Paul McCartney has released so many solo albums (thirty at least, including Wings but excluding his classical efforts) that I’ve given up trying to rank them. Egypt Station, his latest, is probably not in the top five, but it is a very good album. I’d even say excellent, since there’s not a dud song in the bunch. With Greg Kurstin 1 producing (Ryan Tedder2 takes one track), the record has a warm, semi-acoustic, inviting sound, along with settings which suit Paul’s aging voice. (If AutoTune was used, I can’t detect it.) The tunes are strong, and the lyrics get further into Paul’s feelings than he allowed in the past, to the album’s benefit.
The conceit of Egypt Station (the title and cover image are based on a painting of Paul’s) is that each song is a “station” of where he happened to be at a point in his life. Thus, he has Station I and Station II opening and closing. These are simple choral chants which are brief and completely dispensable. The concept isn’t even as strong as Sgt. Pepper, but it works well enough.
After Station I, I Don’t Know opens the album. This is the best song here and one of the best ballads Paul’s recorded solo. Over an echoing piano, Paul sings in an aching voice about depression, a subject he rarely discusses. “What am I doing wrong? I don’t know.” The choruses bring a hint of hope, at least for the listener: “It’s all right, sleep tight/I will take the strain.”
Fortunately, Come On To Me, the next number, is more upbeat. A stomping rocker, it’s based on Paul’s memories of going to parties in the Sixties and picking up girls. “If you come on to me, will I come on to you?” he asks, backed by a pounding piano, guitars and a horn section. It’s mainly a riff, but a catchy one. What hooked me were the “Doo doo doo doo doo doo” vocals he sings falsetto on the chorus.
Happy With You, an acoustic guitar ballad that would have fit in well on Ram, follows. Unlike that record, though, Paul speaks frankly about his past dissolution: “I sat around all day/I used to get stoned/I liked to get wasted/But these days I don’t/‘Cos I’m happy with you/Got lots of good things to do.” These include examples of simple pleasures such as walking in bluebells, seeing the ocean break, and throwing coins in the Tevi fountain.3 Paul admits his past anger and sadness, but genuinely sounds happy on this song. One of the best.
Who Cares is a mid-tempo guitar rocker inspired by a conversation with Taylor Swift about bullying and how to fight it. “Who cares what the idiots say?” Paul asks to a steady drumbeat. “Who cares about you? I do.” The verses detail the pain of being bullied and the way victims feel: “They’re making you feel like a rusty old wheel/That’s been left in the rain.” I could easily see this used in an anti-bullying video. I hope it helps someone somewhere.
Fuh You, the Ryan Tedder track, is the most controversial song by conservative Beatles fans who are appalled both at the F-word (which he’s used in songs before) and by this ultra-commercial bit of 21st century pop. I think it’s fun, with a naughty lyric (he actually sings “I just want it for you”) and a bouncy melody. It’s ephemeral, but very catchy. Confidante is more serious, with an acoustic guitar strummed to a somber tune about an old friend with whom the singer has fallen out of touch. It’s actually about Paul’s guitar, a Martin which he used to play every day; when one knows that, the lyrics are even more moving. I believe he plays the Martin on this song, but I’m not certain.
People Want Peace was inspired by a stop in Palestine that Paul made on his world tour, where he played a show in Tel Aviv. It’s one of the weaker tracks, with a theme that he’s preached about before, but he at least admits it: “I know that you’ve heard it before/But what does it matter, we’re in it together/And I’m not quitting while people are crying for more.” So points for sincerity. Hand In Hand, another piano-based ballad, follows, with a lovely pipe solo and simple but heartfelt lyrics about “Going through life and making our plans/Hand in hand.” It’s a beautiful song, and second only to I Don’t Know on this record.
If there were a Side Two, it would probably begin with Dominoes, a fantastic pop tune with an epic arrangement. Like many of Paul’s songs, it’s about working together and finding the good in each other. I love the line in the chorus about “The telephones keep calling/Constantly, imploring us to come out and play.” I think he’s referring to smart phones demanding our attention as much as phone calls. The backward guitar hearkens back to the band McCartney used to play with. This tune will stick in your head; guaranteed.
Back In Brazil is an electropop samba about a young couple in Brazil who fall in love, dance and make plans for the future. “Ichiban!”4 a chorus shouts while electric keyboards noodle and synthesizers beep melodically. It’s a tune you either love or hate. I love it. It’s followed by Do It Now, a saying which comes from Paul’s father. (He was full of pithy life quotes.) At first I found it a bit dull, but like many of his songs, it’s grown on me. Piano chords with a string arrangment, nice falsetto harmonies on the bridges, and a good message about not losing the chance to do what’s important.5
Caesar Rock is a pun on “She’s a rock”, which is the basic message of this guitar rocker. It’s a riff, but a strong one, and Paul sings with his best elderly bellow, which isn’t half bad. Some more backwards guitar. Fun is had by all.
Despite Repeated Warnings, the epic multipart tune which is the album’s true closer, was actually disappointing for me. I was expecting a fast guitar based rocker, and this is more of a piano ballad, at least in the beginning. Alas, I think Paul is a bit too old to play as well as he used to be able to. Still, this warning about a captain determinedly staying on course despite an engineer and others warning him to stop is at least timely. Paul’s stated that it’s about climate change, but it could be about Trump or Brexit or lots of things. “How can we stop him?/Grab the keys and lock him up” is a line I treasure. In the end, the captain is overcome by the mutinous crew. “It’s the will of the people,” Paul sings, seeming to advocate for revolution; but in our hearts, we know we can count him out, to borrow his friend John’s line.
The closing Station II fades out with a guitar lick which opens the encore, Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link. Hunt You Down, inspired by Prince, is a chunky guitar riff. The lyrics would suggest stalkerish behavior, but Paul doesn’t sing with enough of an edge to really convince us that he’s doing anything except venting. Naked, a piano ballad, is a strange interlude which I haven’t quite processed yet. C-Link is a guitar solo giving Paul a chance “to be like Hendrix”, as he stated in at least one interview.
Egypt Station is a solid record, filled with tunes that invite repeated plays. It’s good value for your money, or for your streaming time. Target was selling an edition with two bonus tracks, Get Started and another Ryan Tedder production, Nothing For Free. Both are catchy but dispensible, at least for most people. I’ve been playing the record a lot. It’s balm for my soul in these troubled times. Thank you, Paul.