When you’ve done enough in music to ensure your name defines the rock’n’roll era and will be mentioned alongside Mozart and Beethoven by the people of 2518, you have three standard late-career options. You could bow out reliving former glories as a reminder of your monumental achievements. You could chase the zeitgeist, working with the hottest young talent to try to recapture your cutting edge. Or you could slouch off into trad rock, playing out your days in the Blues Jam Retirement Home For Idea Drained Duffers.
On his 17th solo album, Egypt Station, Macca tries all three on for size. Of late he’s courted young buck producers including Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth on his rather dazzling 2013 album New, and suffered the barrage of Kim Kardashian selfies that comes with recording with Kanye West.
Here just three tracks vie, unsuccessfully, to mesh with modern pop. “Caesar Rock” updates the loop collage of “Tomorrow Never Knows” with dashes of The Who rock and contemporary R&B, but only serves to illustrate that although McCartney might have helped to invent electronica, he should probably leave it to the specialists now. The synthetic samba “Back In Brazil” is plain awful. Meanwhile, “Fuh You” paints the charming Sir Paul as a prowling, priapic horndog at a Bastille gig, and is easily the cheesiest thing he’s done since 1986’s “Press”.
He’s no less lusty on the couple of trad rock/bar blues numbers, which are frankly beneath him. “Come on to Me”, for instance, has McCartney encouraging the advances of an admirer in a flurry of septuagenarian innuendo (“I don’t think I can wait ... how soon can we arrange a formal introduction?”) more suited to the pensioners on First Dates.
Such unbecoming carnality is, perhaps, part of the album’s overarching concept of reflecting on a lifetime of romance – McCartney describes each song as a station on life’s journey. It’s a theme unravelled on the tracks that throw back to his prime eras, where Egypt Station’s real magic lies. “Happy with You” has him declaring “I used to get stoned, I liked to get wasted, but these days I don’t because I’m happy with you”, from within a gorgeous pastoral flutter of flutes, toe taps and arpeggios that should really have been called “Mother Nature’s Grandad”.
“Confidante”, an open letter to an ex-soulmate, recalls the proggier folk bits of 1970s Macca, while “I Don’t Know” and “Dominoes” revisit Wings’ plusher mid-Seventies arrangements. Invoking fresh flower power, “People Want Peace” seamlessly fuses “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Eleanor Rigby” and Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance”, and Mother Mary would undoubtedly approve of “Hand in Hand”, panpipe solo and all.
Most heartening of all, though, is the seafaring remake of “Band on the Run” that is “Despite Repeated Warnings”. Opening as a classic “Live and Let Die” piano refrain telling the story of a deranged captain steering their ship towards disaster despite the crew’s desperate pleas, it ramps up the drama over tense, shifting 10cc and ELO segments before the line “it’s the will of the people” reveals its hand as a Brexit metaphor. So many records as reflective and evocative as Egypt Station prove to be career codas. Despite occasional misfires this one proves that, at 76, McCartney, socially and sonically, still has plenty to say.