Paul McCartney, ‘Egypt Station': Album Review
No matter how hard aging artists try, there's no turning back time. Or stopping it, for that matter. But that hasn't deterred countless rock legends over the past two decades from trying to reclaim the victories of their youths on works that range from admirably noble to downright embarrassing.
In the five years since Paul McCartney's last album, 2013's New, the onetime Beatles star worked on a video-game project and collaborated with Kanye West and Rihanna on some songs. So much for turning back time. And on Egypt Station, his follow-up to New, McCartney splits the difference between nostalgia and looking forward, checking in with his spunkiest, horniest and most biting album in years.
It doesn't always work, but at 76, McCartney sounds like he's finally come to the realization that he will probably never make another Sgt. Pepper's, Band on the Run or even Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. While he may have accepted the fact that he's pushing 80, however, McCartney has no intentions of acting like an old man.
That's the difference between trying to stop time and carrying on despite that march. And it's a difference McCartney relishes on Egypt Station, an adventure that's framed like a musical journey – starting with the brief "Opening Station" before moving on to the album's lead singles, the mid-tempo "I Don't Know" and the more rocking "Come on to Me."
It's like that throughout the album, as McCartney – with producer Greg Kurstin – makes stops along the way that revisit both his past and some new places. On the uncharacteristically randy "Fuh You" (the only song here produced by Ryan Tedder), the man who wrote and sang "Silly Love Songs" has more on his mind than cuddling. "You make me wanna go out and steal," he sings before getting to the point (see the song's title; you can probably figure out what he means). "Come on to Me" is almost as horny.
In a way, Egypt Station rolls out like a concept album. It's more or less book-ended by short ambient pieces, with a detour at the very end for "Hunt You Down/Naked/CLink," a three-part, six-minute medley that recalls McCartney's more experimental work in its freewheeling frenzy to cram several ideas into one spot (he pulls a similar trick on "Despite Repeated Warnings"). Getting there, however, is the heart of this journey.
McCartney's age shows at times. His voice creaks here and there, and he has some trouble sustaining notes, but his songwriting barely shows the strain of his years. He's still one of the world's greatest at connecting the dots between verse and chorus; some of the songs here are his melodically strongest in years.
He reminisces about his drug use ("Happy With You"), friendships ("Confidante") and life plan ("Dominoes"), while still making room to hate on Trump for almost seven minutes ("Despite Repeated Warnings") and construct little pieces of art to add to his already impressive collection. And he tears through it all with some genuinely tough songs like "Who Cares" and "Caesar Rock." At its best, Egypt Station is pretty much Ram 47 years down the road.
It goes on a little too long, and some tracks fall into the forgettable modern pop that's weighed down McCartney records for more than three decades. But there's a renewed sense of energy and purpose – even more so than on New, which reconciled the legend who reshaped popular music in the 20th century with the artist who still has something to say. He's not giving up yet. As time moves on, one of music's great voices won't stand still, even if that means he occasionally stumbles along the way.