Making good pop music is a lot harder than it seems, as a past master like McCartney is well aware. It's not easy to act so intentionally yet appear so careless, to be at once provocative and anodyne, to prick the interest while remaining soothingly familiar. McCartney strikes that balance often enough on this album to make it one of his best releases in this decade.
Whoa, don't rush off to the record store just yet. This is no classic—and bear in mind that McCartney's '80s output is not exactly worth ferrying across the Mersey for. Still, the music is sweet without being sappy, attractive without being coy. By those criteria alone, it ranks as a triumph. Most disappointing is the withered fruit of Paul's collaboration with Elvis Costello. Of four songs they co-wrote, only "That Day Is Done" is worth noting. On the plus side, there's "Figure of Eight," a rock shuffle made with the aid of producer Trevor Horn that's one of McCartney's best songs since his mid-'70s Wings period. His largely subdued sentimental streak emerges winningly on "Distractions," a love song that recalls his early solo work 20 years ago. That's a long time, but McCartney is still creating highly listenable songs like this album's "Rough Ride" and "We Got Married." In other words, good pop music. (Capitol)