Review: Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ is nostalgic and relevant
When you have been writing and recording music since the 1960s, it should be a challenge to consistently produce new and exciting music. It should be a challenge to reinvent and reestablish yourself with each new album and single. It should be a challenge to cater to the fans you already have while simultaneously trying to appeal to more.
Paul McCartney seems to face no such challenges. With “Egypt Station,” his new album released Sept. 7, the former Beatle reaffirms his status as a music legend and further displays his ability to make music that transcends genres and decades. “Egypt Station” is McCartney’s first album since 2013’s “New,” and it certainly makes the five-year wait worth it. The disc is eclectic, unique and truly undefinable — just like the musician himself.
“Egypt Station” begins with “Opening Station,” where the sounds of a train pulling into a station — a whistle, honks and the screech of brakes — are underscored by a hauntingly simple dreamscape on a keyboard. This dreamscape feeds into “I Don’t Know,” an existential ballad in which McCartney searches for the answers to the questions plaguing him, only to come up empty handed: “I got crows at my window, dogs at my door/I don’t think I can take anymore/What am I doing wrong? I don’t know.” Though McCartney is in his seventies, his ability to write songs like this with such relatable sentiments is what contributes to his universality. He has a talent for taking struggles experienced by different ages of people, generalizing them and distilling them into songs that are beautiful and accessible.
The following track,“Come On To Me,” is a fun song about spotting someone in a crowd and wanting to strike up a conversation and maybe even a relationship. The song is a standout on the album, in part because McCartney refuses to take himself too seriously on it. When this upbeat song is paired with the equally silly “Fuh You” later on the album, it might seem as though McCartney has returned to the age of the “White Album” and its song “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”
A central theme throughout “Egypt Station” seems to be time. McCartney spends several songs looking both forward and back, alternating between discussing further life plans and expressing nostalgia for the past. “Happy With You” is one of the songs in which McCartney considers where his life has been and his personal evolution, singing, “I sat around all day/I used to get stoned/I liked to get wasted/But these days I don’t/’Cause I’m happy with you.” McCartney, who has been very vocal about his drug use during the 1960s as a member of the Beatles, references that period while expressing his personal growth over a sweet and deceptively simple melody. “Confidante” is another song that fits with this theme of nostalgia: “You used to be my confidante … But I fell out of love with you.” While McCartney has admitted that he wrote this song about his old guitar, its lyrics read as a childlike letter to a former friend. The two songs express opposite emotions about temporal relationships, but both are equally as sentimental and melodic.
“Hand In Hand” is another one of the standout tracks on “Egypt Station” that fits this discussion of time. One can imagine the title is a subtle nod to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the track that gave the Beatles their first number one hit in the U.S. and thrust the group into stardom. In it, McCartney muses, “Everything in life is planned/Can we make this dream come true?” The song is sweet and exemplifies the standard love song for which McCartney became known, especially during the 1960s.
McCartney also discusses the present and near future in songs like “Despite Repeated Warnings,” where he cleverly sings about politics and politicians who “shout the loudest” and “may not always be the smartest.” “Despite Repeated Warnings” pairs nicely with the more subtly political “People Want Peace,” a lovely song spouting a universal truth: “People want peace/A simple release from their suffering.”
As mentioned, McCartney has been topping charts since the 1960s and writing music since he was a teenager. It is only natural that the seasoned songwriter would want to experiment with new sounds and technologies, which he does very aptly on several songs throughout the album, as with “Back in Brazil,” which features a bossa vova groove and only orchestra instruments. The album concludes with “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link,” a triptych that begins with an upbeat and roaring electric guitar and ends with a much slower, almost ominous beat.
Overall, “Egypt Station” allows an even deeper look into the artist who has been in the spotlight for over five decades. The moments of uncharacteristic vulnerability found on tracks like “I Don’t Know” complement the songs with the standard swagger expected of McCartney, like “Come on to Me.” The album is a reminder of why McCartney is still such an important influence and trendsetter in music, one of the greats — as if we had forgotten.