Egypt Station is more frustrating than it is enjoyable.
Say what you will about Paul McCartney in his later years, but it’s hard to argue that the man takes risks that surprisingly pay off. It could be easy for him to be a relic stuck in time, churning out middle-of-the-road throwback tunes as an excuse to tour and make lots of money from boomers who want to hear “Get Back” and “Jet,” but McCartney always puts in the effort to at least try to interface with modern pop trends, and his inherent cornball streak comes off as more charming than grating in his old age. Recently, Macca has shown a desire to interface with modern pop trends in a sincere way, as shown on the Mark Ronson-produced New and his collaborations with Rihanna and Kanye West. Egypt Station doesn’t quite have the same forward-thinking ethos, but it does attempt to emulate modern pop in ways that unfortunately show McCartney’s limitations at doing so.
Instead of the plastic funk of Ronson or the smooth, digital R&B of Rihanna, Egypt Station takes a surprising amount of inspiration from modern rock, specifically the booming, stadium-sized platitudes of bands like Imagine Dragons. Lead single “Fuh You” is the embodiment of this approach, and it’s also fucking terrible to boot. No one would necessarily attribute McCartney with being the most profound lyricist, but even by his standards, this fumbling ode to sexual devotion is pretty empty, and it’s only made shallower by the aural bombast that surrounds it. Other songs like “People Want Peace” fare better by virtue of not being completely humiliating, but they still unintentionally emphasize that modern stadium rock just doesn’t gel with the kind of songs that McCartney writes nowadays. Big platitudes don’t work if they’re coming from a songwriter for whom showstoppers like “Hey Jude” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” were more exceptions than rules. If Egypt Station is a harbinger of what McCartney’s upcoming tour is going to be like, then there might be a few disappointed Macca fans come next year.
It’s a shame, too, because there’s probably a decent album somewhere within the sprawl of Egypt Station. At 15 tracks, the album runs a little long, though there are some short instrumentals thrown in to break up the pace. Lost among the big, soaring songs are low-key ballads like “Confidante” and “Hand in Hand” that perfectly show McCartney’s unmatched deft gifts for melody. These songs find him in a mode similar to the one he was in on 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, albeit with a few modern flourishes. Here, we get the idea expression of late-period McCartney: a man willing to play with the prevailing trends in pop while still remaining true to the songwriting traditions that molded him, as opposed to going in whole hog on whatever the kids are doing these days. Were all of Egypt Station like this, the experience would be as rewarding as some of his best recent work has been.
As it stands, though, Egypt Station is more frustrating than it is enjoyable. As far as McCartney’s solo work goes, it’s not quite as bad as some of the misbegotten experiments that have cluttered his discography over the years. However, it’s still a little sad to hear a songwriter with such a clear identity sacrifice that for a brief flirtation with modern rock radio. The fact is that McCartney hasn’t lost his gifts as a songwriter, and he can still come up with some great music when he wants to. He might want to think twice about chasing trends, though.