NEW YORK – The song most clearly about Paul McCartney's late wife Linda on his new album is not about the day he lost her, but the day he met her.
It sends a clear message. Driving Rain, McCartney's first original album of rock songs since his wife's death from breast cancer in 1998, is about recovery instead of grief.
"Some people I've talked to thought it might be kind of a somber album, a missing you kind of album," McCartney said. "But I found when I wrote one or two pieces with Linda in mind that I wanted to remember the good things, the positive."
Few memories are more precious than the 1967 night in a London nightclub when McCartney intercepted young photographer Linda Eastman to introduce himself as she was about to leave.
He never did that. He was a Beatle — women came to him. He calls the song "There Must Have Been Magic," because he has no other way to explain why he decided to get up from his seat and take the step that changed his life.
Elsewhere on Driving Rain, McCartney writes about the new woman in his life — fiancee Heather Mills — and finding love again.
"This album is about picking up and carrying on," said VH1 executive Bill Flanagan, author of a book about songwriting, Written in My Soul.
"But I don't think it's, 'all I have to do is whistle,'" Flanagan said. "He's carrying on with the full burden of what he's been through. If you go a little bit under the surface, the themes of redemption and perseverance are running through these songs."
It's fully consistent with the 59-year-old McCartney's work over 40 years, he said. This is, after all, the man who wrote the lyrics, "take a sad song and make it better" and "take these broken wings and learn to fly."
McCartney, sitting one recent afternoon in the office building he recently bought in midtown Manhattan, agreed the new music reflected his nature.
"I'm not a very pessimistic person about things," he said. "I always try and rationalize things. I try to find a positive side. Even something bad, I will think, 'This might have happened for a reason.' You don't always know the reason, but I will try to find it."
He has mourned Linda in song. But it was done without words, in classical compositions. "I just know that there were times when writing that music helped pull me through," he said.
McCartney has kept a high profile this fall. He headlined a Madison Square Garden benefit for World Trade Center attack victims, debuting a new song, "Freedom," that was hurriedly released as a single and added to Driving Rain.
He enters a youth-dominated music marketplace, where veteran rockers have fared poorly. Two recent albums filled with McCartney's past work, the Beatles' 1 and Wingspan, have done very well, however.
While there may not be a big anticipatory buzz about McCartney's disc, retailers are aware and have been placing orders, said Paul Karlsen, an editor at Hits magazine. (The CD is due in stores Tuesday.)
"He's not one of those people who fades away," Karlsen said. "If he does, he comes back very strong."
Stick in the CD and the first musical notes a listener hears are from McCartney's bass guitar, one of the most distinctive sounds in rock history.
Working with producer David Kahne, McCartney assembled a pick-up band of unknowns.
He refused to give his new band "homework," showing up every morning of recording sessions in Los Angeles with a new song they all would learn on the fly.
It gives Driving Rain a more ragged feel than much of McCartney's work. The song "Rinse the Raindrops" — one of several weather metaphors that reflect the album's theme — is a 10-minute jam session where a frisky McCartney seems to enjoy just playing in a band.
"I love the guy when he's playing with some wildness and it's not too polished," Flanagan said. "You feel like you're catching these songs as they're being created, not reworking something that's been gone over and over."
The method of recording enabled his musicians to concentrate on what they were doing, instead of dwelling on backing a rock legend.
"I think if you're happy making a record, then it shows," McCartney said. "For many years, I preferred to think that it doesn't. You could be in the studio having a bad time and still make an OK record. But in some ways, I think this stuff leaks off the record into the homes of the buyers."
McCartney, who briefly collaborated with Elvis Costello in the 1980s, is his own sounding board now. He'll occasionally play things for a friend, or Mills.
"I went through a phase of thinking, 'what would they like, or what would the critics like,'" he said. "What, critically, would be judged the perfect thing for me to do now? I found out that not only did I not like it, the critics didn't even like it.
"I basically write now for myself, because I figure if I like it, there's a good chance that somebody else might."