A few years back (1960), some friends in Liverpool over in England decided to get together and start making some music together. They made some records, then made some fans, then became the biggest sensation the world had really ever known in the music business, not just at the time, but for any time. At the heart of all that, writing songs that would become, not just hits, but true icons in their own right, was Mr. Paul McCartney.
Though that group of friends has long since gone their separate ways, and two of them have left the rest of us behind, Mr. McCartney is still a legend among us. Except that he's also upgraded. He is Sir Paul McCartney, CH MBE, and legend just barely scratches the surfaces. For the three or four of you that might be reading this without knowing, here's just a few things you should be aware of: Sir Paul holds eighteen Grammys, an Oscar, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, was knighted in 1997, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not once but twice, and has a planet named after him. McCartney holds more than 60 gold albums, has written or co-written a staggering 32 Billboard Hot 100 number 1 songs, and has sold more than 100 million albums just with the Beatles alone.
And that's just scratching the surface.
All of that history leads up to 2018. This year, McCartney has partnered with producer Greg Kurstin (with Ryan Tedder producing one track) to create his first album of original music in five years. Sixteen tracks of pure melodic excursion are what you'll find when you slip "Egypt Station" into your disc player or punch it up on your digital player of choice. Announced on June 18 – McCartney's 76th birthday – "Egypt Station" finds you being transported on a ride through time, when music was made by musicians rather than computers and samples spliced together and sound effects thrown in for "flavor."
The first single released, "Come On To Me," could easily be a top track from the late '60s or early '70s, but if it had been, it would be one that everyone would know today. It has those catchy hooks that you can't get out of your head and a drum sound that hits home without overpowering everything else in the song. Layers build in the song, from guitar and piano and the bass carrying everything home to the horns that join in for the bridge in the middle of the song, it all just comes together under McCartney's vocals that tell a fun story of flirtation: "If you come on to me, then I'll come on to you!"
When the single was released, it was packaged with "I Don't Know" as a double-A-side. Unlike "Come On To Me," this track is much softer, a ballad that express the fear and doubt of the storyteller, second-guessing all the things he's doing, trying to live his best life and worrying about what he's doing wrong. The plaintive piano underscores the mood while the drums and guitar keep the tempo light enough to prevent the song from slipping into a dirge. It's an honest look at a person's self-doubts without sliding into a depressive self-loathing.
The second single to be released is the track that Ryan Tedder produced. With his own successful career to bolster him – vocalist of OneRepublic, producing and writing for U2, Chris Cornell, Beyoncé, Ludacris, and Whitney Houston, to name just a very few – Tedder brings a little more of a pop edge to the release "Fuh You." This one track falls more on the digital side, but still retains McCartney's signature sound, from the vocals and pianos over the top of the tracks that lead up to what could be called one of the racier, and less subtle, choruses in the McCartney catalogue while maintaining the radio-friendly status.
"Happy With You" is another light, bouncy track that opens with just a guitar and vocals for the first stanza. Detailing a man who used to walk around angry and getting stoned who doesn't any longer, not since he found someone to share the world with, the song might lean a little to the saccharine side, but it's just so genuine you won't care. And McCartney doing what could only be described as a McCartney-version of beat-boxing throughout the song is worth the price of admission.
One of the later numbers on the album, "Despite Repeated Warnings," is a multi-dimensional piece. Starting with a bit of a prog-rock movement before transitioning into a ELO-esque driving section before coming back down again, the song is a little trippy, but not inaccessible. It trips a fine line between appealing to fans while still reaching for some new layers of the stratosphere in the musical ether.
The closer on the album is a straight-up rock number. "Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link," as the name suggests, is really three tracks in one, almost like McCartney had a couple of ideas for songs that he didn't quite build out, but when he assembled them into one piece, they just work well. You can almost hear it playing live, like a medley of greatest hits he just wrote. The first part could easily slot into a Stones album or even the upcoming Struts record, take your pick, with the riffs and rhythms that make you want to move. The second movement is a little lighter, a little more introspective, with some fun musical interludes to keep you guessing. And the third part is instrumental, closing out the album in a style that brings to mind a smoky basement barroom on the south side of Chicago, with blues grooves that cut deep.
This is just a small taste of "Egypt Station." I've covered less than half the album here, and I can say there's not a bad track I've heard. This isn't an album of tracks, though. It's not a "playlist." This is a record that should be played start to finish and then started over again. If you're a Paul McCartney fan, of any of his projects over the years, then this album will be on your must-buy list. If you're a fence-sitter, I firmly believe this album is going to push you into the fan camp. If you're not sure who this guy is (and I'm scared to know how many of you there are out there!), you're going to wonder where this "new guy" is coming from. This isn't just another album. McCartney is more than just a singer, or a songwriter, or a bass player. He's an artist, a multi-instrumentalist, and has earned every accolade he's collected over his career and more. "Egypt Station" plays on so many layers and levels that you'll want to turn it on and leave it on for a few weeks just to absorb it.
And then you can really start to listen.
"Egypt Station" from Capitol Records releases on September 7th, 2018. To preorder your copy, go to: https://paulmccartney.lnk.to/EgyptStation