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Paul McCartney crashes into ‘Egypt Station’

| Friday, September 14, 2018

Diane Park | The Observer

When they introduced themselves to the world with the lyrics “Hope I die before I get old,” did Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend ever picture themselves limping across an arena stage in their 70s? Did Mick Jagger anticipate cooing lasciviously about “Satisfaction” (or the lack thereof) to a crowd young enough to be his grandchildren? Rock stars don’t age gracefully. And on his latest record, 76-year-old Paul McCartney proves as much.

“Egypt Station,” McCartney’s 18th studio album, presents the sounds of a former master running out of fumes. Save for the rare inspired moment, most of the LP’s meandering, hour-long runtime is dedicated to half-baked ideas. This is not surprising given part of the appeal of McCartney’s solo work is his risk-taking, which led to an equal number of successes and failures in his heyday. For every stroke of genius, like “Band on the Run” or “Temporary Secretary,” McCartney runs the risk of getting a “Live and Let Die” or “Wonderful Christmastime.” Unfortunately for the former Beatle, most of “Egypt Station” falls in the latter category.

Take “Back in Brazil,” for example. The start of the song is promisingly weird with an electric piano intro laced with computerized bloops — think Michael McDonald fronting Gnarls Barkley. From there, the track takes a sharp dive into incoherence, with shouted gang vocals taking the place of any sort of proper refrain. Therein lies the album’s most glaring flaw — McCartney’s sudden inability to write a catchy chorus. When he can’t redeem his experimentation with the hook-writing he’s famous for, the songs dwindle off into nothing.

“Egypt Station” was co-produced by Adele collaborator Greg Kurstin, whose modern pop sheen adds a layer of artifice to the record. In short, this is an album that sounds like it desperately wants to fit in on the radio. Following that mandate, “Fuh You” is a crass stab at the kind of “rock” practiced by Imagine Dragons and OneRepublic — OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder co-wrote the song. Before the chorus hits, the song is about what you’d expect: a fairly straightforward guitar number that would sound best playing in a minivan or at a supermarket. It loses whatever simple charms it may have had when McCartney drops the f-bomb in the hook — “I just wanna fuh you” — and then keeps doing it. I don’t know what the world wants from Paul McCartney, but it’s definitely not an unabashedly horny come-on from rock ’n’ roll’s elder statesman. Even for the man who once asked “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” this is ridiculous.

All of this isn’t to say that “Egypt Station” has no good songs. It’s just that the few worth listening to more than once find McCartney staying in his Beatles-era comfort zone. The most underrated part of McCartney’s contribution to the Fab Four was his bass playing, which opened up entirely new avenues for the instrument. He keeps that strong tradition going on the album’s best tracks, both of which not only foreground his skills on the bass, but also feature a pair of throwback classic-rock melodies. Even so, when listening to both songs — “Come on To Me” and “Dominoes” — one can’t help but be reminded of The Beatles. I think McCartney realizes this, and so to emphasize the obvious connection he includes a few allusions to his former group on the aforementioned tracks. “Dominoes” features a Ringo-esque drum performance, and McCartney even throws in the “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” from “She Loves You” into the outro of “Come On To Me.”

Of course, no number of bad songs is going to do anything to McCartney’s legacy. He’s perhaps the most celebrated musician of the last 60 years, and he continues to tour the world with what is, by all accounts, a fantastic live show. He has nothing left to prove. So maybe it’s not surprising that this late-period album seems more like a collection of unfinished ideas than anything else. You can surround those unfinished ideas with a few Beatles knockoffs in an album and call it a day — unless you’re an actual Beatle.

 

Artist: Paul McCartney

Album: Egypt Station

Label: Capitol

Favorite Track: “Come On To Me”

If You Like: The Beatles, OneRepublic

Shamrocks: 1 out of 5

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