Featured Post

Welcome to Russell Arben Fox's Home Page

Note that if you're a student and looking for syllabi, click on the link to "Academic Home Page" on the right and search there.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Listening to Macca #12: New and Egypt Station

Here I am, at the end of 2019 and the end of this 12-month journey through pretty nearly everything Sir Paul McCartney has recorded and released since the Beatles broke up 50 years ago. It's been a trip--and I'm happy to say that, from the perspective of my ears anyway, it's ending on a positive note. Last month, with my head full of some surprisingly strong rockers on the albums Macca put out when he was 65 (Memory Almost Full) and 66 (Electric Arguments) years old, I found myself wondering what kind of narrative my story-telling brain was going to come up with to make sense of a man who just kept on making new music, kept on touring, kept on doing what he loved even though any other person, not matter how talented, would presumably have retired. Didn't it make sense to imagine someone like McCartney wanting to go out with some great rock and roll? Well, it did...but that wasn't his choice. Instead, his choice is to continue to be himself: a performer and musical creator. And the fact is, I think, when Macca looks at himself as a 71 or a 76 -year-old man up there on the stage, sometimes the wonder, the strangeness, the impressiveness, even the mordant hilarity of his ability to just keep on keeping on, still sparks something in his genius that will be worth remembering--maybe even when he, surely the last and greatest survivor of the 1960s, finally hangs it all up.

In the meantime, it is undeniable that in the 2010s, McCartney was finally slowing down. In the years during which these two albums came out, Macca released nothing else. No other irons in the fire, at long last, or so it appears--no more classical compositions, no more electronica experiments, no more vanity projects looking back at the history of rock and roll or whatever. Instead, just two albums that show his continued termination to explore different ways to put his apparently endless pop song-writing and melody-making talent to work. The first, New, is the weaker of the two efforts, I think. There are three stand-out songs: "Alligator," "Queenie Eye," and "I Can Bet." All have clever vocal effects, great guitar work, and solid beats. "Queenie Eye" has a great rave-up quality (and a video that included pretty much every celebrity who'd ever said they'd like to sing with Paul), but the latter is my favorite, because it brings out Macca's ever-present R&B passions. There are a couple of other tunes on the album that could have been great: I love the lyrics and the acoustic guitar on "On My Way to Work," and "New" has some more of that bright, expansive musicality which he'd discovered on Electric Arguments, but in both cases they just needed a little more work or producer push-back, they feel abbreviated or unfinished, somehow. The rest is middling and pleasant. No one is immune to being invited into a nostalgia trip, and "Early Days" certainly qualifies, though some of the lyrics (especially "Now everybody seems to have their own opinion / Who did this and who did that / But as for me I don't see how they can remember / when they weren't where it was at") make me think that this was more McCartney setting himself the task of writing a song to settle scores with Beatles fans, rather than something authentically occurring to him as he worked in the studio, especially since he's made it more than clear over the years that he actually doesn't dwell on the past much. "Appreciate" and "Hosanna" are pretty weak, and "Road" and "Scared" are both typically unfinished McCartney productions, but the rest is fine. I give it yet another B-.

Egypt Station, though? I think I kind of love this album. Obviously it can't really compare to one of the truly great albums by McCartney, but I kind of want to put it on that level anyway, because I get a lot of (admittedly kind of immature) joy from some of the songs on it, while others just suck me into a cool, provocative lyrical world. The jokey, faux-scandalous "Fuh You" is, along with everything else, a really great sing-along pop tune; I want to believe that it's getting massive play in dance clubs, though it almost certainly isn't, which is a shame. There is a run of songs on this album with lines that lack what seemed to me the slightly packaged sentimentality of "Early Days" on New, and instead reflect someone of an advanced age feeling alternately broken down, or defiant, or dismissive, or honestly (and surprisingly) satisfied. "I Don't Know" (Well I see trouble/ At every turn / I've got so many lessons to learn"), "Happy With You" ("I used to drink to much / Forgot to come home / I lied to my doctor / But these days I don't"), "Who Cares" (Who cares what the idiots say? / Who cares what the idiots do?"), and most of all the sneakily wise "Dominoes" ("And soon we'll see / that you and me / We're really friends"), which has a simply captivating chord structure to boot--altogether, they almost make me believe that the album really is the journey down some metaphorical train line that Paul apparently at least partly wanted his listeners to think. There is some perfunctory stuff on the album--"Caesar Rock," "Hand in Hand," and "People Want Peace"--but even all of them have some nicely produced elements included. And "Despite Repeated Warnings"? Well, it's not a first-class political song, but compared to his "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" from more than 40 years ago, this is a pretty smart and impassioned bit of anti-Trumpism. So yeah, a really good album--I'm going to give it a B+. So high? Maybe, as I wrote above, I can't really justify putting this in the range of Flowers in the Dirt or Tug of War; maybe I'm inflated its grade just because to give me a good send-off. But if so...well, this is my project, after all.

And with that, my journey comes to an end. Stay tuned for my retrospective/wrap-up, coming before the end of the year!

No comments: