Paul McCartney’s ‘Egypt Station’ is at No. 1
And that says, and means, much more than just a spot on the charts
By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
As I write this, Paul McCartney has the No. 1 album in America. It’s certainly not new territory for the former Beatle. The Fab Four had topped the charts a record-holding 19 times. McCartney’s incredibly successful post-Beatles project, Wings, also hit No. 1 on five occasions. And his solo albums had previously grabbed the top spot twice. But until “Egypt Station” jetted straight to No. 1 earlier this week, it had been 36 years since Sir Paul had sat atop of the Billboard 200.
That’s not to say that a few of his records since 1982’s “Tug Of War” didn’t deserve it. I’m particularly fond of 1989’s “Flowers In The Dirt.” Tracks such as “My Brave Face,” “We Got Married,” “Put It There” and “This One” are on par with some of McCartney’s best work. And “Off The Ground,” from 1993, is another really good record. (Check out “Hope of Deliverance,” “Biker Like An Icon” and “Winedark Open Sea.”) I also liked 2002’s “Driving Rain.” But, for whatever reasons, “Egypt Station” seemed to have gotten a bigger pre-release buzz than any other McCartney album in quite some time. His wonderful “Carpool Karaoke” TV bit with James Corden became a viral sensation – and rightly so – and in the days leading up to its release, it was fun to see Jimmy Fallon wilt into such a total fan-boy when Sir Paul sat with him on the “Tonight Show.” Howard Stern also gave us an insightful McCartney interview, and perhaps we should have known - just by observing what seemed like a confident twinkle in the 76 year-old musician’s eyes - that he had something special up his sleeve.
It was, of course, “Egypt Station.”
If McCartney felt he was about to drop a really cool album, he was right. “Egypt Station” is ambitious. It’s contemporary. It’s engaging. It’s thoughtful. And, quite often, it's just plain fun.
“I Don’t Know,” accented by rich piano, kicks off the record in a refreshingly introspective manner and, in some ways, is unlike anything we’ve heard from McCartney before. Penned during an albeit brief time when McCartney says he was feeling down, it’s interesting, and comforting, to know that even one of most successful men of our time has had moments of self-doubt and a sense of failure. Such moments in life, which are a part of life, spare no one. It’s a song we can all relate to.
Things shift gears quickly, however, with the rousing “Come On To Me,” a flirty and sexy romping track about that moment when you spot someone across the room and feel a magnetic attraction, but you’re waiting for them to make the first move. Beefed up by a classic rock riff, rhythmic and grooving drums, horns, piano, a clever breakout section, and marvelous pop sensibilities (didn’t McCartney invent them?), “Come On To Me” is an instant Macca classic and one that will hopefully have a regular place in the set-list on his 2019 American tour. It will sound good in stadiums.
On “Happy With You” McCartney sings of how his marriage has inspired him to ditch some of his former habits - getting wasted and stoned - simply because, in his life with her, he doesn’t need it. With her, he sings, there is no sadness and no anger. With her, the world is beautiful and in perfect focus and, simply stated, there are “lots of good things to do.” It’s a chirpy gem.
With the pounding “Who Cares,” McCartney offers an inspiring anti-bullying message which is dismissive of those that come with hurtful words, and with “People Want Peace,” he revisits a theme famously first visited by his late songwriting partner, John Lennon. “Hand In Hand” comes with more romanticism and celebrates the happiness of such unions and “Dominos” touches on the concept of how one simple action or small gesture can trigger something that can become much bigger.
What’s perhaps most interesting about “Egypt Station” is its musicality and contemporariness. The production is crisp and booming. “Back In Brazil” sounds as if it could only have been recorded in 2018 and the sizzling, recently released accompanying music video is as hot as anything PG-rated that you’ll see this year. “Caesar Rock” is equally fresh, and with “Despite Repeated Warnings” McCartney takes on the perceived ambivalence of Donald Trump towards global warming. But it’s not your typical chanty-protest song. It’s a melodic, seven-minute, cleverly arranged bulls-eye aimed straight at the President of United States. Lennon would have loved it.
Despite the diverse themes found on “Egypt Station,” it’s the fun songs that serve as its highlights. And, like “Come On To Me,” the track “Fuh You” is one of them. It’s comes with an insanely melodic pre-chorus and an amusing chorus about, well, feeling a special connection with someone and just wanting to … um … get right to it. It’s breezy and catchy and it could inspire even the most reluctant homebody to get out there and look for love (or, at least sex). There’s something to be said for an artist that’s been around for as long as McCartney truly surprising you with a song, and with “Fuh You,” he’s done just that. It’s fabulous. And it’s easy to imagine a local cover band of 23 year-olds playing this one at your favorite club.
Today, Paul McCartney’s “Egypt Station” is the No. 1 album in America. And that’s a good thing. And not just because it is worthy, but because of who he is and what that says. I’ve been saying this for years now: we are lucky to be living in these times, with such artists. The contemporaries of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven – and perhaps even those artists themselves - might not have realized that we’d still be listening to their music long after they were gone. But we do know, right now, that people will still be listening to Paul McCartney long after he and the rest of us are gone. And they’ll look back at his entire body of work, and they’ll study it, and they’ll wonder how the music that came much later in his life was received at the time. And, at 76 years old, they will see a No. 1 album.
They will see that his contemporaries got it. We knew what we had. And we embraced it and cherished it.
I spent most of the ‘90s and a good part of the following decade covering concerts. For 15 straight years, it was a huge part of my life. And then, about 10 years ago, when my children came along, I pulled back quite a bit. But eventually, I felt a little pull to get back at it from time to time. And so, over the past few years, I covered some shows by people like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Sting, U2 and Rod Stewart. I’d seen them all before, but I was becoming more aware of the fact that those artists aren’t just the greatest of our time, but they will long be considered the greatest of all-time. I realized we’re all fortunate to be here, right now, enjoying this music, from such artists, and that when an artist of that caliber continues to record or perform, we need to be paying attention.
Paul McCartney sits at the very top of that list, and today, in September of 2018 – with a wonderful new album, he is right where he belongs.
Right on top.
We get it.
And that twinkle in his eye was well-deserved.
We get it.
And that twinkle in his eye was well-deserved.
(Alan K. Stout has seen Paul McCartney live three times and has covered rock and pop music since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at email@example.com)