Although he has boasted the most varied and impressive solo career of any Beatle, to my mind Paul McCartney has been most creative when he performs on his own, as his eponymous trilogy so impressively exhibits. There was the holistic lyricism found in his post-Beatle disparity (McCartney); the electronic-coated backdrops that coasted him from fronting Wings to the more low-key eighties (McCartney II); before capping it all off with the more industrial and contemporary sounding McCartney III. Considering his advanced age, it’s unlikely that the Beatle will complete a fourth chapter (sorry for the spoiler), but with the impressively jaunty Edge of The Universe, Nick Ryder proves to be worthy substitute to the song writing bassist.
McCartney IV is not a title I bandy around lightly, but Ryder has earned it, presenting a selection of chirpily produced indie anthems in which he plays each and every instrument himself. His voice bears a similar tone to McCartney’s, but he can also rock out in the manner of a 1970s blues singer, as ‘Stand My Ground’ demonstrates. The album has the majestic, orchestral sweep of mid-1990s Britpop, with a wide range of faders, instruments and vocal techniques padding out the battily psychedelic ‘Shine On My Shrine’. On these cuts and elsewhere, Ryder’s penchant for barrelling, brusque arrangements and irrepressibly catchy vocal melodies is up to the calibre expected of a Beatlesque record.
The drumming heard on ‘Go Your Own Way’ is of a tight calibre, no doubt inspired by the dub bass that latches onto the track, leaving the vocal ample space to scat as it pleases. From that, the album takes a more rocking turn with ‘Estelle’, cemented by an explosive guitar hook and a doo-wop style vocal performance. But where the record is essentially a studio creation, Ryder will be able to translate ‘Estelle’ to the live stages, which will add another dimension to the tune.
The album features one co-write, and it’s the title track. Inspired in part by an essay written by Simon Wellings, the track is sparsely put together, and focus is almost entirely placed on the pastoral guitar strumming in the foreground. Gently touched up by an orchestra, the song proves to be the most obviously commercial, and the most introspective. It’s at this moment when the songwriter pivots away from McCartney, and emulates George Harrison, the Beatle with the greatest sense of purpose and passion. ‘Heartbreaker’ will appeal to fans of John Lennon’s more rollicking backbeat, while ‘Dear Sugar Baby’ avoids genre pigeonholing altogether.
Where Ryder will go next with his work remains to be seen, but it looks like he’s in a perfect place to fill in for McCartney should the bassist opt to retire as rumours currently suggest he might. And in the absence of a McCartney IV, Edge of The Universe is a strong placeholder, and will remain as such for the foreseeable. “Don’t be a stranger,” he sings presumably for the audience; “And don’t, get in your car and drive away.” I won’t!