“Now I don’t see the point resisting your temptation…”

It is the one cliché that’s been trotted out about McCartney since as early as 1971: “A return to form.” But when is it exactly that McCartney actually “lost his form”? Some of the ‘80s records are pretty weak, but even those always included some gems. His foray into the Great American Songbook in 2012 was gorgeously executed but not really what anybody wanted to hear from McCartney – but even that included one of his career finest love songs, an original for his wife Nancy called “My Valentine”. So is this a return to form? His last studio album, 2013’s “New” was an extraordinary collection so… no, there’s no “return” – he’s kept his form nearly intact for 25 – yes, 25 – post-Beatles albums with a few bumps in the road along the way.

paul mccartney 2018

On paper, it all seems a little absurd. 76 year old living legend, Paul McCartney, teams up with Greg Kurstin who’s worked with the likes of Adele, Beck, Pink, Sia and Paul’s friends the Foo Fighters (for whom he played drums on last year’s “Concrete and Gold”) and produces what is possibly his most ambitious and surprising album in years. To top things off, he gets Ryan Tedder of One Republic to produce a song he’s boldly come out and said he hopes will be a hit. It’s called “Fuh You” and, no, it’s not nearly as raunchy and naughty as you may think it would be. “You make me want to go out and steal… I just want it fuh (for) you!” Yes, it all seems rather absurd. But then, this is the man who surprised us all writing and recording hits with Kanye West and Rihanna, wrote a solid pop song for a video game and wrote and recorded dozens of musical emojis a few years ago. Indeed, Paul has been surprising us non-stop in recent years.

 

I’ve been a McCartney fan, a follower, a disciple – a worshipper – since the Beatlemania of the mid-90s that followed the release of The Beatles’ Anthology. His now-considered-classic album “Flaming Pie” (1997) was my first “new” Paul album and he has since been on an incredible late-career roll, producing some of the finest music of his career. 2005’s Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) produced album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard”, the Youth collaboration as The Fireman titled “Electric Arguments” from 2009 and the extraordinary “NEW” from 2013 – to name only a few. “Egypt Station” comes with his expectations and hope. His first three singles “Come On To Me”, “I Don’t Know” and the aforementioned “Fuh You” have all been impressive but – would they be the only highlights on an otherwise unremarkable album?

Happy to say that, like most reviews that have already been published, I am absolutely knocked out by this album. Maybe I’m amazed. Maybe this is the best album since ‘97’s “Flaming Pie”. It’s probably his most ambitious. That’s the thing about McCartney, he has never been content resting on his laurels. Sure, his marathon-length live shows (3hours+) may arguably feature too many Beatles songs, too few Wings hits and not enough from his incredible but modest-selling past two decades – but McCartney WANTS you to love his new material. I remember his famous first show on Les Plaines d’Abraham in 2008 when, after playing classics “My Love” and “Let ‘Em In” he asked the audience: “You having fun?!” When the crowd roared its appreciation, Paul grinned at his bandmates (the band he’s played with since 2002 – longer than any band he’s ever been part of) and said: “Well, we’ll soon fix that!” He then launched in 2005’s “Fine Line” – as excellent a song as any in his golden repertoire but one not half as well-known. That’s Paul, the eternal crowd-pleaser who still wants to remind you once in awhile that he never, ever lost his gift.

“Egypt Station” opens with one of two bookend instrumentals, “Opening Station” and it then goes immediately into “I Don’t Know”. It’s one of his most vulnerable displays of insecurity and self-doubt on record, ever. “I wrote this after going through a difficult period… like people have.”, he’s said. It’s a reminder that even the most successful singer-songwriter of all-time has moments when things feel bleak. “Where am I going wrong? I don’t know”, he sings. The song features one of his most beautiful piano melodies ever and his vocal, aged like a fine wine, is so expressive and honest… an absolute highlight.

 

Next comes the song you may have seen and heard him perform – both in the car and the pub – on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke”. It’s the ode to flirting, “Come On To Me”. Featuring a simple, driving electric guitar beat reminiscent of his Beatles days, it’s the kind of song you know he’ll be milking for all its worth when he hits the stage on his upcoming tour. The song features the famous Muscle Shoals Horns – which, to echo the words of another reviewer he really should bring out on the road with him – who add a real soulful color to the recording.

Next up is a song that features a gorgeous “Mother Nature’s Son”-like acoustic guitar part, “Happy with You”. The words are surprisingly candid: “I used to get stoned. I liked to get wasted, (…) I walked around angry, (…) I used to drink too much…” But now, he’s happy. The conclusion feels a little simplistic but the arrangement (that flute!) and his vocal save the day. He does a bit of his beat-boxing here, reminiscent of his solo debut’s “That Would Be Something”. A nice song that could’ve, arguably, used a bit more work lyrically.

“Who Cares” is next. Spoiler alert: he does. Paul cares. It opens with a distorted feedback-happy electric guitar that recalls the opening to George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much” from the Yellow Submarine album – a part Paul had played himself. The song features one of the most infectious electric guitar hooks he’s come up with in years, the vocal is fantastic, his bass playing is as nimble and melodic as always – it’s a winner across the board. The song deals with bullying and feeling ostracized and it works wonderfully. “Who cares what the idiots say?”

 

The next song had some of my musician friends in an uproar. “I don’t want kids singing ‘I just wanna f**k you!”, one said. There’s no doubt McCartney’s having fun with this one. Like Apple’s obcure single by Brute Force from 1969 “The King of Fuh” (sample line: “I am the Fuh King!”), you think he’s singing something incredibly raunchy but, in reality, this is no more naughty than Wings’ memorable “Hi, Hi, Hi” from 1972. It’s cheeky and it’s wrapped up in the most 2018-sounding production of the whole album. Ryan Tedder’s chart-dominating sound is all over the song but once you reach the bridge (the middle eight, as The Beatles called them) it’s the unmistakable Beatles sound with those classic George Martin-like strings. Love it or hate it, it’s a beautifully-crafted piece of fluff that’ll be stuck in your head for a long while. Oh, and it’s great fun to run to if jogging’s your thing.

Next we have what seems at first like a typical ode to a loved one, his one true “Confidante”. Despite a pretty melody that sometimes recalls Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, this is a miss for me. The lyrics are corny and the punch line – he’s actually singing to his acoustic guitar: “My underneath-the-staircase friend” feels forced rather than clever. Should’ve been released as a bonus track or b-side – it simply doesn’t live up to the rest of this impressive collection of songs.

 

With a title like “People Want Peace”, let me tell you I had very little hope or interest in this next track, been there – done that, but I was happily surprised. A Beatle-esque arrangement, an addictive and driven vocal melody and McCartney admits: “I know that you’ve heard it before but what does it matter?” Based on an explanation his father had given him when, as a young boy, he’d asked him why there are wars. It feels sincere and heartfelt. Not a highlight and he’s right, we really have heard it before (“Give Peace a Chance”, anybody?) but it works coming from the ex-moptop.

Absolute stunner “Hand in Hand” takes it all to another level. McCartney’s falsetto has aged but it’s instantly recognizable and beautiful. The melody, once again, surprises with unusual and rich twists and turns. Where 2013’s “Scared” felt a tad forced with its vulnerable love declaration, “Hand in Hand” is beautiful and entirely believable coming from this 76 year old. That being said, I’d love to hear one of today’s divas try their hand at this gem. Adele or even Norah Jones come to mind. At a little over 2 and half minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome but rather leaves you wishing for more. The piano, cellos, flute… an absolute blinder.

paul mccartney piano 2018

“Dominoes”, despite its simple imagery and symbolism, impresses with its acoustic guitar and driving drums and bass. His harmonies with himself here are particularly effective. The distorted/backwards electric guitar that closes out the song reminds us: Oh yeah, this is the guy from the Beatles! A nice touch.

This next track has been compared to something David Byrne might do, my friend and I hear Steely Dan too. “Back in Brazil” features the best keyboard/organ sound ever on a McCartney record – no, really. A simple girl meets guy, guy’s too busy for the girl story song. The groove is so good with its Bossa Nova-lite sound, the words feel pretty secondary. This is all about stepping out onto the dance floor and shaking your bum. Speaking of bums… what in the world are they chanting at the end? One reviewer has wondered whether it’s “Itchy bum, itchy bum, itchy bum!” Paul, say it isn’t so. (Note: it’s actually “Ichiban!” which means “Number one” in Japanese. Wait, aren’t we in Brazil?)

 

Based on another pearl of wisdom from his father, “Do It Now” is an intricately constructed song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Its carpe diem (or yolo, for the Drake generation) sentiment is much appreciated but the song itself is nothing that’s likely to have much impact. Another track I would have saved for a b-side or for the inevitable “Deluxe Edition” bound to be released sometime soon.

McCartney loves wordplay’s. My favorite example is how he turned the French expression “ça ne fait rien” into the name of a boat on “San Ferry Anne” (read it out loud… get it?). “Ceasar Rock” is actually “She’s a Rock”… nowhere near as clever. The song is little more than a fun guitar jam with inconsequential lyrics sprinkled on top. It will be a good song to run to and it does have a stadium-ready anthem feeling but with lyrics that were clearly improvised live-off-the-floor. One can’t help but wish he’d spent a little more time on the lyrics. But maybe that’s completely missing the point on a song like this.

You might have read or heard McCartney say his new album would feature a Trump song – it comes in the form of “Despite Repeated Warnings”. A Trump song that specifically addresses his attempts at convincing the world that climate change is nothing but a hoax. Another nautically-themed song (Wanderlust, Winedark Open Sea, Beautful Night, etc.), it tells the tale of a Captain of a boat that refuses to listen to reason and will do whatever he pleases despite the risks, despite the dangers, despite repeated warnings from his crew. A bit like a cross between “Band on the Run”, “Live and Let Die” and the more recent “House of Wax” from 2007’s “Memory Almost Full” this is McCartney in prog-pop mode and it works. It’s ambitious and features delicious lines such as: “How can we stop him? Grab the keys and lock him up!”

paul mccartney june 2018

The album closes with part two of the “Station” bookends and with a stinging guitar riff, goes straight into a Abbey Road-Red Rose Speedway-Memory Almost Full-like closing melody where McCartney collects a few incomplete songs, in this case “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”, and it forms a really exciting, fun and ambitious suite that features some of McCartney’s most inspired guitar playing in years. Yes, the man’s a great bass player, an ingenious piano player – but he’s also one helluva guitarist. It’s a fantastic closer and despite that silly line in “Naked” about being mistaken for his younger brother (what? Really, Paul?) – it’s a winner, much like this whole album.

In the end, he has once again surpassed expectations and will once again have a few songs that will stand proudly amongst his undeniable classics once he hits the road at the end of the month.

We’re lucky this man not only keeps creating but that he clearly cares enough to keep trying to surpass himself, keep taking risks and keep surprising us. Despite a couple of misses, it’s as strong a collection we could ever dare hope for from a man who is now at his 25th post-greatest-band-of-all-time album. “Return to form”? Get out of here with your worn out clichés!

Thank you, Sir Paul.

paul-mccartney-egypt-station

PAUL McCARTNEY
Egypt Station
(2018, Capitol Records)

-Buy this album at Discogs
-Follow Sir Paul on Facebook
-Check out his YouTube channel

Here is a concert recorded and broadcasted on YouTube on September 7, 2018

 

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About The Author

Max Comeau
Blogueur - RREVERB

Intensely passionate about music, Max is in constant search for new sounds yet he never tires of his idols whom he calls his “Pillars”. A musician himself, he released, as singer-songwriter, an album with The Calm in 2007 and, this past June 2015, released his first solo album, “You”. Max has also written a few plays and adaptations which he staged with his theater troupe in the early 2000s. He is thrilled to be part of the RREVERB team to further explore the great classics, as well as the newer classics-to-be, whether ‘en français’ or in English.