Kitty Em­pire re­views Paul McCart­ney’s new al­bum

By turns play­ful, hon­est and quest­ing, Paul McCart­ney hitches em­pa­thy to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion on his ur­gent new al­bum

The Observer - The New Review - - Agenda -

Paul McCart­ney Egypt Sta­tion (Capi­tol)

Quite why the fore­most liv­ing au­thor of western pop­u­lar mu­sic still feels he needs to prove him­self, 17 solo al­bums in from The Ac­tual Bea­tles, is a moot point. Paul McCart­ney could spend his time loung­ing about on the sup­plest of ve­gan pleather di­vans, get­ting wavy on the finest mar­i­juana strains ever cross­bred. He could feel sat­is­fied that semi-le­gal­i­sa­tion – at least for the likely joint pain of a 76-year-old – was nigh, and that his sta­tus as the pa­tri­arch of western pop­u­lar cul­ture was se­cure.

But Macca doesn’t get high any more, he con­fides on Happy With You – a de­cep­tively sim­ple ditty on Egypt Sta­tion, his lat­est al­bum. You know it’s McCart­ney from the first acous­tic gui­tar fig­ure. He used to lie to his doc­tor, he sings, but that’s no longer nec­es­sary ei­ther. He likes his life with Nancy Shev­ell, we learn. He takes so­lace in na­ture.

All the more rea­son, you could ar­gue, for this chilled ver­sion of the most try-hard of the Fab Four to eke out the time teach­ing his eight grand­chil­dren yoga pos­tures, or Stor­mzy the pi­ano, or lend his clout to is­sues such as gun con­trol, as McCart­ney did ear­lier this year on the New York March for Our Lives. As per the ti­tle of an­other Egypt Sta­tion song, Fuh You, he could give pre­cisely no “fuhs” about any fur­ther au­ral out­put.

And yet here he is, rop­ing in Amer­i­can A-list pop pro­duc­ers, sub­ject­ing him­self to Car­pool Karaoke, and gen­er­ously feed­ing the pub­lic­ity ma­chine such cat­nip as “McCart­ney saw God on DMT”, as the head­lines had it last week

– all for an­other spin around the whirligig, just, you as­sume, to see if any of his stuff still reg­is­ters.

Spoiler: it does. The finest songs here land im­me­di­ately and hum with ur­gency. There’s Do It Now, a su­perBeat­ley mi­nor key carpe diem that passes on the ad­vice McCart­ney’s fa­ther used to give him. “Do it now, while the vi­sion is clear,” he sings, in a tim­bre that doesn’t over­much be­tray the slight diminu­tion in his vo­cal range. Then there’s De­spite Re­peated Warn­ings, an­other highly char­ac­ter­is­tic McCart­ney pi­ano bal­lad gone funny, about the po­lit­i­cal fixes of the cur­rent age. Brexit, Trump: they can all be read into a parable about a de­ranged cap­tain pi­lot­ing a ship into per­ilous straits marred by just one go­daw­ful rhyme – “Janet”, to go with “planet”.

Most im­me­di­ate of all is I Don’t Know, as raw and hu­man an of­fer­ing as McCart­ney has writ­ten in some time. “I got crows at my win­dow/ Dogs at my door,” sings Sir Paul, an English blues­man wrestling with an in­tractable sit­u­a­tion. “I don’t think I can take any more/ What am I do­ing wrong?” One of the very great­est strengths of the Bea­tles’ song­writ­ing was the vul­ner­a­ble query­ing of both Len­non and McCart­ney, men who dis­played hurt, em­pathised with oth­ers and sought to give wise coun­sel where they could. Here, McCart­ney self-flag­el­lates at the pi­ano. “Where am I go­ing wrong?” he gnashes – no potentate, “only a man”, one who can’t make ev­ery­thing OK in his ex­tended clan.

Given McCart­ney’s high emo­tional IQ, the strangest of all of the pub­lic­ity-seek­ing com­pul­sions that sur­round Egypt Sta­tion is prob­a­bly his de­sire to throw his muse into the hands of a cou­ple of su­per­pro­duc­ers de nos jours.

With Egypt Sta­tion, McCart­ney is specif­i­cally in­ter­ested in play­ing with the new breed. You can un­der­stand the at­trac­tion of team­ing up with Kanye West, a fel­low cre­ative all-rounder – words, mu­sic, con­tem­po­rary ubiq­uity – as he did in 2015 for the Ri­han­nafronted FourFiveSe­conds.

And you’d also un­der­stand if the au­thor of Hey Jude wanted to trade top lines (AKA melodies) with his mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent – some­one like Swedish em­i­nence grise Max Martin, the man who writes the tunes of the early 21st cen­tury (and if he doesn’t write them, his acolytes mimic his style).

In­stead, Egypt Sta­tion is an ex­tended dal­liance be­tween McCart­ney and Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie, Brit­ney, Adele, Chvrches)

and, briefly, be­tween McCart­ney and Ryan Ted­der (OneRepub­lic, Leona Lewis, Bey­oncé, Adele, Tay­lor Swift). It’s held to­gether by a flimsy con­ceit that th­ese songs are sta­tions on some kind of jour­ney.

The Ted­der col­lab­o­ra­tion – Fuh You, re­leased as a sin­gle – is the al­bum’s nadir, like mat­ter meet­ing anti-mat­ter: McCart­ney on the melody, de­ploy­ing lit­tle harp­si­chord parps, and Ted­der, lay­ing the pro­duc­tion out on a sti­fling com­puter grid, smoth­er­ing all spon­tane­ity with a hy­poxic den­sity of in­stru­men­ta­tion, mak­ing for an over­ween­ing scent of Cold­play. It is one of two songs on Egypt Sta­tion in which a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian flaunts his li­bido, and that’s not the rea­son it’s but­tock-clench­ingly un­com­fort­able. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent in­ter­view, McCart­ney’s crash course in how Ted­der works – throw­ing out pat phrases over hooks un­til some­thing sticks – was a salu­tary eye-opener.

Hap­pily, Kurstin proves a more in­ter­est­ing foil. With a back­ground in jazz, Kurstin is the sort that won’t flinch if McCart­ney throws a lit­tle back­wards gui­tar at him, as he does on Cae­sar Rock, or bloopy space-lounge bossa nova, as he does on Back in Brazil. Kurstin has said that McCart­ney wanted to avoid any­thing sound­ing “or­di­nary”, and sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of this al­bum re­ally don’t, priv­i­leg­ing the off-piste-veer­ing, experimental McCart­ney. Even when the song is a pleas­ant, com­mon-or-gar­den Wings-like chug such as Who Cares, an os­cil­lat­ing in­tro, or a gi­ant wasp outro, makes you prick up your ears ap­pre­cia­tively.

Nowhere is this play­ful im­per­a­tive more ev­i­dent than on the clos­ing trip­tych of Hunt You Down/ Naked/ C-Link. Hit song­writ­ing is one thing, but if the Bea­tles did any­thing, it was to nail their pop­ulist tune-mak­ing to the mast like few be­fore or since, then dis­rupt the whole par­a­digm.

There’s undimmed brio on the juicy free-for-all that is Hunt You Down, jolly baroque in­tro­spec­tion on Naked, and an un­ex­pected clos­ing blues, C-Link, where some or­ches­trated strings, sound­ing like horns, join McCart­ney’s las­civ­i­ous, lurk­ing elec­tric gui­tar.

“I’m not quit­ting while peo­ple are cry­ing for more,” he sings on Peo­ple Want Peace. Point taken.

I Don’t Know is as raw and hu­man an of­fer­ing as McCart­ney has writ­ten in years

Paul McCart­ney: ‘an English blues­man’. MPL Com­mu­ni­ca­tions

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.