It’s been interesting clocking friends of mine slowly come around to McCartney’s first batch of solo records, as though there was something wrong with ever loving Wings, or with McCartney being a fruity millionaire lo-fi pioneer, or with accepting that The Beatles might have just been a limit point that kept all four members from realizing their true talents (McCartney, All Things Must Pass, Beaucoup Of Blues and Plastic Ono Band are all far more intriguing, in their own ways, than anything that preceded them). So, for a long time, it’s been up to other musicians to translate that incredible body of solo work, make it palatable to jaded post-Beatle ears, build on the escape routes it offers. And with Cloud Happiness, Goro Ito might just have perfected it; he’s made solo McCartney, and some of Lennon’s less well-known Beatles moments, taste sweet again. (It’s also timely, given the recent deluxe treatment metered out to McCartney and McCartney II – few records are more deserving of such re-evaluation, after all.)
This is not to say that Cloud Happiness is mere tribute. But given Goro Ito (trans: Moose Hill) has spent a good chunk of his recording career making sweet bossa nova in the Naomi E Goro duo, this sideways swerve is particularly telling. For what it’s worth, the songs are beautiful things – articulate, charming, melodically concise, harmonically rich, and full of warmth and poise. Each is arranged in a jewel-like setting, allowed to give off light at obscure angles, and then quietly and gently replaced by another gem. The top end of the record is front-loaded with rich melodies, like the gorgeous “Captain Coo With A Butterfly," originally a collaboration with peripatetic Japanese musician Kama AIna, now re-imagined as a lovely bossa-pop shuffle with The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan.
Stroll further into the album, beyond the faithful ’70s pop arrangements and harmonic landscape poetry, and things start to come apart in intriguing ways. “Cruel Park #C” leans a frail guitar against a string section that’s pure Robert Kirby/Nick Drake; the following “Interlude” pitches bells and piano into a murky sea of reverb. “Postludium #3," written by Ukranian composer Valentin Silvestrov, is as much about the tonality of the cello – you can hear the bow riding the string, pulling melancholy out of its taut, stretched wires – as it is the subtle experimentalism of the composition (and though Silvestrov was hailed as one of the greatest living composers by Arvo Part, who should know a thing or two about such claims, he’s much more engaging than Part – less prone to grandiosity).
The final song, a cover of Brian Eno’s “By This River," has Goro Ito heading somewhere else again, translating the nudity of Eno’s original performance, its observational quietude, into a post-Rundgren singer-songwriter paradigm. It’s a neat trick that does justice both to the beauty of Eno’s song, and Goro Ito’s ability to personalize his borrowings. By the end of the record, he’s shyly let go of his Lennon and McCartney worship, let it float out to sea like a paper boat on the water, and started to move somewhere else again. It’s good to hear a record that thinks with you.