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You're familiar with "new car smell." Paul McCartney wanted some of his fans to experience NEW car sound.
So, Sunday night, he offered the chance for hundreds of fans in Los Angeles and New York to be the first to hear his new recording — appropriately titled NEW — via album premieres held at real or makeshift drive-in theaters. "I love listening to music in the car," McCartney explained on his website. "It’s like listening with a huge pair of headphones! You’re in there and the sound is wrapped around you." In a nation of earbuds, he's got something there.
We attended the west coast listening party, held at L.A. County's one remaining drive-in, the Vineland, about 20 miles southeast of downtown in the unglamorous City of Industry. In Manhattan, you have to travel considerably farther outside of town to get to the nearest ozoner (as Variety used to call them). So McCartney had his own drive-in set up on the roof of a VW/Audi dealership, where pedestrians stood in line for the chance to sit in new cars borrowed from the showroom for the occasion.
In both cities, while the sound was pumped over the drive-in's FM frequency, the projected image consisted solely of a reproduction of the cover imagery for NEW, along with the song titles and an occasional reminder to tweet reactions using the hashtag #mccartneydrivein. At the Vineland in L.A., host Chris Carter looked across the vast lot at the three other outdoor screens and quipped, "Those people watching Gravity must look over here and think, 'That looks like a really boring movie.'"
But the audio portion of the program was anything but static. "It sounds very modern," said Carter, the Dramarama member who hosts a weekly "Breakfast with the Beatles" program on KLOS. "You can tell he's listening to other music and trying to stay current. He's got little Radiohead sounds in there." As the song "Looking at Her" came over the speakers, Carter remarked, "It's an electronic Wings song."
Carter said this all happened at the last minute, with McCartney reportedly getting the idea only about a week ago after listening to the album in his own car. Mind you, Macca has had a fondness for automobile songs — from "Drive My Car" to "The Back Seat of My Car" — and even took a road trip with his then-fiancee along Route 66 some years back, so the idea that he would be fixated on this as the best place to hear a new album isn't so fanciful. (You might think that he'd be a little wary of cars after dying in an automobile crash in the mid-'60s, as the "Paul is Dead" legend had it, but apparently McCartney doesn't hold that against motor vehicles.)
At the risk of being mistaken for a carhop, we went from car to car at the Vineland to solicit opinions on NEW during and after its unveiling. Not surprisingly, McCartney had all these fans in the palm of his hand as well as the backseat of his car.
Alfredo Flores of Pasadena called the album "awesome" and "kick-ass." "You can tell Paul is open for new ideas," he said, putting the coolers back in the trunk as the lights came up, "and he's moved toward the electronica a little, but the rocking songs really rock, and of course he's got his ballads. It's a nice little mix." He was partial to the album's opening track, "Save Us." "If you're gonna make an impression with the fans, it's best to have a real rock & roll song, and that one was pretty rocking."
The "R' word also came up with Scott Jackson of Venice Beach. "I heard the three songs he did on Hollywood Blvd. [for Jimmy Kimmel's show] — 'Save Us,' 'Everybody Out There,' and 'New' — and they were rockin'. So I wanted to hear the rest. I love it that it wasn't that mellow of an album. I liked 'Alligator' and 'I Bet You' most of all. I think it's one of his strongest albums in a long time and remarkably contemporary for a guy who's 71. He doesn't have to do new music at all, but I really liked Memory Almost Full [McCartney's last album of new material, in 2008], and I think this is superior to that. Last year, I was concerned when he put out the standards album, because I wasn't sure that his voice was all there. But listening to this, you can tell that he really still has it."
Jackson described himself, at 43, as being a "third-generation" McCartney fan. "I didn't really get into him till the '90s!" he said, leaning out his car window. "It was really listening to the Beatles' first Live at the BBC album that came out in '94 that turned me onto them, and once you get into the Beatles, you have to progress to the solo stuff. And I'm really excited that they're finally putting out a BBC Vol. 2 album next month."
There were definitely a good share first-generation Macca fans on hand, too. "My wife and I were last at this drive-in in the late '60s, when it was one screen instead of four," said John Parry. His better half, Linda, said she'd been a McCartney fan for 50 years, "since the Ed Sullivan show, when I was 11." They loved NEW — most of all the title track, which is also the first single— and had only one complaint: "I thought there would be more pictures up," she said.
But for that, they could always look over at the adjoining screen, and see how well the album synced up with Gravity.
You can see how it sounds over your own car speakers when NEW arrives in stores Oct. 15.