If Paul McCartney keeps a bucket list, what could possibly be left on it? A walk on the moon, maybe, or the prototype for eternal life, graciously bestowed by some bleeding-edge biotech lab in Silicon Valley in return for services rendered to mankind.
There are only so many new adventures, after all, for a living legend already guaranteed a forever place on the face of rock’s Mount Rushmore; an artist knighted, canonized, and adored in nearly every obscure corner of the globe for more than half a century. And yet, in public and on record, he is somehow still everybody’s Paul — the scrappy kid from Liverpool who appeared on a special hometown edition of “Carpool Karaoke” this past June, contentedly tootling his harmonica in an empty bus shelter, playing a surprise greatest-hits set at a local pub, and making James Corden cry for his grandpa in the middle of a “Let It Be” duet.
On Egypt Station’s loping, contemplative opener “I Don’t Know,” he’s also a man racked, almost convincingly, with self-doubt: “I got crows at my window, dogs at my door/I don’t think I can take anymore/What am I doing wrong? I don’t know.” But he’s too sanguine not to cap it with a reassuring “It’s alright, sleep tight,” and move right along to the rollicking “Come On to Me,” an electrified doot-doo-doo stomper as libidinous as anything a 76-year-old this side of Little Richard has slid into, and “Happy With You,” a melodious little ode to the woman who made him want to be a better man. (“I sat around all day, I liked to get stoned/I liked to get wasted, but these days I don’t/’cause I’m happy with you.”)
In the press notes, McCartney extols the virtues of “the ‘album’ albums we used to make,” and Station has a loose jukebox quality that still feels thematic, even as he moves through moods and sounds. The modern magpie sensibility of Grammy-winning producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Beck) gilds the handclap chorus of exalted piano anthem “Fuh You,” while jaunty sing-along “People Want Peace” rips a page directly from John Lennon’s bed-in playbook. The delicate, pirouetting “Hand in Hand” comes on like a bittersweet “Blackbird” redux; breezy bossa nova shuffle “Back in Brazil” feels like something David Byrne might turn out on a sunny São Paulo weekend. And “Caesar Rock” is all early Hamburg sessions, a giddy shout from the basement of a garage-band jam.
The song list contains 16 tracks total, counting its bookending instrumentals, and it’s a long shot, probably, that any of them will join the pantheon. As with any artist of McCartney’s age and caliber, the specter of an iconic catalog can’t help but hang over the current work, particularly when so few like him remain. For some of his peers, that sense of legacy tended to become the locus of the material, or at least heavy subtext; on their elegiac late-career albums, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie grappled with mortality and loss in a way that felt in many ways like a deliberate farewell.
But for all its reflection, Station (recorded in part at Abbey Road) feels like the output of a man still experiencing life midstream. And while McCartney has undergone a kind of pop culture resurgence over the past decade — dueting with Kanye and Rihanna, drumming for the Foo Fighters, dancing in the VIP balcony at Beyoncé gigs — he’s done it all with a sort of serene elder-statesman dignity. There’s no sense on this record that he needs to pander to the kids; no Drake cameo or strenuously pop-charty production.
Instead, the album is content to mine the Technicolor mind of its creator: alternately playful and earnest, melancholy and resilient, but always immutably himself — the still-vital life force of a superstar who has been there and everywhere and is glad just to be here now. B+