The number one record in the United States this week was from a 76-year old man. This would be a shock in our otherwise-youth-oriented culture until we learn the man is Paul McCartney and his album is Egypt Station. It is his first #1 album in 36 years.
The album has grown on me in its two weeks since release. The first taster, “I Don’t Know” disappointed me the first few times it aired, despite its genuinely lovely piano intro. Paul’s voice sounds flinty and … old. The mix (and the too-loud and simplistic drumming), that was made more for a youthful audience, only enhanced the weakening vocals of this musical legend.
The second song released for listenership, “Fuh You” that Paul describes as “a raunchy love song”, certainly got a lot of free publicity due to its title. But the style and mix seems meant for someone born when Usher was making hits, not Glenn Miller.
And the controversy had any Beatle-fan rolling their eyes. It’s been done (google “King of Fuh”).
The album is produced by Greg Kurstin, who also produced Adele and Beck. This explains the album’s penchant for modern-style recording techniques (murky overdubs and autotuning); my first reaction was Paul was emulating the current sounds and artists he enjoys – Kanye West, Katy Perry, etc. I found this to be a mismatch … at first.
It reminded me of a critique of 1979’s Back to the Egg with Chris Thomas as producer, who did albums for Roxy Music and the Pretenders – cutting edge hipness at that time especially for a former Beatle. The criticism went something like “a state-of-the-art hypodermic needle does not necessarily improve the medicine being taken…”. I felt the same here.
BUT, multiple listening (and they play Paul’s new songs on Sirius every hour) has revealed the album’s charms.
In fact, it is safe to say this is his best album of this century. I would have to go back to 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt for a comparably solid, all-around-well-done album. Ignore comparisons to 2007’s Flaming Pie – one of his best of course; but to be fair, Paul plucked 35 years of unused material to pepper the selections on that album. Also ignore comparisons to 2008’s Electric Arguments. That album was a force of nature and belongs on any list of Paul McCartney’s All-Time Top One Albums.
With someone of Paul McCartney’s industrial stature, comparisons to his legendary catalogue is inevitable and, ultimately, disappointing. “It’s not as good as Band on the Run!” Well, what is?
How is Egypt Station standing alone on its merits?
Pretty good. Very good. In fact, the two tasters above are the weakest links of the album.
“Dominoes”, “Back in Brazil”, “Caesar Rock” are all fun and (more importantly) memorable songs. “People Want Peace” harkens back to the Beatles’ ultimate message of peace and love. The title comes from another of Paul’s father’s wise sayings. Paul should dip into his dad’s insights more often – “Put It There” from Flowers in the Dirt is another Jim-ism and one of Paul’s best songs.
“Come on to Me” is an average rocker with a superb middle music break that redeems the song. Otherwise it seems like a Wings B-side (see? I told you comparisons to his legacy are unavoidable).
“Happy With You” is gentle and sweet – one of the best on the album.
“Hunt You Down” is the final song on the album and a rocker worthy of being on Electric Arguments. There can be no greater compliment for a Paul McCartney song.
The modern-influenced production will attract the young ‘uns and there is enough “Paul-ness” to keep we geezer-fans happy. As its position in the charts shows, it will gain more than a “generally favorable” response as did his prior albums New and Memory Almost Full. Good albums, yes, but when was the last time those were on your playlist?
Egypt Station will likely stay there for a while. You go, grandpa…
Copyright 2018 Michael G Curry