After reviewing McCartney III, I felt the need to return to Paul McCartney’s two previous studio albums to give them a fresh listen. So this blog is about New (2103)and Egypt Station (2018).
From my previous blogs, you might gather than I have been less than impressed by McCartney’s work in the new millennium. Competent, but not melodically memorable, would be my overall assessment. I found McCartney III to have some very good parts, but in full disclosure, I had lowered the quality bar a bit, since it was one of his “homemade albums”.
New and Egyptian Station are not albums I listen to, so I had to locate them in my collection, no easy feat after moving. My initial views of these albums being limp and derivative were off-base. The contemporary production works most of the time, but where he shines is in straightforward production without the gadgets and dramatic processing. He is not afraid to reach back into the past and grab some familiar sounds from the mid-1960s, or to sound like the early days of Wings. We know what we like from McCartney’s musical bag, and he serves it up.
One of the first things I noticed was how much processing was added to McCartney’s aging voice. Some of the songs did not use this, but others did. McCartney used a variety of producers including Giles Martin, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson, wanting a more contemporary sound, and he got it. Work on the album began after his marriage to Nancy Shevell and reflects a happy, peaceful time in his life.
“Save Us” A rocking song to start the album, full of energy and slickly produced.
“Alligator” An upbeat, electric guitar song. The bridge slows down and shifts to synthesizer. A pretty good song. Nice guitar fills.
“On My Way to Work” An acoustic song, with strong electric embellishments, and a beat that moves it along. This reminds me of the London Town album. He said the song was about his days before the Beatles were famous.
“Queenie Eye” A rollicking, bouncy song, a bit like “Hello Goodbye” in style. The song has an abrupt change of style at the bridge, a quiet, dreamy section.
“Early Days” A bright acoustic-flavored song. McCartney strains his voice on the high parts of the song, he’s clearly not as flexible as he was, but not big deal. The song reflects on his early days in The Beatles, Rolling Stone compared it to George Harrison’s “All Those Years Ago”.
“New” A song that song that is bouncy and piano-flavored, with synth horns, like “Penny Lane.”
“Appreciate” An electronic track with synth beat and layers of electronica; noisy. A finely produced track.
“Everyone Out There” A rollicking guitar song, with great acoustic guitar backing. This would have fit perfectly on Rubber Soul.
“Hosanna” A dreamy dreamy, psychedelic, folk song. Swirling guitars.
“I Can Bet” Another song full of ringing guitars, a punchy mid tempo song.
“Looking At Her” A slow, ballad. A lot of electronic instruments.
“Scared” a slow, piano confessional song. No processing of his voice, a bit shaky at times, but full of emotion.
New did not impress me on first listen, and to be fair, some of McCartney’s prior works did not impress me right away. McCartney’s new material does not get radio airplay, so if you want to hear his songs, you need to find other means. Listening to his album again, I found a lot to like. I doubt this album will ever gain entry to my favorite Paul McCartney collection, but I am more open minded about it. A solid B on my grading scale.
Egypt Station was McCartney’s first number one Billboard album since 1982’s Tug of War. How amazing is that? The album was met with huge expectations. Produced by Greg Kurstin (Adele), McCartney allows himself to be guided by other producers, whereas he used to be the only captain at the wheel. Clearly, McCartney wants input from successful, contemporary producers. It is not enough to be Sir Paul McCartney, the listening public is made up of a much younger audience. McCartney might have millions of fans, but they are not the ones buying and downloading most of the music now.
Egypt Station is a fascinating album. It keeps one foot on the nostalgic shore of the Beatles’ psychedelic period and the other foot on the hip song structure and sound of today. It helps to have long legs, which McCartney possesses.
The album opens with “Opening Station”, a breathy instrumental nugget, like a snippet of Sgt Pepper. “I Don’t Know” is a very melodic, piano song, a bit haunting. Excellently produced, typical McCartney song construction.
“Come On to Me” has a contemporary feel, a bouncy, riffy song. “Happy With You” is an acoustic guitar song. It could be a late Beatles period song. A feel-good song about where McCartney is at in life.
“Who Cares” has a driving, punchy electric guitar, it could have been from Revolver. “Fuh You” has a grand, contemporary production. It does not sound like McCartney, which is probably the point. “Confidant” is a guitar song, with acoustic guitar and electric leads. A folkish song, reminding you of the late 1960s or early 1970s. Paul’s voice sounds particularly worn on this song.
“People Want Peace” is a throwback to McCartney’s idealistic days. The production sounds a bit like the “Penny Lane” period. “Hand in Hand” is a downbeat piano song. One of the more melodic songs on the album. McCartney used to be able to toss these off with little effort. “Dominoes” isn’t a bad song, but not a great song either. It rolls along, for a long time.
“Back in Brazil” is a punchy, syncopated synth song. Interesting, a chance of pace song. “Do It Now” is a Beach Boys type song with the stair-climbing melody and vocals. Not a great song, but pleasing. “Caesar Rock” a rocking, riff song, an anthem-type song.
“Despite Repeated Warnings” the song shift gears, it is really a suite of songs joined together. It is an impressive medley of songs. I have no idea what this medley is about, but musically, it shows McCartney’s talent for constructing grand ideas.
“Station II” is another snippet of sound, a reprise, that segues into “Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link”. The first part of this medley is a hard-rocking, “horn” and electric guitar treat, harkening back to his 1970s work. “Naked” is a piano rock song, a tasty little treat, again, reflective of his his early 1970s work. “C-Link” is a bluesy guitar instrumental, it reminds me of “Let Me Roll It”. A great track to end the album.
Listening again, I like the album better than when I first heard it. Is it as good as his best work? No. Is it better than his least impressive work? Yes. If I was grading it, I would give it a B or B-. He uses his touring band on many tracks, but plays much of it himself or with help from Kurstin. Most of the songs are melodic, but few have those endearing hooks that McCartney is famous for writing. That is a serious problem with most of today’s music, the inability to write impressive musical hooks. McCartney is still better than most.