It goes without saying that the name “Paul McCartney” is the name of a legend. Over the last six decades, it has gathered enough mythic credibility to almost be synonymous with “legend” in itself. Diehard fans across the globe (of which there are no doubt millions) are plenty familiar with McCartney as he stands today, from the frequent musical collaborations to the sworn veganism to (perhaps most notoriously) the explosively impressive live performances and firework-spurred stadium tours.
But roped in with McCartney’s many current ventures is the fact that to most of the world, and even to many of those diehard fans, McCartney is a Beatle (or rather, a former Beatle) first and foremost. The classic McCartney sound — and he has so many sounds — is the sound of the ’60s and the ’70s. Distinguished bass and catchy guitar riffs, lyrics and melodies sometimes tender and wholesome, sometimes snarled or even screamed. Think “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Live and Let Die” or “Blackbird.”
This is all what makes Egypt Station, McCartney’s new release through Capitol Records, such a thoroughly classic record at its core. It’s his most Beatle-y album in ages, permeated with unmistakable touches from his time in Wings and even The Fireman. For all the different meanings McCartney’s name has taken on, Egypt Station embodies almost all of them. When you think of McCartney, you might think of his screaming on the earliest Beatles tracks like the “Long Tall Sally” cover; you might think of the tender empathy of “Here Today” or “And I Love Her”; you might think of electric guitars, ambient Fireman-style electronica, piano cascades or acoustic familiarity. If you think of any one of these things, you are thinking of Egypt Station.
The album begins with the scenic “Opening Station,” which offers us a flash of the strange atmospherics with which McCartney experimented during his Fireman projects alongside Youth. He then gets heavy right away with “I Don’t Know,” a sweeping look inward that begins with a “Let It Be”-esque piano solo and rapidly evolves into a heartfelt ballad, repeatedly questioning, “What’s wrong with me?/ I don’t know, I don’t know.” Egypt Station is full of these introspective moments, which recur in “Confidante” and in “Happy With You,” a genuinely soft-hearted song faintly reminiscent of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.”
Even in his more thoughtful songs, McCartney sacrifices none of his energy, nor of the trademark creative edge that has brought so much variety into his catalogue. Yet it is on a few of the album’s jumpier songs that this side of him really gets a chance to shine. “Come On To Me,” released as a striking single back in Jun., is jaunty, fun, irresistible and above all else, unmistakably McCartney. It’s almost too easy to picture him in concert, slamming his guitar and singing wide-eyed into a microphone, cocking his head. “You know we can’t be seen exchanging information,” he sings, as suggestive and sly as he has been ever since his days as a Quarryman.
Thrumming electronica eclipses into a classic-feeling rock riff in “Who Cares,” with Macca showing off his impressive vocal range with several high-pitched whoops. When he shouts his way through the second chorus (“Who cares what the idiots say / Who cares what the idiots do”), it’s so easy to hear the much younger man who once belted out hits like “Twist and Shout.” On “Fuh You,” he sings, “On the night that I met you, I was out on the town,” and it rings true; listening, you can’t help but think, “Sure, I bet Paul McCartney does have nights out on the town!” He also plays with our expectations in the chorus: “Want a love that’s so proud and real / You make me wanna go out and steal / I just want it fuh you.” His enunciation brings a different meaning to mind, though, and the wording is almost certainly McCartney’s way of lyrically “fuh”-ing with us.
Amid an album that takes us through worlds where love can be stolen, and where butterflies “stomp around the forest / chanting long lost anthems,” some quality songs — like the tender “Hand in Hand” and the obligatory-ish peace anthem “People Want Peace” — are left a little forgettable compared to the rest. The truly thoughtful political track is not “People Want Peace” but rather “Despite Repeated Warnings,” a song similar to “Band on the Run” in its creative and sprightly multiple-act structure. Lines about a ship doomed under an incompetent captain feel decidedly allegorical. It is difficult to hear lines like “Those who shout the loudest / May not always be the smartest,” “How can we stop him? / Grab the keys and lock him up” and “The captain’s crazy, but he doesn’t let them know it / He’ll take us with him if we don’t do something soon to slow it,” and not think of Donald Trump, whom McCartney has repeatedly and vocally criticized.
Egypt Station is stunningly fresh, relentlessly energetic and simultaneously fun and thoughtful. It is noteworthy that we are getting an album like this not only from an artist well into his 70s, but from an artist who proves himself to the world anew every single decade, every year, every day. One would have thought McCartney had nothing left to prove as early as 1971, but his career since then has been anything but coasting, from his musical work (including regular album releases — both solo and with The Fireman — and his wildly popular live tours) to his activism. “Do It Now” offers us a window into the icon’s motivation, a song that looks toward a cloudy future with lines like “I’ll be leaving in the morning / Watch me go” and “I don’t know where the wind is blowing,” and entreats the listener to “Do it now / While the vision is clear / Do it now / While the feeling is here.” Paul McCartney is doing it now; he has been his whole life.