Review: Two Pauls (McCartney and Simon) Both Have New Albums
The masters don’t live up to their legendary work, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.
Egypt Station (Capitol)
In the Blue Light (Columbia)
Although Paul McCartney’s voice has aged, his charm certainly has not. His latest release, “Egypt Station,“ is an innovative take on classic Beatles instrumentation, with plenty of crisp keys and strings, accented by creative percussion twists.
The album begins with four rather underwhelming songs on themes of simpler living, love, and ignoring bullies. It is as if McCartney decided to write an album spanning every imaginable social topic, without putting enough detail or emotion into any of them to make them memorable.
The reason for the album’s scattered nature is that it is meant to reflect a journey through many “stations,” symbolic of not only public transport, but life itself.
“Despite Repeated Warning” is a nearly seven minute ballad interspersed with big band sound, pre-recorded by the the Muscle Shoals Horns, and an orchestra, along with many changes of tempo. The track is the tale of a ship’s crew recovering their vessel from a reckless captain, in and through “the will of the people.” As always, political commentary is a strong-suit for McCartney.
Similarly, “People Want Peace,” harkens back to the legend’s glory days in the 60’s. McCartney is self-aware, however, that “The message is simple, it’s straight from my heart, And I know that you’ve heard it before, […] And I’m not quitting while people are crying for more.” Nonetheless, listeners can expect to feel chills.
“Fuh You,” is an attempt at modernization with filters and compressed backing vocals. The lyrics feel forced and out of character, and the track falls flat in comparison to the rest of the album.
“Dominoes,” “Happy With You,” “Hand in Hand,” and “Confidante,” will catch the ears of those looking for those sweet McCartney love songs. The funky “Back in Brazil,” and the experimental “Caesar Rock,” display McCartney’s curiosity for fusion. “Caesar Rock” packs a punch with middle-eastern touches, gang vocals, gongs, and strings, all while flirting with unorthodox song structure.
One can only imagine the stress and pressure of maintaining renown as an artist for 60 years. Paul McCartney handles this great challenge with grace. The same can be said for fellow legend, Paul Simon who also released an album on September 7. It is also noteworthy that both McCartney and Simon began their music careers at age 15, and have been creating music for nearly 60 years since.
Paul Simon sticks to his guns on his new and final record, “In the Blue Light,” which consists of 10 of Simon’s personal favorite songs, re-imagined. The collection is a testament to the immortality of jazz, with sharp-tongued anecdotes throughout.
The years have added depth and a tone somewhere between certainty and cynicism to Simon’s voice. As a result, his former work inherits a new meaning. Instead of the young and spry poet, a wise and soulful man animates “In the Blue Light.”
The record kicks off with a new take on “One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor,” originally from 1973’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon.” It is difficult to imagine a present-day Paul Simon inhabiting apartments, but his sarcastic tone makes it worth a listen. “Darling Lorraine” is striking and mysterious, the song’s original clapping percussion and electric guitar are nowhere to be found. Simon’s voice resonates with infectious lamentation.
Selections like “Rene and Georgiette Margritte with Their Dog After the War,” “The Teacher,” and “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves,” create a political backdrop. These tracks tackle socio-political issues that resonate today, including immigration, the judiciary system, and poverty. Simon possesses the ability to bring attention to society’s flaws through nimbly crafted narratives. The world will surely be devoid of an irreplaceable storyteller after “In the Blue Light.”
Neither “Egypt Station” nor “In The Blue Light” live up to McCartney and Simon’s legendary work, but that does not mean they lack talent or intrigue, as both records are entertaining bodies of work. That they have made strong albums this late in their respective careers is impressive.
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