Paul McCartney Travels to 'Egypt Station' for an Enjoyable Stop in a Prolific Career
Paul McCartney's Egypt Station carries listeners on a conceptual journey through musical "stations" that admits experiences and teases experiments as only he could achieve and deliver.
7 September 2018
Five years since his last album, subversively titled New, Paul McCartney has returned with Egypt Station, a concept album that finds the legend traveling through "stations" (songs) that recount emotional and revelatory experiences. At times fun and confrontational, additionally sweet and occasionally sardonic, Egypt Station confirms McCartney's mastery of songwriting and crafting deep musical arrangements, catchy lyrics, and unavoidable hooks.
Since he started touring extensively in the early years of the 2000s, McCartney's output has found renewed impetus and vigor, and the pop legend has experimented and explored outside his comfort zone to find co-writers and producers willing to challenge his inclinations and bring modern trends and sensibilities, as well as hone his many strengths. This aspect was first highlighted with Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, McCartney's 2005 album produced by Nigel Godrich, a prolific producer in his own right and popularly known as a solid contributor and near band member for Radiohead (the fifth Beatle anyone?). Godrich pushed and critiqued, and the result was an acclaimed showcase of McCartney's musicianship and qualities as a songwriter. On 2013's New, McCartney worked with four separate producers, under the executive production of Giles Martin – son of Beatles producer George Martin – to find sparks and inroads to pop music, and again enjoyed acclaim and success. Egypt Station follows this vein, with producer Greg Kurstin taking over production duties on the entire album, save for one quite notable track.
The most talked about song on Egypt Station is the slyly titled "Fuh You", produced by pop connoisseur Ryan Tedder. It's by no means worthy of taking attention away from the remainder of the album and stands markedly outside the production guided by Kurstin. It's a definitively coy throwback amidst themes of reflection, age, and consolation, and is situated at the midpoint of the album between age conscious awareness in tracks like "I Don't Know", "Who Cares", "Confidante", and "People Want Peace". There's a directness to the title and the Tedder production cues, but the overall sentiment is not too dissimilar to "Come on to Me", another cut from the album that references sex far more openly. With "Fuh You", McCartney continues his record of head scratching and for that, it is a nice for discussion, but ultimately forgettable. Egypt Station succeeds with or without the song, too.
McCartney's writing on Egypt Station weaves between looking forward against those that would depress or dismiss you ("Who Cares") to outstretched hands and sweet remembrances of the past while still looking ahead ("Hand in Hand", "Dominoes"). These tracks and McCartney's message are ultimately positive despite a subtle presence of age and time passing in life and on the album. Here is where the concept of "stations" emerges most clearly, beyond the "Opening" and "Station II" that serve as bookends. Each track represents a stop, addressing themes and subjects – including a raunchiness obvious on "Fuh You". Stations like "Happy With You" admit mistakes and recovery, and "People Want Peace", highlight themes across McCartney's career, stretching back to the Beatles and certainly ahead.
Fun and light tracks like "Back in Brazil" and "Caesar Rock" maintain the consistent "stations" on the album while changing the pace and tone of the journey taken with the concept. Within the concept is a feeling of slight references to the various "stations" in McCartney's career, and Kurstin's presence linking a lengthy career is noteworthy for this aspect. A variety of style and separate approaches in theme and sentiment take cues from albums like the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and his solo album with wife Linda, Ram (1971), and the recently reissued Flowers in the Dirt (1989). "Confidante" and "Do It Now" harken to McCartney's tendency to bare emotion and sentiment, from "Here Today" on Tug of War (1982), to "Gratitude" on Memory Almost Full (2007), and "Appreciate" on New (2013).
The album also finds McCartney expressing political sentiments and the impact of concern and dangers against personal desires and reality. On "Despite Repeated Warnings", he sings of pending doom and questions how we can resolve unbelievable decisions and leaders – pointedly marking foolishness in leaders that leads to heightened power before they have a catastrophic fall – while we confront and overcome that leader. It's a strong concluding sentiment, and as the longest track on the album, finishes the "stations" with a solid punch. Final track "Hold You Back / Naked / C-Link" combines three songs to remark on loss and lost, with McCartney admitting weakness and fear searching for a love ("Hold You Back") and without protection or recognition ("Naked") before the instrumental "C-Link" brings the journey to a close.
Like the three preceding albums McCartney has released since 2005, Egypt Station is a fun success and finds the 76-year-old former Beatle as prolific and enjoyable as ever. The album's buildup fit the McCartney hype machine from introductions on social media and performances in promotional tour stops and special events in the months leading to its announcement and release. McCartney even playfully took part in James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke" and gave the comedian and his late night show audience (which ultimately includes YouTube) a tour of Liverpool. If the presence of Egypt Station tracks in concert setlists wanes over the course of McCartney's pending world tour "Freshen Up" in 2018-2019, the album will still mark a relevant "station" in his career.
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