Monday, September 10, 2018

When I'm 76: Paul McCartney Drops Egypt Station

I did not want Paul McCartney’s past or his future to dictate how I listened to "Egypt Station." I didn't think that would be fair to either the fan or the artist. I didn't want to compare it to anything and I didn't want to like it simply because Paul is a Beatle and he is getting old. I just wanted to listen to new music from Paul McCartney. This was not an easy task. Facts are facts.

So what about the music on "Egypt Station?" After three focused passes, I will say that I like it. I really do.

Like most records since the invention of the compact disc, it is too long. But even saying that seems wrong. If I was asked before its release if I wanted a 38 minute version or a 60 minute version, of course I would have opted for the latter. But it is those extra 22 minutes that turn "Egypt Station" from a great record into a good record.

McCartney is finally sounding his age, and on the ballads, like "Hand In Hand" and the gorgeous opener, which was also the first song dropped one month ago, "I Don't Know," it is very effective. "Happy With You" is vying for the same vibe as "Blackbird" or the exquisite "Jenny Wren" from "Chaos & Creation In The Backyard." It is not as good as either, but still a great piece of acoustic Paul, closer to the feel of "Early Days" from his last release, "New."

I said I didn't want to compare this record to anything, but it's just too hard not to. A number of songs feel like modern rewrites of songs that could have appeared on "The White Album" and "Abbey Road." Dominoes," "Do It Now," and "Despite Repeated Warnings" all begin with chords and arrangements that bring to mind late Beatles, and in the case of the latter, Wings. Same with the medley, "Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link." There is a lot happening on Side Four. It will keep you on your toes, for better or worse.

A favorite, "Caesar Rock" sung as "She's A Rock" is a three minute blast with chords lifted from "Temporary Secretary," and a twisted arrangement, with screams and howls and a groove that won't quit.

There is a lot to like on "Egypt Station." The production, as one friend pointed out, is neither looking back nor forward. It is a bullseye. And for the wincing and groaning over "Fuh You," if that song was called "For You," it would be hard not to recognize that Paul McCartney has created a solid radio hit for 2018, on his way to 77 years old. Unfortunately, it is called "Fuh You" and that's that.

As for the filler, "Back In Brazil," is a musical postcard that simply doesn't fit well. "Who Cares"is a typical throwaway rocker that Sir Paul writes while he's writing something else. Even "People Want Peace," another attempt at an anthem, is not bad. It is actually "All You Need Is Love" compared to "Freedom."

How many more times do you think we will be able to ask our friends, “Did you hear the new McCartney record?” A friend said this to me as we both expressed our excitement over the arrival of “Egypt Station." The answer is, not too many more. That is a sad reality.

I am happy with "Egypt Station," but I was hoping to be happier. I feel spoiled. I know many will rake me over the coals for saying that, but that's how I feel after rediscovering "Chaos & Creation" and "Memory Almost Full." And let's not forget, 1995's "Flaming Pie," which I thought was fantastic right out of the gate. And what about "New" from 2013?  All of these records, at least after three passes through "Egypt Station," do it for me more than this new one. But "Egypt Station" should not be dismissed. There is a lot to love here.

Paul is not dead. This is an artist who still has plenty to say. Let's listen while we can.


Peter Ames Carlin said...

Goddammit Sal. Now I have to go buy it.

FD13NYC said...

I’ll definitely give it a listen, as I always do, I mean, it’s Paul. Thanks for the review.

Troy said...

Very fair review, and I agree with a lot of your points. I like the record a lot, more so than 'New' which never quite clicked for me. It is too long, but there is nothing on there that I would jump to throw away. I don't know the answer to the 'length of albums in the CD era' (perhaps a topic for another day on BW), but I almost never listen to a new album from start to finish anymore and this one is no exception.

When the double-sided single was released prior to the album release, I thought it sounded like we might be looking at McCartney 3 here. I am happy to say that this is not that, but rather a very good album of where Paul is at now, warts and all. And IMO it is ok to compare Paul's current output to his previous material, because in large part he has maintained a high level of quality in his work. We don't seem to compare the latest from Elton to 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' or "Captain Fantastic', we don't compare the latest from Clapton to 'Slowhand' or '461 Ocean Blvd', we don't compare the latest from the Stones to 'Let it Bleed' or 'Exile'. I believe we don't have as high expectations from them at this stage of the game. But're mentioning some of this new material with reference to the White Album and Abbey Road; while it is not up there with those, the fact that it is echoing some of that (in a good way) says a lot. And to be honest, this new album is going to spend a lot more time in my rotation than 'Wonderful Crazy Night' or 'Lonesome and Blue' ever did.

And your comment that 'People Want Peace' is "All You Need is Love" compared to "Freedom" made me laugh. Spot on.

Thanks, as always, for the continued, excellent music conversation. Hope I didn't misinterpret any of your review in my comments above.

cmealha said...

I’ve only given it one pass and was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. I agree with you that it would have made a great album if it was shorter and eliminated some of the ‘filler’ but at this point Paul has earned the right to do what he wants and I can just skip over the weaker stuff. There is some really noteworthy stuff here. BTW there was a great interview with him on Howard Stern last week. If you get a chance you should have a listen

Sal Nunziato said...

Regarding vinyl and its length versus a CD, I know there are many who seem to be offended by the vinyl revival. I understand. I hate kale. But for me, it's not just about being able to skip over what you don't like. It starts with the creation of the product. Paul might not have been so quick to choose "Back In Brazil" for the final cut if he only had 18 minutes a side to deal with. Double albums were a big deal and often discouraged back in "the day." That same feeling should still apply. Maybe there'd be better records now and less people claiming how much better music was back then.

Anonymous said...

I too am enjoying the new McCartney though very much agree in regards to the length issue. Personally, it helps that I have the vinyl release and can listen to either a side or a record at a time.


Shriner said...

I don't find much to quibble about with this review. I feel the same about the filler tracks. I think "New" -- overall -- is a better album, though. Both (including the deluxe tracks) run the same 65 minutes. Both are still too long.

I'll have to give Egypt a couple of more spins. Nothing jumped out as much as "Queenie Eye" or "New" did on the first spin of "New" though. I think "New" is going to be rediscovered as a great late career album at some point.

"Happy With You" is an early stand-out, though.

But, yes, any new original McCartney is welcome and I always wonder how much more we have left to experience.

Paul is (to me) a lot like Alice Cooper -- his recent albums do not tarnish his legacy and there's always something on them that feels comfortable and newly-energizing at the same time that make me feel glad both are still around creating new music.

Troy said...

Sal, I like the vinyl revival (for the most part) and have started buying some actual records again. The music dork in me likes that. But the thing I cannot stand is why everything has to be on 180 gram vinyl or whatever the big thick platters of wax are these days, and they only have room for 2-3 songs per side. The length of the album may be the same, but it is a pain in the a** to have to get up and flip the record over after only a couple of songs. Seriously, some times I just sat down and got comfortable, and now I've gotta get back up?

Man, I know I sound like a grouch when I bring this up. But bah, 2-3 songs don't 'feel' like an album side. And an album doesn't need to be 2,3, or 4 platters of vinyl to get through the song cycle.

Sorry, back to the Macca discussion...carry on...

Sal Nunziato said...

Troy, I feel ya. And I agree. We did just fine without 180g vinyl, though I will confess to loving when a particularly long record gets expanded to four sides and 45rpm.

But more to the point about vinyl’s time limitations, I think there is something to making better records when you had less space to create your new record.

big bad wolf said...

as i said here pretty close to a decade ago, the great double albums (e.g., london calling) are really little more than long single albums. the CD encouraged excess, though, alas the clash had already shown how to be excessive on vinyl (sandinista).

Dr Wu said...

Enjoyed the new McCartney album - definitely worthy of additional spins.
Re: album length. The below article states that because streaming has become s major revenue source, albums have become longer - more tracks equals more streaming opportunities.
The Spotify Effect

Michael Giltz said...

One British critics= said the new McCartney (not the "New" Mccartney) had everything one could want/hope for at this stage: three or so songs that he can slot into a concert and which hold their own alongside classics. Fair enough. It is indeed delightful to get to say "Have you heard the new Paul Mccartney album?" "I Don't Know" is still making me very, very happy. The album does slow down towards the end but is pretty solid. For me, it's "New" and "Chaos and Creation" that have wowed in the past decade. I hope he takes a cue from his voice and goes for an entire album of mellow, grand old man music. It suits him so well on "I Don't Know" and a few others.

CD v vinyl -- I thought we'd got beyond this. When CDs began, every artist thought they had to fill it up. Suddenly, albums being 35 or 40 min became albums that HAD to be 50-60 minutes and all the bloat that implied. To my mind, artists had calmed back down and realized this was not a good long term strategy. Unfortunately, the way streaming is measured, artists who want to game the system benefit greatly from MORE album tracks -- that's why you see albums suddenly from Drake et al with 25 or 30 or even 40 tracks. People are just downloading them most of the time and if fans play an album once, that's 40 streams. If a fan plays a ten track album, that's only 10 streams. So padding out your album can quickly double or triple your "score" even though folks have only played the album "once." It's all nonsense but makes a big difference when Billboard converts streaming into faux album sale numbers. I hope Billboard changes its new metric and I believe artists will again come to realize that creating a strong album that plays well from start to finish will be a better tactic long term. Ha. Just kidding -- no one listens to albums any more but old fogeys like us.

wardo said...

Just posted my take:

The album is too long, too half-assed. Good for anyone else, but he can do better.

Chris Collins said...

I think this album has a few real bright spots, but is ultimately not at the same level as "Chaos and Creation", "Memory Almost Full" or "New". But this is still one of the best songwriters on the planet doing solid work. I like a lot of this so far. And I think it will grow as well.

"Despite Repeated Warnings" is a standout for me. Btw. "I Don't Know" is beautiful

Dr Wu said...

The Untold Stories of Paul McCartney:
You’ll never hear ‘Come Together’ the same again.

kodak ghost said...

I'm impressed. 4 Stars from me. I agree with the filler comment though. I must say I read few reviews before I bought it, I thought that the first review I read was just hyperbole, but it was spot on. Keep 'em coming.

Anonymous said...

yikes mister sal!!! i would agree that it would be difficult for sir paul to release anything that would even begin to tarnish his legacy, but damn my 'maxwell's silver hammer'.....this release is a damn good start! overall, i (and thankfully most of my friends, work associates, family and yes - PEOPLE ON THE STREET!) who have heard this latest release, are also finding it difficult to listen to (DESPITE the beautiful melodies that can be heard).....
Arguably, if you add this to Sir Paul's recent (and disastrous) 'secret gig' that he just did in new york (after which, i may never listen to 'blackbird' the same way again!!), you have the sad tale of a brilliant artist trapped in the body of a feeble old man, who, if he could, would most likely be singing duets with the hideous (& deceased) Amy Winehouse, and you would be praising that release as the second coming of Todd Rundgren!! yikes mister sal! GMB

Sal Nunziato said...

I think the key word here is "yikes!"