ALL ABOARD THE McCARTNEY EXPRESS
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:8 October 2020
When Paul McCartney released his first post-Beatles album in 1970, he was about to turn twenty-eight years old. The self-titled debut came out half a year after Abbey Road and a month before the Beatles swan song, Let It Be. Since then, McCartney has given us a slew of live recordings and seventeen studio albums, culminating in Egypt Station in late 2018. So how does the latest release from the venerable ex-Beatle stack up against his back catalogue?
The good news is that Egypt Station has some excellent material on it. Sixteen compositions spread across four sides of vinyl is quite a lot of listening, but there’s no doubt that a number of these will grow on long-haul fans of Sir Paul. The album starts intriguingly with some distant noises—milling crowds at a railway station?—giving way to an angelic chorus. Makes you wonder, where exactly is Egypt Station? And just where is the train heading?
I don’t know. That’s the title of the first proper song, “I don’t know”. It’s an unusual McCartney song in that it seems to be talking about darker states; the dogs of depression are at his door while crows cry “Mortal!” at the window. Such an introspective piano-led ballad is somewhat out of character for this relentlessly nice songwriter, but it has a strong melody and is fitting topic for a septuagenarian. A surprising and welcome beginning.
The same cannot be said for the next track, the chunky rocker “Come On To Me”. Although it’s great to hear Paul rock a bit, this come-on seduction song lacks a certain dignity. Unless, of course, one pictures this seventy-seven year old bloke chatting up a sprightly seventy-something lady. Now there’s an image. A similar problem attends “Fuh you” which attempts some slick twenty-first century raunch and fails. Over-produced and dubious of content, it is a bit of a let down. Fortunately there are plenty of delights to rescue the album from the lower tiers of the McCartney grandstand.
“Who Cares” is a standard Paul rocker and all the better for a bit of pepper. The pensive “Confidante” seems to be another nod to John Lennon. It is nostalgic and lovely.
A soft-focus existentialism infuses “Dominoes”, a song lifted by some neat McCartney bass playing, whilst “Caesar Rock” does indeed rock on, the thick drum and bass section evoking sounds of the seventies (decade, not age-group) very warmly.
It’s great when a lengthy album finishes strongly. Egypt Station has a fabulous final side.
“Despite Repeated Warnings” clocks in at almost seven minutes and does not drag one little bit. Reading like a climate change challenge, the song is well constructed and works both lyrically and musically. After that is an echo of the opening station snippet before the final track, one of those McCartney medleys where he strings together several song fragments and spins gold out of straw. The final, soulful, instrumental section (“C-Link”) is superb: nice guitar solo, smooth addition of string textures, some Arabic seasonings and a distant Wooh! from Sir Paul at the end.
Like many McCartney albums, Egypt Station has its ups and downs. It may not have the brilliance of Ram or Band on the Run or the intimacy of is first, self-titled solo LP, but there is more than enough here to invite fans to take the trip. And for an artist who has clocked up sixty years in the business, that is something to be celebrated.
© Bruce Jenkins 2020