I can imagine that it must be nothing short of challenging, arguably hitting your peak in your twenties: your band’s professional recording career spanned a measly seven years but, though they disbanded almost fifty years ago, continues to sell and continues to invite discussion. It must be difficult to live up to. And it is hard to navigate the industry as a seasoned individual because, unfortunately, ageism is rigorous and rife – Madonna, a prime example, is consistently dubbed a has-been (or even a bad parent) for doing and wearing at sixty what she did and wore at twenty-six. Sir Paul McCartney could be subjected to criticism no matter what approach he adopts: he would be considered washed-up or dated should he stick to what he knows, but he would be considered a try-hard should he collaborate with younger artists and experiment with new technology.
McCartney strikes the balance sweetly. Egypt Station, his seventeenth studio album, tessellates between characteristically sweeping melodies and tongue-in-cheek suggestion that screams ‘contemporary’. An example: Dominos resonates as a classic pop song, swelling as it gathers momentum. It boasts a thumping, jovial chorus designed to expertly contrast the mellow, subdued verses that frame it. This timeless device is recognisably vintage McCartney but does not sit awkwardly amid the current musical landscape.
John Lennon once snidely referred to 1967’s When I’m Sixty-Four as “granny music.” Similar chipper, vanilla tracks are smattered throughout Egypt Station (but this is perhaps more palatable now that McCartney, aged seventy-six, actually is a grandparent). Hand In Hand, for example, is perfectly pleasant and is accompanied by an incessant piano-based melody laden with strings. It is little more than that. Likewise, Confidante – an acoustic saga written after having neglected his guitar for some time – is not overly memorable and does not offer much besides a sweet ambiance. Happy With You is probably the most indelible of Egypt Station’s “granny music.” It is a peaceful ditty littered with acoustic guitar swirls. But, if he is so content, why does McCartney carry on? McCartney does not write or perform because he needs the money. He does not write or perform because he has anything to prove. He writes and performs because he truly loves it. Even if some of it is “granny music.”
But McCartney is intent on showcasing his versatility. I Don’t Know is an incredibly raw and human offering. It is an unabated melancholic ballad that is truly as McCartney as they come. Vulnerable contemplation has long been his lyrical strength but is, of course, peppered with optimism: “Where am I going wrong? I don’t know. // But it’s alright.” Do It Now is a highlight. Performed in the minor key, it subtly evokes 1965’s In My Life for the baroque pop tone and stirring arrangement. This, like Dominoes, is another hark back to tradition that can exist comfortably in a contemporary atmosphere. McCartney ends the album with two medleys, separated by an interlude. Despite Repeated Warnings is lyrically clever – he uses nautical metaphors to tackle current political issues. Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link is similar in that the writing is masterfully episodic and is transitionally seamless. As demonstrated by the sudden jolts in tempo, McCartney has more to his toolkit than an either-or mentality.
Egypt Station is not without its weaknesses. Opening Station and Station II are unnecessary interludes that do little to complement the tracks they frame. Back In Brazil is rather inconsequential. There is too much going on production-wise to compensate for the fact that there was not much going on lyrically. Fuh You, produced and co-written by Ryan Tedder, is stifled. Tedder’s robotic pulsations and thumps mask the organic piano melody laid out by McCartney. It is daring and raunchy in content but missteps compared to similarly commercial-orientated tracks.
Come On To Me does successfully what Fuh You does unsuccessfully. The track is steeped in an energetic tone, aided by spirited horns and repetitive “do’s” set in a major key. McCartney’s voice is powerful and durable for his years, as can also be observed in Caesar Rock. Who Cares, akin to Caesar Rock, is oscillating and Wings-esque. One wonders whether McCartney is deliberately paying implicit homage to his former ventures throughout the album. And on whether he should slow down or stop entirely: “I’m not quitting while people are crying out for more.” Evidently, People Want Peace packs a lyrical punch. The arrangement itself cannot go unnoticed, though. McCartney is accompanied by various musicians but plays the piano, drums, guitars, bass, harpsichord and ankle bells (yes, the ankle bells!) himself. I’m not sure he would quit even if people were not crying out for more.
Egypt Station is a Paul McCartney record. Granted, it is a tad unnerving to envision that the same man who so chirpily confessed that I Want To Hold Your Hand now wants to Fuh You, but it is equally compelling to watch the respect that he continues to command from his peers and the public alike. And it is not pitiful respect, it is purposeful and validated respect. His legacy as the most successful songwriter in history leaves a lot to live up to but, as a solitary record in its own right, Egypt Station has certainly earned the respect it deserves.