PAUL McCARTNEYEgypt Station (Capitol)
LET’S be honest, for many casual Paul McCartney fans a new album simply means the songs that will be their cue to head to the bar when the music legend shoehorns them between the classic hits at his epic live shows. They’re happy living in the past, whereas McCartney still has an eye on the future, not just his history.
2013’s New injected fresh production ideas (courtesy Giles Martin, Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth) and the title track and Queenie Eye were strong enough to stop any major exodus when they were aired in Australia last year between Lady Madonna and Blackbird.
More than any other musician alive McCartney is constantly compared to his (distant) past. At 76 his voice is harshly criticised for no longer sounding like it did when he was 26. It’s enough to make others rely just on nostalgia, but the Beatle is now on his 17th solo album.
McCartney worked here with producer Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Foo Fighters, Lily Allen) and wrote everything except Fuh You, written and produced by hitmaker Ryan Tedder.
Tedder’s modern radio fingerprints are all over McCartney’s attempt to follow his Rihanna and Kanye collaborations into the chart, but the Beatle sounds a bit lost in his own song, pushed out of a comfortable vocal key too. Nice strings though.
Hand in Hand is a more accurate reflection of McCartney’s voice now — a tender piano ballad where you can hear all the golden years on the clock. It’s also the story of him finding love again with third wife Nancy Shevell, singing “we can make each other happy if we make it right.”
No one has more right to make Beatlesque tunes — Happy With You could be viewed as an ode Shevell and a herbal reflection on life with his previous wife Heather Mills. With a bit of a Norwegian Wood acoustic vibe, McCartney states “I liked to get stoned, I used to get wasted but these days I don’t because I’m happy with you.” McCartney also says he’s stopped drinking and lying to his doctor post Shevell. All you need is love, indeed.
He’s presumably referencing his wife in Caesar Rock (he sings “she’s a rock”) which is one of the album’s several more experimental pieces, with funk, sitar and a wall of ‘yeah’s thrown into the mix.
Dominoes serves up flashbacks to Wings’ Let ‘Em In with the vocal harmonies and a wig out finale, while Back in Brazil indeed dips into bossa nova. Do It Now is a ballad which transforms into a mini-epic full of vintage strings and future motivation.
Then there’s a love song to the one constant in his life — music. Confidante about a neglected guitar from under the staircase in his youth.
People Want Peace is a constant lyrical theme, with big warm production to make it sound anthemic … and classic Macca. It sits with the seven-minute Despite Repeated Warnings
which could be his veiled statement on Trump (who he’s no fan of) as a metaphorical captain steering the ship into danger.
“Those who shout the loudest may not always be the smartest, but they have their proudest moments right before they fall,” he sings. “How can we stop him? Grab the keys and lock him up.”
It’s also another five minute plus track that changes gear mid way — a trick that’s served him well in the past, from Golden Slumbers to Band on the Run.
It ends, as it has before, with three songs embroidered together in one, the brassy rock of Hunt You Down morphs into jaunty piano moment, Naked, and signs off with guitar workout C-Link.
Now let’s hope he can be lured back here soon, which will be worth any moaning about how many new Egypt Station songs he’ll slip between some of the greatest hits of all time./ CAMERON ADAMS
Can we get to the bottom of why Bloom, the song, was not a global No. 1? It’s She Drives Me Crazy reinvented by Max Martin and dipped in rainbow glitter. That chorus! Mystery aside, Sivan’s second album is intimate and intelligent pop. Sivan has lost and found love between albums and those extreme emotions inform the lyrics. There’s an premature world-weariness to the insights in the haunting Plum, which may be explained by the 23 year old’s accelerated life. He’s even served up the world’s most polite breakup song in The Good Side. The bangers you already know (My My My, Dance To This with Ariana Grande — a song about already being bored by being in the club and partying at home) so it’s about the slow burns here.
Seventeen recalls a teenage affair with an older man, the kind of lyric it took his hero George Michael years to write; it’s a refreshing sign of the times Sivan can write honestly about his sexuality in real time. Postcard is a broken ballad sung with Gordi, What a Heavenly Way to Die another low-tempo moment inspired by the likes of Peter Gabriel, Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush.Lucky Strike is his nicotine-fuelled take on Taylor Swift’s Style; but all James Dean daydream, no tight skirt. Animal is raw and unfiltered — the antidote to what most of his contemporaries put out in the world, perhaps explaining why his fans connect so hard and so fast. /CAMERON ADAMS
Try this if you like: John Grant, Lorde
Flow State (Lonely Lands)
Ding ding ding, get in the ring, chumps.
Tash Sultana is here and on her debut album she makes it official we’ve given the world another heavyweight champ.
The “one-person band” has followed Gotye and Courtney Barnett by gathering a passionate, fanatical-in-the-religious-sense following in Europe, USA and everywhere someone is strumming a guitar. Sultana taught herself to play more than 10 instruments. Her axe remains her strongest suit.
She lets her guitar sidle up to you in each song then combines it with a snappy beat, her taut lyrics, keyboard washes, tooting trumpets and mostly dubby, groove-based compositions.
The only title she could have given this dramatic, pragmatic and, most of all, organic album is Flow State.
This is sonic embodiment of the saying “dance like no one’s watching”. If you’ve seen her live, she’s all tortured and ecstatic facial expressions, her toothy jaw is craned back 120 degrees so she can hit notes in a song such as Pink Moon, “I don’t car-air-airrr-airrrre.”
Murder To the Mind taps into her battles with drug addiction, sliding about the stage on an organ and a brassy sound a la Fat Freddy’s Drop.
Tash hit rock bottom, came out the other side and now pours her whole self: mind, body and soul into music.
Things nearly veer into queasy Xavier-Rudd-in-a-Nimbin-jam session territory on Blackbird but by the end of it she’s cutting so sick you can imagine her hands are bleeding and her bug-eyes have a post-coital glint. Seven feels tired. Everywhere else she excels.
I thought she’d boxed herself in on the eager Jungle EP. Here she shows us she can go toe-to-toe with Hendrix, Erykah Badu, India. Arie and plenty more. She punches. She reigns./ MIKEY CAHILL
Slim Shady is still smarting from the way fans/critics ignored Encore. Cruel title. Surprise LP, Kamikaze, sees him livid with critics, coming in hot to leave bodies cold. He brains most of his raps, the beats are fierce and shows off calm flow on Greatest and Not Alike feat Royce Da 5’9, where he mimics Migos’ style. On Stepping Stone he quips “D12 is over” trying to show us he’s grown up. Thing is, Eminem still writes rhymes about his appendage and getting cheated on. Seriously, time to grow up man. /MIKEY CAHILL
Try this if you like: Vanilla Ice, Tommy Cash
The cerebral British vocalist and virtuoso guitarist Anna Calvi is back (at last!) with album three. Hunter is wilder, yet more direct, than her previous Lynchian art-rock dramas — the post-punk now amplified. Calvi’s music has long manifested queer desire — here the sensuous Swimming Pool an extended interlude (Wish has ripples of an operatic Lana Del Rey). But, on Hunter, songs like the garagey Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy boldly defy, and disrupt, gender dichotomies. /CYCLONE WEHNER
Try this if you like: David Bowie, Savages
Jake Shears (Frieda Jean Records)
With the Scissor Sisters in limbo, their frontman Jake Shears carries the torch on his solo debut. His relocation to New Orleans seeps into the speak-easy honky-tonk fun of Good Friends, while Big Bushy Mustache fires up sci-fi blues glam. S.O. B and Clothes Off are ribald party starters, while he nurses a broken heart on ballad Everything I’ll Never Need, where ELO meets vintage Elton. Sad Song Backwards is the glum country cousin of I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, gulping handfuls of Prozac./CAMERON ADAMS
Try this if you like: Queen, Paul Williams