartney sings in the chorus. Beck revealed that his piece of the album was inspired by McCartney and his wife. He explained how he went out dancing with them in West Hollywood once and wanted to recapture the spirit of that moment in his collaboration. The result is a funky, upbeat interpretation of the original that manages to feel true to Beck and McCartney both.

On the sixth track, indie rock singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers graces “Seize the Day (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)” with a haunting take on McCartney’s original. She lends already striking lyrics a feminine, folksy quality that nearly manages to convince listeners it was meant to sound that way all along. Another highlight of the album is British musician Damon Albarn’s whimsical remix of “Long Tailed Winter Bird.”

The crown jewel of “McCartney III Imagined” is young American singer Dominic Fike’s collaboration on “The Kiss of Venus (Dominic Fike).” Fike reworked the original dreamy, stripped-down lyrics into modern R&B sound built for the radio. While McCartney’s strong lyricism still shines through, Fike delivers his timeless sound directly into the laps of a new generation. Fike and McCartney released a music video for the song on March 11, filmed at the printing press for the New York Times — a nod to lyrics referencing modern media.

The University Programs Council hosted Fike for a live virtual concert Friday as part of its annual Springfest event. UPC hosted an in-person watch party at the Amphitheatre, drawing a sizable socially-distanced audience of University students. Fike opened with “The Kiss of Venus,” an instant hit among attendees.

The magic in Paul McCartney’s lyrics lies in their versatility. The original works from “McCartney III” have undeniable potential and just the right amount of peculiarity for spectacular adaptation. Whether amped up by Dominic Fike or chilled out by Phoebe Bridgers, the lyrics have a timeless quality to them — like they could be produced successfully as 80s-nostalgia, 90s-grunge or modern hits. Paul McCartney took risks, and they paid off.