Going to 'Egypt Station' with Sir Paul

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 13, 2018
Photo by: Capitol Records Paul McCartney holds the vinyl version of his new album, with the cover based on his paintings.

Owls Head — Egypt Station (Capitol/mpL CD, 57:26). The ex-Beatle, master songwriter has not lost his touch in this terrific album, his first album of all-new music since 2013’s international chart-topping "NEW." The album, his 17th solo album overall, was recorded between Los Angeles, London and Sussex, and produced -- with the exception of one Ryan Tedder track --by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Beck, Foo Fighters).

The album's 14 songs present a unique travelogue vibe. The album opens and next-to-c loses with ambient railroad station sounds, the  instrumentals "Station I" and "Station II." Stops along the way include an acoustic reflection on present day contentedness ("Happy With You"), a timeless plea for peace that turns into a sing-along ("People Want Peace") and an apparent slap at President Trump in 'Despite Repeated Warnings," a mini-suite -- much like "Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey" on his 1971 "Ram" album -- about a captain who is not listening. The song suggests: "Take the keys and lock him in." After the second ambient instrumental, the album concludes -- unless you have the European or Best Buy versions that have two bonus tracks (I do not) -- with the medley of "Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link," with just the names giving one an idea of how eccentric the album is.

The kaleidoscopic journey goes through many musical locales and eras, often with brief melodic or sound bits that recall McCartney's previous solo work as well as his recordings with the Beatles and Wings. For example, there is backwards guitar on the instrumental break in "Dominoes," one of the album's best tracks with its appealing chorus lyrics and nice guitar. "Do It Now," which features a string quartet, is about emotional resolutions, while the musically adventurous "Caesar Rock" is about songwriting. The piano-led "I Don't Know," about mid-life doubt, is a bit melancholy until late. There is nice melody and beat to the mid-tempo "Who Cares," whose shout chorus is a chant of the title. Another adventuresome track is "Back in Brazil," which is electro-samba.

As the previous author of "Silly Love Songs" (1976), McCartney is known to get a bit giddy about dating. Here, it happens twice, with two of the better tracks: the bouncy "Come On To Me," about a possible flirtation, and "Fuh You," with its catchy chorus and wonderful strings when they come in. The former was debuted on McCartney's heart-felt and heart-warming appearance on "Carpool Karaoke," as he and James Corden visited Liverpool, and the latter follows in the musical steps of "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" (1968 on "The Beatles," commonly known as "The White Album," which is getting a wonderful expansion in a 50th anniversary edition due Nov. 9). By the way, the version of the album I do have opens like an accordion, with lyrics on one side and more of the McCartney-inspired artwork on the other. Grade: A

Cher: Dancing Queen (Warner Bros. CD, 40:09). If there ever was an album I knew I would love in advance, it was this one, as one of my favorite singers does an album of songs by one of my favorite groups, after her scene-stealing appearance in "Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again," the DVD of which will be released Oct. 23. In the film, she duets on "Fernando" with Andy Garcia; here it is a solo recording, but produced by Abba's Benny Andersson. The rest of the fun tribute album -- be sure to have on your dancing shoes -- is produced by Mark Taylor, who does not stray much from the original arrangements, which, frankly, are brilliant and melodic. Sometimes, there is a little or a lot of the Auto-Tune phasing that Taylor first used with Cher on 1998's "Believe."

Every track is a gem, some for different reasons. "Dancing Queen" is heavenly and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" is a delight, with a bit more electronics. A faithful "Name of the Game" gives way to the more melancholy "SOS," which has lots of Auto-Tune. That melancholy also surfaces in the closing ballad, "One of Us," which has no dance beat but a standout vocal. It follows the upbeat post-breakup song, "The Winner Takes It All." "Waterloo" is swinging, "Mamma Mia" is guitar filled, with Auto-Tune on just one line, and "Chiquitita" starts with solo guitar. Grade: A

Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (Legacy CD, 43:53). For the album released to coincide with his farewell tour, Simon looks back at 10 songs from his solo career (1973-2011), songs he feels are his favorites, even if they are lesser known.

In the booklet, Simon writes: "This album consists of songs that I thought were almost right, or were odd enough to be overlooked the first time around. Re-doing the arrangements, harmonic structures and lyrics that didn't make their meaning clear gave me time to clarify in my own head what I wanted to say, or to realize what I was thinking and make it more easily understood.

"Happily, this opportunity also gave me the gift of playing with an extraordinary group of musicians, most of whom I hadn't recorded with before. I hope the listener will find these new versions of old songs refreshed, like a new coat of paint on the walls of an old family home."

Some listeners might be hard pressed to notice the differences on some tracks, like the opening "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor," a jazzy track, or the four he features from his "You're the One" album (2000). They include "The Teacher," "Dating Lorraine," "Love" and "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves." The latter, an allegorical song against racial profiling, is the most changed of the four, as it is redone as an upbeat Mardi Gras march, which makes it more ironic. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who performs on the track, arranged "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves." Marsalis also plays on the after-hours jazz approach to "How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns."

The most changed is "Can't Run But," performed with the chamber music ensemble yMusic. Instead of the Brazilian flavor of the original arrangement, this is a more stripped-down, modern classical approach (think Philip Glass). The doo-wop harmonies are gone, but yMusic provides some wonderful strings on "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War." Grade: B

Various: Mod: The Ultimate Collection (Great Britain, Union Square/Universal, 5 CDs, 4:43:18). Mod is youth subculture that began in London in 1958 and spread through Great Britain and, lesser so, the whole world. The term itself came from youths who were called "modernists" because they listened to modern jazz. The music popular with these youths, as these five discs attest, included soul, ska, R&B and rock, with the most famous of the latter being The Jam and the early Who. Later, conflict between the Mods and Rockers who would play a key role in Pete Townshend and The Who's "Quadrophenia" concept album (1973), which also was made into a film in 1979.

The Jam are represented by a later track, the marvelous, soul-inspired "Town Called Malice," while The Who appear as The High Numbers on "I'm the Face." Sounding a lot like the early Who are The Birds (with future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood) on Motown's "Leaving Here" (also covered by The Who in 1965). "The reggae/ska contingent  consists of Madness, Dandy Livingston (the famous "Rudy, a Message To You"), Harry J Allstars (the instrumental "Liquidator"), The Upsetters, The Inspirations, Laurel Aitken & The Unitone (the bright follow-up "Rudi Got Married") and The Specials ("El Pussycat Ska").

The soul tracks include Smokey Robinson & The Miracles ("Going To a Go Go," a personal favorite),Stevie Wonder, The Velvelettes, The Marvelettes, The Supremes ("Stoned Love," one of only two Supremes hits to feature Jean Terrell on lead vocal and the group's last Billboard Pop Top Ten hit; "Come See About Me"), Mary Wells ("My Guy" and "Shop Around"), The Temptations ("My Girl"), Junuior Walker & The Allstars ("How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You"), Martha & The Vandellas ("Heatwave") and Brenda Holloway ("Think It Over Before You Break My Heart"). There is jazz with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, obscure Moody Blues ("And My Baby's Gone") and forgettable David Bowie ("Good Morning Girl").

In addition to the many tracks from 1962 to 1967, when I was first listening to music, the Mod Revival of 1978-1982 is represented. These groups include Secret Affair, Small World, The Jolt and Long Tall Shorty. The latter had Tony Perfect as lead singer, but he left and formed Angelic Upstarts. Other worthwhile hits included are The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs' "Wooly Bully," Dobie Gray's "The In Crowd," Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" and Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)." There are 100 tracks in all, making this like a real nice radio program. Grade: B+

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