Friday, 7 September 2018

Paul McCartney - Egypt Station, album review

Good and Not So Good

I was telling a friend recently that I don’t see the point in writing a negative review. I’d rather celebrate than denigrate, and criticising seems a waste of time when I could otherwise be waxing lyrical.

That’s probably a clear signal that I’m about to break a habit, but I wouldn’t call this an assault. Listening to McCartney’s latest, I didn’t exactly have the highest of expectations. That seems absurd for such a great artist – and he is, without question – but there is too much previous evidence that he cannot and does not sustain his best, and there is that slight sense [with apologies this will seem rather trite] he is trying too hard to be contemporary/’youthful’ and I think of the dyed black hair, though this has recently been allowed to transition towards its reality [hey, Paul Rodgers must use the sable support].

This album is similar to his previous New, reviewed here, and in that assessment I used the word ‘twee’ which I will be using again, and I also celebrated a little its pop sensibilities, which I will be mentioning again.

This collection is undeniably McCartney, precisely for those pop leanings, for that distinctive vocal, for those occasional signature bass lines, for some of the orchestration, as on the stringified Hand in Hand [though those additions in the Beatles’ days were not of his making] and for the tweeness of the lyrics.  

A solid enough pop start is with the first song proper I Don’t Know, an ordinary piano sound and playing – which I like – that merges into chord strikes that are undeniably his, that rising, sliding bass, and then some lovely upturns on the melodic line and a descending early chorus line which is pretty enough. I quite like this one. It reminds a little of the fine track Early Days from the New album. A later harmonised chorus that joins in the uplift of the song is again distinctly Beatles/Wings/McCartney – as it should be.

And then: Come on to Me is a pop chug of a sexual attraction narrative with a if you come on to me I come on to you clever-clogs lyric that is and isn’t, clever. Is this an ironic analysis of the #MeToo era – a mocking of the male arrogance in assuming attraction? I don’t think so. Not that this would retrieve the song, but it might make it meaningful. Happy With You is not the most imaginative musically and is spoiled by its simplistic, if in essence positive message about being happy with the one he is with. But the joys of a simple life expressed are too clichéd for impact. And the other lines are odd: I used to drink too much / forgot to come home / I lied to my doctor / but these days I don’t / because I’m happy / with you / I’ve got lots of good things to do / Oh yeah. Oh dear.

Who Cares merges Norman Geenbaum with Seasick Steve and Status Quo and maybe Canned Heat with none of these individual characteristics ever emerging beyond my wild imagining of such a collaboration of inspiration. As for Fuh You, this is certainly trying to be a contemporary pop anthem and it is perhaps likeable for those who like this kind of thing, so I confess my lack of aural empathy, but the best I could credit it is as a song Arcade Fire might have recorded but discarded before it got onto any album.

I quite like Confidante, a simply strummed acoustic guitar number that is lyrically nostalgic about chanting long lost anthems and has the feeling of honesty, the harmonies sweet and effective.

Then we have People Want Peace and I just think this lyrical return to a message once apt [in such a song, not the desire for peace!] is too dated as support for a song needing it. Do It Now has some further sweet harmony, seeming more Beach Boys than Beatles, and this does expand into familiar Wings territory effectively. Caesar Rock shows he still can. Despite Repeated Warnings probably bears more listening before I consign it to a summative, there being elements of St Peppers and/or more Wings – both meant as positives – that seem more complex than pop-simple: I’m listening as I write and it has just had its classic McCartney pace and melody shift so I think this is probably the good ‘un that fully demonstrates what can be done, where much of the rest hasn’t.

The danger is that it is easy to ‘enjoy’ being critical, in my own clever-clogs way, and that is genuinely the trap of such a review. But I think this is a fair reflection of my response, and I need to listen more, knowing where to skip immediately so as not to be alienated from the whole. Fans would care less for my views; McCartney too.

A final comparison, as unconvincing and pointless as comparisons can be, but why not: whereas Paul Simon in his latest can revisit his own previous songs and make them fresh and new and distinctive in an artistic manner that impresses, Paul McCartney seems to work in the vestige of a past where the highs are verisimilitude and the lows are the throwaway of the twee and rather simplistic. And as I type that last line, the close of Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link has an instrumental out which is again rather good. You see, I can’t sustain the bad.

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