By Cynthia Okoben
Pictures (clockwise, starting at top left): Egypt Station (2018), Paul McCartney (1968), Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon and Ringo Starr (left to right) holding their MBEs (1965), Paul McCartney (2018).
On September 7, 2018, a fourteen-year-old girl rose an hour early. She opened her Spotify account and found Egypt Station, pleasantly surprised to see that it was there already. It started out slowly, with the sounds of a busy train station a bit hazy. Then some ethereal chimes and voices of an angelic choir brought her inside the mind of an artist, the brain of the great Sir James Paul McCartney. A soft piano played a minor tune she had heard before. It suddenly sped up in a more major key, a bit louder now. A familiar voice joined her now, a little older than when she had first met him. This made her sad. It sounded like a modern pop song. Not the Paul she knew. Not the same Paul from fifty odd years ago (and they were odd) who had first asked her to love him (do). Another man entirely. It was pleasant. It just wasn’t him. He was like an aged turtle, especially when the voiced of much younger women tried to harmonize with him. He simply croaked along with them. Was this what she had waited all summer for? For her hero to be destroyed before her very ears? His heart was not in it. He sounded dead, though he tried to be cheery. She looked at her Beatles poster and gave him sad eyes. “I don’t know, indeed, Paul.”
As he “dod doo dooed” on the next song, she noticed how his cries asking her to “come on to him” made her recoil. Who is this man? Certainly not my Paul. And indeed it wasn’t. This was not the man she thought the world of and had defended in so many arguments that took place inside her head. This simply could not be the man who John Lennon had befriended and became famous with, wrote with, loved like a brother. This man was louder and had certainly lost his mind. She wondered what Ringo thought.
As he sang in his almost sad voice about how he used to get stoned and wasted and lie to his doctor, she couldn’t help but suck her lips inside her mouth and glare at her posters. Surely he has used this melody before? I’m certain of it. His natural vibrato sounds like he’s crying. It’s like “Getting Better” but it lacks a soul. It lacks Paul. I suppose fifty years can change a man. But why like this? Why take his soul?
The next song, she was certain, stole a guitar line from “It’s All Too Much,” and changed it to be almost Wings-like. Oh, boy, I’m sure Georgie would be pleased with this. She thought sarcastically in her head and looked at her poster of George Harrison. He’s dead, he’s got bigger problems, surely. Who cares what the idiot says? It sounded like the old Paul was trying to scratch his way out, but he couldn’t quite do it. Do you care about me, Paul? Do you?
She swore aloud when she heard the next song start. When it was but a single, it had taken most of her respect for the singer away. It had made her have to press her fingers to her eyes until they hurt and she told herself to stop. His voice was strained and she could tell he was trying to sound young. She could hear the autotuned qualities of his voice and it made her slightly sick. And then she heard him sing the title of the song and she lost it.
“My God, Paul,” she screamed.
This wasn’t the Paul she knew. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be. The song was awful. The lyrics were awful. The music was awful. And above all, she was disgusted that he wanted to “fuh you every day and every way.” Who was he doing this for? Who was he trying to impress? Who was he trying to be? Certainly not Paul.
When it was over, she could not be more grateful. Until she wasn’t. Who is your confidante? Certainly not I, or else you wouldn’t have done this. The guitar part, at least, was nice. His voice just sounded so tired and she could swear he’d done this a million times before. He’s drained. So why does he go on doing it? And if you’re going to do the same thing over and over again, then why couldn’t you at least do something good over and over again, instead of this garbage?
The song again changed, and she couldn’t tell if he was trying to do an accent or not. Either way, she didn’t like it. It sounded so slanted and closed and nasally and not Paul not Paul not Paul, she repeated over and over again in her mind. It couldn’t be Paul. It just couldn’t be. It couldn’t be the James Paul McCartney she knew. The James Paul McCartney she’d grown to idolize and kid with and love as a brother. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. And, yet, it was. The message is simple, but it’s not from your heart and I’m not crying for more. I want a release from my suffering, but my suffering is this. I’d settle for peace if it would make you stop singing. That would bring me peace.
He’s only doing the same awful rubbish he’s been doing for so many years. Why can’t he make another “Maybe I’m Amazed?” Why does it all have to be “Dance Tonight?” If you’re going to do the same thing over and over, can’t it at least be good?
The mood shifted once more in another strange cadence. It started out nicely, but it was just like “Jenny Wren” in 2005. Not so much in substance, but in the fact that it began sounding pleasant, and then doing a thing she didn’t like. That she, someone only a fraction of his age, with but a fraction of his knowledge, could have improved. Was he even trying?
Finally, there came a song she liked. Or, at least, she thought so at first. Then he mucked it up all over again. He needn’t add more. He’ll only ruin it that way. Oh, and what a metaphor for his musical catalog that was. His voice sounds like medicine, like all the other aging musicians who try to use technology to improve their voices end up sounding like. Just like Ringo Starr and Carole King. Oh, I wonder what they think of this. They can’t be too pleased. I’d put my money on it. How Ringo must feel. Surely disappointment must be one of the emotions swirling around in his head. That this man was once a genius and now he was just a sad old man. And what do dominoes have to do with anything anyway, Paul? Why do you keep doing this to us?
An ad played an gave her mind a chance to rest. But all she can think of is how he’s trying to be young. Like Madonna. Oh, God, Paul’s Madonna. This can’t be good.
The music, if it can be called that and not Paul’s latest electronic noise, depending on whose side you’re on, resumes with a tune called “Back in Brazil.” It starts with birds and a zoning in reminiscent of the first song. Then the electric keyboard plunks out the first few notes, and she can’t help but roll her eyes. Back in America, there lives a girl who dreams of the past, she thinks as his double track goes on in its hetero-normalcy and idyllicism that seem so ever-present in his songs. Another dud, Paul. Then he talks in words (or should she say “word”) she can’t understand for a little while and ends it as the modern musicians do. She doesn’t like that. It’s a little like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Except worse. John definitely wouldn’t like this, she thought as she looked sadly at her John Lennon poster. “Ob-La-Di” and “Another Day.” Their very disappointing child. She loathes how he keeps double-tracking his voice. It brings a sour taste to her mouth.
Do What Now? She thinks with the next song. What do you know? Do you know how this breaks a young girl’s heart who had, just a few months ago, thought the world of you? She had started to like the song until he did the double tracking again. She didn’t like how it ended with a major note. She didn’t like when minor songs ended on a major note. Shouldn’t he know by now that that doesn’t go well?
The next song changes its tone twice as if deciding what to do. Caesar Rock or “She’s a Rock?” What have you to learn? You used to know so much. Have you forgotten it all? This is nonsense. Like most things on here. This is just nonsense. Modern, balderdashian nonsense. Like all the worst things he’s put out. All the first drafts he’s released as finished songs. It’s “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs.” It’s worse than those. It has no meaning. It means nothing to me.
The following song starts and she could swear she’d heard the beginning before. She starts it over and has the same deja vu. This has been common with the beginnings of songs on this album. She’d heard somewhere that it was about Trump, specifically that it was anti-Trump, which made her smile. Finally, something I’m happy you did on this album, Paul. What can we do, indeed? I wish he’d lose his ship and his crew. And he does seem to have his own agenda. At least Paul’s speaking the truth in this one. Finally, Paul is coming back, she thinks at the shift. The Paul I know. The Paul I love. It’s different but good different. It’s almost like Hamilton mated with Pipes of Peace. If only they were all like this…
The first track has a reprise with the second to last song, the same thing he’d done on Sgt. Pepper in 1967. Paul’s coming back.
The last song’s title doesn’t sound promising, but it sounds all right. But he sounds alone again. He’s reverting to modern Paul. He does the same wailing he did in “Come On To Me.” She keeps hearing traces of old songs which are close, so tantalizingly close, and gone so fast, just out of reach. It’s torture almost, to almost be able to touch something, a snippet of a beloved song, only to have it yanked away. It happens all the time in her mind, but it’s worse when it’s in something tangible.
Why have you been naked for so long, Paul, and what need have I to know? Why have you been taken for Michael? And what does that have to do with why you wake up when you try to fall asleep? The “C-Link” sounds like Eric Clapton in Wonderwall. But it’s not Eric Clapton. That Eric Clapton has been gone since 1968. So has the Paul of 1968.
After she finishes listening to the album, Spotify plays the last thing she listened to. “She’s A Woman,” a Beatles song from 1964, the B-side to “I Feel Fine.” Coincidentally, Paul has the lead vocals on this and she gets to hear just how much he’s changed. She gets to hear the guitars of two dead men and the drums and vocals of two men left behind in 1964. Paul had changed, but so had she and so had everyone. Everyone was always changing and always going to change. It was about time she got used to that.
But did she like the album? No. The 1 ½ songs she liked on the album didn’t quite make up for all the rubbish the rest of the album offered, which showed little effort. Did she understand it when it was praised well by others? No. Not in the slightest. The man Paul was didn’t make every piece of garbage he put out gold. That was hardly the case. But she did still love the man he used to be.
“Egypt Station Deluxe Edition 2 LP.” Newbury Comics, www.newburycomics.com/products/paul_mccartney-egypt_station_deluxe_edition_2_lp?variant=12618177314921.
Nickderiso. “Paul McCartney ‘Putting the Finishing Touches’ on New Album.” Ultimate Classic Rock, 4 Jan. 2018, ultimateclassicrock.com/paul-mccartney-new-album-2018/.
“Paul McCartney 1968.” Beatles Paul McCartney 1968 Photo Print Limited Edition Classic Portrait Image., www.rockthebigpicture.com/beatleseditions/pages/Beatles034.html.
Kielty, Martin, et al. “The Beatles.” Ultimate Classic Rock, ultimateclassicrock.com/tags/the-beatles/.