LP Review: Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ – All Aboard For The Album Of the Year

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Well, it took all the way to September, but I think finally – spoiler alert! – we have the B&V Album of the year in Paul McCartney’s epic new record Egypt Station. I reserve the right to change my mind should something stunning come out between now and New Year’s Eve… but I highly doubt anything like this will. We have to remember people, when the former Beatle puts an album out, it’s a pretty big fucking deal. McCartney’s late career renaissance continues. I’m still recovering from my Florida trip, but I have to say, this album really grabbed me. I’ve been thinking a lot since seeing Robert Plant on Monday night about artists who have to grapple with past glories but remain creative today (Concert Review: Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, KC 9/10/18). While Plant has headed off in different directions from Zeppelin, McCartney just continues to hone his gifts and create new melodic pop/rock.

The world was such a different place when the Beatles broke up. The world was devastated and as usual in break ups, everyone was looking for someone to blame. Many blamed Yoko, which is bullshit, we always seem to blame the girlfriend. Since McCartney was the one who announced it, he was widely blamed especially in the rock press. He quietly just released a series of great albums, which at the time were only moderately appreciated by critics, but are now widely lauded. From McCartney, Ram, Band On The Run through the mellow London Town McCartney remained popular with the fans. He was a hit-single machine. No wonder he has so many Greatest Hits packages. You have to wonder if Lennon and McCartney’s rivalry in those days might have been like Hemingway and Fitzgerald – Hemingway always admired Fitzgerald’s writing style and Fitzgerald always envied Hemingway’s sales numbers. I’ll let you guess who is who in that analogy… but I’m off on a tangent.

Things had already started to cool off for McCartney when in 1980 John Lennon was tragically assassinated. I remember walking into a record store in ’82 and the clerk had slipped Tug Of War on the turntable. I wasn’t there to buy that record, but I ended up doing so. That was such a brilliant album, well except for those Stevie Wonder duets. Many of those tracks were directly about John. After that McCartney’s career started to stall. The magic seemed to be gone. He’d have a great song every now and then like “No More Lonely Nights” or “Spies Like Us” but his music became more convoluted and impenetrable. I always wondered if Lennon’s absence unmoored him a bit. They always brought out the best in each other – McCartney sweetened Lennon and Lennon toughened up McCartney. Even though they weren’t working together anymore you wonder if the loss shook McCartney more than even he realized. People play up the feud, but at the heart of that relationship was friendship.

I had written McCartney off in terms of buying his records, but I always kept one eye, or perhaps more correctly, one ear on what he was doing. I even bought Press To Play, which in retrospect was ill advised. There was always an interesting single that would pierce my indifference. Then in 1995-1996 McCartney immersed himself in the wonderful Beatles Anthology series of albums and documentary. By returning to that early music I think he rediscovered the magic of simplicity and melody.

When he re-emerged from the Anthology thing with 1997’s Flaming Pie it was a comeback as seismic as Dylan’s Time Out of Mind comeback.To prep for this I listened to that record again and it’s one of his best ever. Thus began the McCartney renaissance. If you’ve been ignoring him, it’s at your own peril. His late career albums are the type of records this blog is built on. Run Devil Run recorded and released a year after he tragically lost his wife Linda, was a return to the music of McCartney’s youth, namely, old school rock and roll. It was joyful and cathartic. From there he’s been on fire – Driving Rain (a more experimental but great McCartney album), Chaos and Creation (a mellow grower of a record) were both great records. As great as all of those records are, they were each very distinctive, ie, the songs on those albums were all of the same sound. Flaming was built on acoustic guitars. Devil was straight up rock  (kudos to David Gilmour on guitar). Driving Rain was trippy. They each had a coherency and showed off a singular strength of McCartney, of which there are many.

By 2005, I think McCartney decided, to hell with it, I do a lot of things well and I’m going to do it all on each record. His melody writing and penchant for hooks have not diminished over the years. Memory Almost Full was brilliant. It even had a mini-suit of songs toward the end that hark back to side two of Abbey Road. He followed that up with New that saw McCartney stretching out even farther. Ballads, rockers and “Queenie Eye” a song that wouldn’t have been out of place on the “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields” single… If you like the Beatles New is the record for you.

A few months ago on social media I began seeing McCartney posting black and white photos of instruments. A guitar leaning on an amp. Piano keys… Something was afoot. Indeed it was. He has returned after a five year absence with Egypt Station, a record he’s described as a “concept album.” I think that’s a conceit, as the concept is the listener boards a musical train at “Egypt Station” and each song is a stop along the line. It’s an odd concept, but it works in that it allows McCartney to go in any direction his creativity and melodies take him. There are ballads, rockers, even political songs on this album. Despite the variety of the material on the record, it hangs together very well. It was produced by Greg Kurstin who has worked with, gasp, Adele. Don’t let that scare you, this isn’t a mellow record. Kurstin puts a modern sheen on McCartney’s classic style. The record sounds current and yet timeless at the same time.The best moments on this album evoke past glories without wallowing in any nostalgia.

The first single, “Come On To Me” was a great crunchy rocker about sex. It’s catchy as hell. “Who Cares” starts with guitar feedback and deals with haters, “who cares what the idiots say?” “Caesar Rocks” (read that She’s a Rock) is another randy song about sex. For a guy 76 years old, this cat is horny still. We should all be so lucky. The only rocker that left me cold was the vulgar “Fuh You” (read Fuck You). It’s not the vulgarity, hell I cuss all the time, it’s that it’s a great riff and song but the lyric is kinda stupid.

There are great ballads in here as well. “I Don’t Know” starts the record with a beautiful, melancholy piano. It may still be my favorite song on the record (Paul McCartney: Two New Songs From The Upcoming ‘Egypt Station’). McCartney has a reputation as being Mr. Sunshine, but there are sadder elements just under the surface here. “Do It Now” is another sweet, but slightly sad ballad where someone seems to be saying goodbye. “Happy With You” is a stunning acoustic guitar driven song about the joys of domestic bliss. McCartney sings, “I liked to get wasted, but these days I don’t, ’cause I’m happy with you.” Somehow, with a name like BourbonAndVinyl, I can relate to that. The Rock Chick saved my life, but that’s another blog post. “Hand In Hand” is another piano driven track that’s just straight up about love. The one song that also jumped out at me from the mellower end of things was “Confidante.” I don’t know if he’s singing to an ex-lover, John Lennon, or both. It’s a great track. There are so many layers to this music.

I was glad to see McCartney, an old hippy, take up the topic of politics. “People Want Peace” is a big anthem of a track. You wonder if McCartney has been hanging with Ringo, Mr. Peace & Love. It’s a short track but effective. “Dominoes” is another catchy rocker with distorted guitars and nice drums and seems to be a call for unity when he sings, “Soon we’ll see that you and me, we’re really friends.” “Come Together” people… right now! The heart of this record for me, was the brilliant political allegory, “Despite Repeated Warnings,” about a ship being piloted by a crazy captain. The line, “how can we stop him, grab the keys and lock him up,” tells you all you need to know. At almost seven minutes long, it’s pretty epic.

The only track that lost me here was “Back In Brazil.” Even a genius can throw a curve ball at you. The chorus of “Ichi Ban” being repeated over and over made me think somebody should have pushed back on that one… The album ends with an old-style Red Rose Speedway medley, “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link.” The “Hunt You Down” portion rocks. “C-Link” is some tasty guitar solo’ing.

Egypt Station finds McCartney in fine voice. His instrument has not diminished at all. I think he plays all the musical instruments too. It’s a sprawling epic McCartney’s been doing since the “White Album,” although, it’s only one guy so that comparison may be hyperbolic on my part. This is a highly recommended album to all fans of The Beatles, Paul McCartney and great rock everywhere. It’s a shame music like this can’t find a place on modern radio…

Enjoy this one, it’s a treasure!

Paul McCartney: Two New Songs From The Upcoming ‘Egypt Station’

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It’s been a tough year… for rock and roll and for pretty much everything else. Personally, I’ve been in a bit of funk of late. Work hassles and other mounting issues occasionally feel like they’re going to overwhelm me. The loss of Anthony Bourdain continues to puzzle and bum me out. Being a Kansas City native, even the loss of Kate Spade has touched me. Her father died the morning of her funeral, two hours prior, apparently from despair. It’s a dark time in all of our lives.  It’s in the dark times, for me at least, that I’ve always turned to music for solace and lets be honest, escape.

However, music this year has been, well, not great. Nineties stalwart’s the Dave Matthews Band and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong have put out strong albums this year but that’s about it. Jack White’s album was wildly disappointing, although I still think he’s a genius. Too bad Meg White went into witness protection (come back Meg, we miss you). It was nice to hear David Byrne come out with an album that was accessible in a very Talking Heads’ way. Those few examples of great albums in 2018 aside, I was beginning to despair that no great music was going to come out this year. Most the stuff I’ve liked this year have been vault releases or re-releases.

It was a couple of weeks ago I started to see legend, former Beatle and kick ass bass-player Paul McCartney began to tease new music on what the kids call, “the social media.” On both Twitter and Instagram, McCartney started posting black and white pictures of himself in the studio. Or he’d post a picture of his guitar, or the keyboard of a piano, and in one post the knobs on his amp.

It’s been since 2013 that McCartney put out a proper album, the great New. I can’t believe it’s been five years. Prior to that you have to go all the way back to 2007’s exceptional Memory Almost Full for a McCartney album. Two proper records in over a decade, I’d say Paul was overdue. For many of us, it’s a big fucking deal when a Beatle puts out an album. For McCartney, it’s a doubly big deal since after a rocky period during the 80s and the early 90s, a period where many of us stopped listening to him, he found his footing again with the comeback album, Flaming Pie. After collaborating with the remaining Beatles on the Anthology series, McCartney said he’d rediscovered his approach to making music. I don’t know what happened, but every album he’s put out since then has been sensational. Unfortunately terrestrial radio doesn’t play artists like McCartney any more… but that’s another post.

This Friday, McCartney put out two new songs from the impending album Egypt Station (release date: September 7th). Based on these first two new tracks, “Come On To Me” and “I Don’t Know,” I needn’t worry that some superb music will be released this year. I think Egypt Station might be another in a string of great, late period McCartney albums. McCartney’s hot streak, From Flaming Pie to Chaos And Creation In The Backyard to New are the type of albums that inspired BourbonAndVinyl in the first place…

The first track I heard was “Come On To Me.” It’s a bouncy rocker. Even the Rock Chick, who doesn’t dig the Beatles, (like me she’s more of a Stones’ person) said, “That’s really good…” Obviously I haven’t seen the liner notes, but I suspect that McCartney played all the instruments on this album. Many guitarists have an instantly recognizable sound or tone on their instrument. McCartney has a very distinguishable drum sound, so that’s got to be him behind the kit…and I love the drumming that drives this song. “Come On To Me,” in my mind, shows how McCartney has re-discovered his inner “Beatles-ness.” There are guitar parts that almost sound like a sitar and every now and then a big horn section comes in. This song is big and bold and I love it. Paul throws everything into this song. Towards the end, McCartney growls, “Yes, I will, yes I will, now…” and you can tell he’s having a blast.

The other track, “I Don’t Know” is a classic McCartney ballad. The man should be known as the Magician of Melody. The song starts off with a beautiful, meditative solo piano. I love that McCartney has long abandoned synthesizers and gone back to real instruments like piano and acoustic guitar. This song really affected me. The lines, “What am I doing wrong? I don’t know,” just seem to fit for me right now. I’m always a sucker for a great ballad… I had an ex who once said, “You only like the sad songs…” and at first “I Don’t Know” almost grabbed me harder than “Come On To Me.” It’s a truly beautiful song. I would tell Paul, you’re not doing anything wrong. Both of these songs are among the best stuff I’ve heard this year.

Let’s hope the rest of the album is this strong. I could really use a great Paul McCartney album about now. I bet you could too.

Cheers!