Some artists, facing the autumn of their creative years, get busy drafting a life-summary statement that could suffice as a last real stand. Think of Bob Dylan’s “Time Out of Mind,” or — on a much more celebratory level, because he’s a celebratory guy — Paul McCartney’s “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard” or “Memory Almost Full,” the latter of which, especially, had an “If this is the last album I ever make,” blow-everything-out feel. The problem with making a swell valedictory report is following it, when you’ve got years to go: What do you do for an encore when you’ve already sung “My Way”?
In McCartney’s case, it’s get horny. That was the message, anyway, generated by “Come On to Me,” the first single previewing his new album, “Egypt Station” — a ready-steady-go bit of rock randiness that recalled the salad days of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Hi, Hi, Hi.” Were we ready for his polygon? If so, there was more salacity where that came from in the instant-grat track “Fuh You,” with its fudged wordplay. It was clear the Hofner bass heard spitting out melodic licks on “Come On,” along with his more contemporary muse, Nancy Shevell, have rejuvenating powers to turn the leaf-raking September of one’s years back to a rakish June.
Now that the full album reveals itself, “Egypt Station” turns out not to be the salute to “Dirty Mind”-era Prince days anyone might have feared or hoped from those two tracks. McCartney is very much interested in keeping things lively, if not always lusty, while making room for the kind of quieter reflections heard back on 2005’s “Chaos.” For much of the record he alternates them: spry rocker followed by earnest rumination, then back again. It’s a grab bag, if not a travelogue (placing “station” references in the title and cover art being the clever cheater’s way of making a concept album out of having no concept). If it doesn’t make for McCartney’s most coherent collection, it’s endearing how enthusiastically he strives, at 76, to avoid doing just one thing when he can do a dozen. Bitch, he’s Macca.
Yet another prerelease track, “I Don’t Know,” was a solid teaser for the softer side of “Station” — a lovely mixture of self-doubt and reassurance with a melancholy bent you might wish McCartney indulged more, though you take what sadness you can with pop’s signature bearer of uplifted thumbs. “Happy With You,” a “Mother Nature’s Son”- or “Put It There”-style fingerpicker, is as un-silly as love songs get, with the onetime poster boy for pot avowing he’s traded in his stoner days for stone cold love. The elaborate acoustic opening to “Dominoes” gives way to a strong backbeat and a chorus you could call power pop, before ending with some tape loops that sound like Paul’s way of saying, “‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ wasn’t all John.”
“Who Cares” joins “Come On to Me” as a second standout among the staccato-riff electric-guitar burners, with live grooves provided by McCartney’s live band. Therein also lies proof that he can still pull off the “woo hoo” falsetto he learned from Little Richard, even if these days there’s a fine burnish to his voice and maybe only one actual howl. Things get wackier on the back half of the album, as primary co-producer Greg Kurstin earns his keep with “Back in Brazil” and its (yes) Brazilian-meets-electropop flavors. Two trifurcated, seven-minute tracks, “Despite Repeated Warnings” and the goofier “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link,” have McCartney indulging his how-suite-it-is tendencies. Why? Because he can, and because he knows what a sucker you are for “Abbey Road,” Side 2.
Blame one-off co-writer-producer Ryan Tedder for enabling, if not actually coining, “Fuh You,” a groaner on either titular level. The opposite of that nudge-nudge is “Despite Repeated Warnings,” an extended metaphor about a ship of fools; it’s good to hear a star of this magnitude addressing our current turmoil, albeit metaphorically enough that British reviewers insist it’s really about Brexit, not Trump. Beyond that take on global urgency, there’s a deep personal urgency to “Do It Now,” an autumnal plea to seize moments “while the vision is clear … while the feeling is here.” You see: He can still do valedictory after all, amid even all this profusely convivial vamping.
Album Review: Paul McCartney's 'Egypt Station'
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