Paul McCartney: Egypt Station review â" Macca's back in the groove
Paul McCartney: Egypt Station review â" Maccaâs back in the groove Kitty Empire's artist of the week Paul McCartney Paul McCartney: Egypt Station review â" Maccaâs back in the groove
By turns playful, honest and questing, Paul McCartney hitches empathy to experimentation on his urgent new album
Quite why the foremo st living author of western popular music still feels he needs to prove himself, 17 solo albums in from The Actual Beatles, is a moot point. Paul McCartney could spend his time lounging about on the supplest of vegan pleather divans, getting wavy on the finest marijuana strains ever crossbred. He could feel satisfied that semi-legalisation â" at least for the likely joint pain of a 76-year-old â" was nigh, and that his status as the patriarch of western popular culture was secure.
But Macca doesnât get high any more, he confides on Happy With You â" a deceptively simple ditty on Egypt Station, his latest album. You know itâs McCartney from the first acoustic guitar figure. He used to lie to his doctor, he sings, but thatâs no longer necessary either. He likes his life with Nancy Shevell, we learn. He takes solace in nature.
All the more reason, you could argue, for this chilled version of the most try-hard of the Fab Four to eke out the time teaching his eight grandchildren yoga postures, or Stormzy the piano, or lend his clout to issues such as gun control, as McCartney did earlier this year on the New York March for Our Lives. As per the title of another Egypt Station song, Fuh You, he could give precisely no âfuhsâ about any further aural output.
And yet here he is, roping in American A-list pop producers, subjecting himself to Carpool Karaoke, and generously feeding the publicity machine such catnip as âMcCartney saw God on DMTâ, as the headlines had it last week â" all for another spin around the whirligig, just, you assume, to see if any of his stuff still registers.
Spoiler: it does. The finest songs here land immediately and hum with urgency. Thereâs Do It Now, a super-Beatley minor key carpe diem that passes on the advice McCartneyâs father used to give him. âDo it now, while the vision is clear,â he sings, in a timbre that doesnât overmuch betray the slight diminution in his vo cal range. Then thereâs Despite Repeated Warnings, another highly characteristic McCartney piano ballad gone funny, about the political fixes of the current age. Brexit, Trump: they can all be read into a parable about a deranged captain piloting a ship into perilous straits marred by just one godawful rhyme â" âJanetâ, to go with âplanetâ.
Most immediate of all is I Donât Know, as raw and human an offering as McCartney has written in some time. âI got crows at my window/Dogs at my door,â sings Sir Paul, an English bluesman wrestling with an intractable situation. âI donât think I can take any more/ What am I doing wrong?â One of the very greatest strengths of the Beatlesâ songwriting was the vulnerable querying of both Lennon and McCartney, men who displayed hurt, empathised with others and sought to give wise counsel where they could. Here, McCartney self-flagellates at the piano. âWhere am I going wrong?â he gnashes â" no potentate, âonly a manâ, one who canât make everything OK in his extended clan.
Given McCartneyâs high emotional IQ, the strangest of all of the publicity-seeking compulsions that surround Egypt Station is probably his desire to throw his muse into the hands of a couple of super-producers de nos jours.
With Egypt Station, McCartney is specifically interested in playing with the new breed. You can understand the attraction of teaming up with Kanye West, a fellow creative all-rounder â" words, music, contemporary ubiquity â" as he did in 2015 for the Rihanna-fronted FourFiveSeconds.
With a background in jazz, Kurstin is the sort that wonât flinch if McCartney throws a littl e backwards guitar at him
And youâd also understand if the author of Hey Jude wanted to trade top lines (AKA melodies) with his modern-day equivalent â" someone like Swedish eminence grise Max Martin, the man who writes the tunes of the early 21st century (and if he doesnât write them, his acolytes mimic his style).
Instead, Egypt Station is an extended dalliance between McCartney and Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie, Britney, Adele, Chvrches) and, briefly, between McCartney and Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic, Leona Lewis, BeyoncÃ©, Adele, Taylor Swift). Itâs held together by a flimsy conceit that these songs are stations on some kind of journey.
The Tedder collaboration â" Fuh You, released as a single â" is the albumâs nadir, like matter meeting anti-matter: McCartney on the melody, deploying little harpsichord parps, and Tedder, laying the production out on a stifling computer grid, smothering all spontaneity with a hypoxic density of instrumentation, making for an overweening scent of Coldplay. It is one of two songs on Egypt Station in which a septuagenarian flaunts his libido, and thatâs not the reason itâs buttock-clenchingly uncomfortable. According to a recent interview, McCartneyâs crash course in how Tedder works â" throwing out pat phrases over hooks until something sticks â" was a salutary eye-opener.
Happily, Kurstin proves a more interesting foil. With a background in jazz, Kurstin is the sort that wonât flinch if McCartney throws a little backwards guitar at him, as he does on Caesar Rock, or bloopy space-lounge bossa nova, as he does on Back in Brazil. Kurstin has said that McCartney wanted to avoid anything sounding âordinaryâ, and significant portions of this album really donât, privileging the off-piste-veering, experimental McCartney. Even when the song is a pleasant, common-or-garden Wings-like chug such as Who Cares, an oscillating intro, or a giant wasp outr o, makes you prick up your ears appreciatively.
Nowhere is this playful imperative more evident than on the closing triptych of Hunt You Down/ Naked/ C-Link. Hit songwriting is one thing, but if the Beatles did anything, it was to nail their populist tune-making to the mast like few before or since, then disrupt the whole paradigm.
Thereâs undimmed brio on the juicy free-for-all that is Hunt You Down, jolly baroque introspection on Naked, and an unexpected closing blues, C-Link, where some orchestrated strings, sounding like horns, join McCartneyâs lascivious, lurking electric guitar.
âIâm not quitting while people are crying for more,â he sings on People Want Peace. Point taken.Topics
- Paul McCartney
- Kitty Empire's artist of the week
- Pop and rock
- album reviews
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