Paul McCartney: Egypt Station – pharaoh ’nuff effort from former Beatle
The liner notes are immediately striking. You’ve gone your entire life seeing the name “McCartney” incontrovertibly entwined with “Lennon”, so seeing the credit “McCartney/Tedder” is galling, to say the least. Yet this is the Paul McCartney of 2018.
The former Beatle, who is happy to sufficiently indulge the irritating James Corden for an episode of Carpool Karaoke, and who will happily team up with the likes of Rihanna and Kanye West (as he did on the misguided FourFiveSeconds in 2015), is the same Macca who will bring OneRepublic frontman and producer Ryan Tedder on board to co-write three songs for his new studio album. The times, to paraphrase another songwriting legend, have a-changed.
In a way, the 76-year-old McCartney’s lack of preciousness regarding both his output and his legacy is to be admired; after all, what’s the point of music without taking the odd risk? As it happens, only one of those collaborations with Tedder made the final tracklist – and, judging by the try-hard glossy mawkishness of the overproduced Fuh You, it’s probably just as well.
There is also a definite sense of McCartney’s traditionalism amongst these songs; whether he is aware of it or not
Luckily, the rest of Egypt Station (its title and artwork taken from a painting of McCartney’s from 1988) isn’t quite as horrible. With producer Greg Kurstin – the man who has taken the rudder of albums by everyone from Adele and Sia to Beck and Foo Fighters in recent years – overseeing every other song, the spring in McCartney’s step is subtly enhanced for a 2018 audience without tipping into affectation.
As ever, melody takes precedence over lyrics on most tracks, with the mournful piano intro of I Don’t Know slipping effortlessly into a midtempo groove as he ponders where he has gone wrong in life.
Who Cares edges close to ’80s MOR but remains defiantly toe-tappy, while the multi-part, seven-minute-long Despite Repeated Warnings draws on everything from winsome, dreamy pop to brass and full-on guitar solos.
He wears his heart on his sleeve for a smattering of love songs (and love-gone-wrong songs, too, as heard on Confidante); at other points, he discards personal sentiments for character-based stories, as heard on the enjoyably schmoozy pop of Back in Brazil.
There is also a definite sense of McCartney’s traditionalism amongst these songs; whether he is aware of it or not, echoes of past glories rear their heads from time to time. You can hear them on the plaintive Happy with You – one of several declaring his devotion (presumably) to wife Nancy Shevell, which has shades of The Beatles’ Blackbird in its simple beat and acoustic framework. The slow orchestral blossoming of Do It Now, meanwhile – a song that should have been subtitled “carpe diem” – could almost segue into Golden Slumbers if you listen hard enough.
And of course, that traditionalism also extends to some good ol’ fashioned cheesiness on occasion, too; this is, let us never forget, the man who wrote The Frog Chorus. The use of pan pipes on Hand in Hand is forgiven only because of its incontestably sweet lyrics, although his banner-waving missive to the world on People Want Peace (“We’re in it together and I’m not quitting while people are crying”) is a little too cloying to take completely seriously. Even so, by now we’ve come to realise that that’s pretty much what you’re usually guaranteed on a Paul McCartney album these days: well-meaning misjudgements interwoven with unapologetic sentimentality – and a clutch of some really good songs in the mix, too.