Paul McCartney released a new album today. What emotion does that fill you with? Excitement? Apprehension? Indifference? All of the above?
For my part I was loosely interested and, after his blazing and triumphant gig at Mt Smart last December, casually optimistic.
I'm a huge McCartney fan but I'll happily admit that my blind fandom falters and gets fairly picky after Let it Be. For every McCartney or Ram or Band on the Run you've got to negotiate your way around a Give My Regards to Broad Street or At the Speed of Sound or Off the Ground.
His solo discography - and I'm obviously lumping Wings in here as well because duh... - is mostly one of genius interrupted by splurts of schmaltz, cheese and bad ideas.
Anyway, this new one's called Egypt Station and he's described it as a dreaded "concept album".
McCartney's track record on concepts is roughly about 50/50, I'd say. He's veered from the groundbreaking, 'Hey, let's pretend we're an old-timey vaudevillian band,' to the step-away-from-the-acid-buddy of 'Hey, let's drive around the countryside in a technicolour bus while dressed as fluffy animals'.
The concept here, such as it is, is that each song represents a stop on the Egypt station train line. Like any train line each stop is completely different despite sharing common track. This doesn't assert itself in any real, tangible way. There's no song that sounds like whatever the Cairo station sounds like, for example.
So this is either an excuse to add legitimacy to sonic variety or just something to say when asked by interviewers. Having jammed the album a dozen or so times I'm leaning heavily towards the latter.
There's variety here, sure, but it's more like here's a rocker, here's a single, here's a piano one, here's a love song, here's another rocker.
These songs didn't really need a loose concept to tie them together. They're tied pretty bloody tightly together due to the fact that the world's greatest living songwriter wrote them.
McCartney's easy sense of melody, the surprising chord changes, the lush instrumentation, the heartfelt emotion, the occasionally naff lyric, they're all here. Its unlikely any will join his unrivalled list of classics, but there's more than a few that will nestle up nicely alongside them on his just announced 2019 tour.
None more so than the atrociously titled Fuh You, McCartney's giddily rapturous, stadium shaking ode to going out and hooking up.
Can you describe a song by a 76-year-old man as a pop banger? Well, fuh it, I'm doing it.
Fuh You is a goddamn pop banger that's more infectious than an unprotected night of wild abandon between the sheets with someone you just met. Randy old Macca clearly no longer satisfied with merely wanting to hold your hand.
The meditative I Don't Know is reflective and wondering as McCartney ponders impending death ("I got crows at my window, dogs at my door"). With his chunky piano playing and trademarked melodically slippery bass line the song would slot easily amongst the Let It Be track listing.
Happy with You is a Blackbird-esque upbeat, very pretty love song. "I used to get stoned, I liked to get wasted, but these days I don't," he sings. "Because I'm happy with you."
Back in Brazil's percolating riff bubbles over a fun, hip-shaking groove, Come On to Me is a jaunty, stompy rocker, Hand in Hand is a brilliant and moving Revolver-style haunting love song, while Caesar Rock is an Abbey Road-style avant-pop experiment that expertly blends 60s guitar heroics with some sweet-ass funk as McCartney busts out his weathered bluesman vocal style.
He's not beyond a 'woooah" outburst, a catchy "do-do-do", or a delicate melody but age hasn't particularly helped his voice much.
Unlike contemporaries Dylan, who's embraced an incomprehensible slur to astounding effect, or Jagger, who stripped the Stones to the bone on their excellent last album Blue and Lonesome, McCartney can't lean into the lived in, ravaged sound of the blues. He's at the toppermost of the poppermost. A much harder sell for older voices.
But you quickly acclimate to his deeper tone. McCartney's savvy enough to not reach for the unreachable and, truly, he finds ample room to move. The dude's not short of an addictive melody or earworm hook.
Egypt Station is full of tracks that get stuck in your head and refuse to budge. Yes, there's a little cringe, (People Want Peace updates Give Peace a Chance which is a lovely sentiment but. should have been on a billboard, not an album), but that kinda goes with the McCartney territory.
Take the ticket. Enjoy the ride. I don't know about Egypt but this train stops at plenty of Beatles decorated stations. It's a great trip and one that more than warrants a return ticket.