Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney. Sixty years after “Love Me Do,” his legend already inviolable, Macca keeps adding new gems to his songbook, with nothing to prove except he’s the only genius who can do this. Egypt Station, his first in five years, is a deeply eccentric song cycle in the Ram mode, made with pop savant Greg Kurstin. The past fifteen years have been a glorious time to be a Paul fanatic—the man has been on a songwriting roll, ever since the 2005 Nigel Godrich jam Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. (And oh yeah—in his spare time, he happens to be still the greatest live performer on earth.)
Egypt Station flows as a unit, structured like a long ride on a cosmic train, beginning and ending with ambient railway-station noise. It comes five years after 2013’s New, where he stepped out with the psychedelic nugget “Queenie Eye,” one of his funniest and weirdest ever. (Real talk: “Queenie Eye” would have been a top 5 song on Magical Mystery Tour.) These days, he’s not on any kind of assembly line—he only makes albums when he’s got enough worthy songs saved up, which is why his recent work has been top-notch. On Egypt Station, he mixes pastoral acoustic reveries like “Confidante” with intimate piano confessions like “Do It Now.”
Macca spends most of the album singing in character, voicing sentiments people don’t usually expect from this guy. Case in point: “I Don’t Know,” a ballad of mid-life doubt. (“I got crows out my window, dogs at my door / I don’t think I can take any more.”) He’s also picked up a knack for silly sex songs like “Come On To Me” or the ridiculous “Fuh You,” which basically serves as a sequel to his 1971 shagathon “Hi, Hi, Hi.” With the Romantic Beatle slavering “I just wanna fuh you,” it makes “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” sound subtle.
This album’s masterpiece: “Dominoes,” one of those Paul creations that feels both emotionally direct yet playfully enigmatic. An eerie acoustic guitar hook, worthy of the White Album, builds for almost five minutes, complete with an old-school backwards guitar solo and the disarming farewell line, “It’s been a blast.” It aims for sonic territory someplace where “Too Many People” meets “You Won’t See Me,” yet it ends up somewhere different entirely. “Dominoes” is one of his toughest solo moments ever—it has the unmistakable McCartney touch everybody else keeps failing to copy, yet it feels totally fresh and new.
All Egypt Station has that playful spirit. “Back In Brazil” is a surprisingly successful electro-samba detour, while “Do It Now” expresses the same sentiment as his classic John Lennon elegy “Here Today,” as an older-and-wiser Paul reflects on the kind of emotional resolutions you seek when you realize how short life is. “Happy With You” is a sober folk oddity: “I sat around all day, I used to get stoned / I liked to get wasted but these days I don’t.” Even the timely anti-Trump protest “Despite Repeated Warnings” is a 7-minute mini-suite in the style of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”: even when he’s pissed off about political apocalypse, Paul gonna Paul. As he always should. And as Egypt Station suggests, as he always will.