Category Archives: digital download

Paul McCartney • Egypt Station [LP, CD]

It’s a given that I’d have both vinyl and CD copies of PAUL McCARTNEY’s new album, Egypt Station, on its release date, because it’s no secret that I hold Macca in the highest regard and have for most of my life. (Visions of “Junior’s Farm” on Apple playing over and over, ’74, or the wall-size Wings poster hung up in my room, flood my brain.) I’ll admit, from the late ’80s into the ’00s I let my fandom slip, but that just happens when you’ve been with a musician or band for decades. Thing is, I initially missed some great McCartney albums then (hello, Flaming Pie!), and once I realized that there are few indispensable records in the man’s canon, I retraced my steps and picked up the ones I missed. This one, his first new work since 2013’s excellent, ahem, New, is quite a good one.

Obviously, at this point in history, there are few who don’t know Paul McCartney by name and probably fewer who haven’t at least heard half a dozen of his songs (especially with The Beatles) countless times. Then again: I stop in my local Barnes & Noble on release day (9/7/2018) to buy the exclusive 2LP red vinyl version they’re selling, one hour after they opened, and they were already sold out. Dang. So the lady at the help desk offers to find me one at another local B&N, which was nice, and she makes the call and says, “Do you have any more copies of the Paul McCarthy Egypt Station vinyl?” I correct her: “Paul McCartney.” She says on the phone, “Yes, the red vinyl Paul McCarthy album.” I think to myself, you’re older than me and you don’t know how to say this guy’s name?? She does secure me a copy, though, so I try not to dwell on this. Next, I go to my local Target because their exclusive CD has two bonus tracks that aren’t on the vinyl or the standard compact disc version. They have plenty of copies and I exit happy.

But there’s always the nagging feeling that I’m gonna be let down. This guy has put out so many absolutely brilliant records, for as long as I’ve been alive, that he can’t possibly top Band on the Run or Ram or “Girls School” or… and on and on. So I have to accept where the man is at 76 (76!), try to remove the new release from the grand historical context it falls in, breathe, and then insert the disc or plop the record down and hang on.

I’m happy to report that Egypt Station is another quite good McCartney album. It’s neither mired in Beatles-era harmonies and descending chord progressions, nor sadly soaked in the sounds of today (autotune, etc.). What’s extra cool about this one is that, though it’s not a concept album, it does have a cohesiveness that New lacked. Where that 2013 release had some excellent songs (“Save Me,” “Queenie Eye”), it felt a little flat as an album. Here we have great songs peppered throughout a lengthy opus that plays extremely well. Of course some songs are kind of forgettable, but it is a long album. And, again: there’s nearly no way to hear anything McCartney does without subconsciously comparing it to everything else he did. Egypt Station’s first “singles” (released online but with no physical counterpart) seemed just okay on their own, but when you hear “Come on to Me,” “I Don’t Know” and “Fuh You” together on the album with “Confidante,” the epic “Despite Repeated Warnings” and “Hunt You Down,” there’s a much stronger case for McCartney to keep putting out new music as long as he can.

Now, there are multiple formats of Egypt Station to consider. And you know I did! I went with the two detailed above to get the most songs, and yeah, because I like colored vinyl. (UK readers, that same Target version is available at HMV where you live.) There is also a 2LP, 2 colors vinyl version with deluxe packaging (accordion sleeve) available via McCartney’s web site, standard double black vinyl, deluxe 2LP and CD (available everywhere), and an upcoming “super deluxe box set” that hasn’t been finalized yet. (And digital download at all the usual sites.) I guess what you pick depends on how big/gullible of a fan you are. You know where I stand in that spectrum!

3.5/5 (Capitol B002874402 [Target CD], B002874601 [Barnes & Noble 2LP])

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Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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Spencer Brown & Bruce Thomas • Back to the Start [CD, DD]

Bassist BRUCE THOMAS is best known as the 4-stringer in The Attractions, the band that backed Elvis Costello on his earliest (and best) recordings. His unique bass playing has also graced records by Suzanne Vega, Peter Case, Duncan Dhu and John Wesley Harding. SPENCER BROWN is a bit harder to background. Apparently, he is “a songwriter friend” of Thomas’s, and the two decided to collaborate on Back to the Start once Thomas heard the demos of the songs that eventually were completed for the album.

Made up primarily of pleasant, pseudo psychedelic pop tunes, the album – available via Amazon as a digital download or made to order CD – Back to the Start’s arrangements include backwards guitar, descending/ascending chord progressions, harpsichord and other hallmarks of mid/late ’60s pop. Brown’s tunes remind me of those of The Rutles (that fictitious British band that might have been big had The Beatles allowed them to take over). Yet they’re not exactly parodies or send-ups because they don’t seem to completely ape the core facets of their foundational genre. Clearly, Brown is accomplished enough as a multi-instrumentalist (I’m pretty sure he plays everything here except bass) to be able to add his own stylistic flourishes and lift the tunes out of that likely morass; there is no denying, however, that the Sixties is his decade of choice when it comes to music. Lyrically, the songs are of the usual subject matter, though there are numerous turns-of-phrase that keep things from going too moon/June/spoon.

But back to the start of this review: Bruce Thomas plays the bass here, and as you’d expect, his fundamental style is well-suited for the project. His florid bass lines add a McCartneyesque vibe to the tunes, which almost sounds like lazy journalism except that it’s true. On the other hand, there’s no mistaking that this bass player is the same guy who propelled Elvis Costello’s late ’70s/early ’80s output with gutsy, over-the-top or under-the-radar bottom, depending on what the tune called for. I always suspected Thomas had more of a respect for Macca’s playing than he ever let on, and hearing Bruce in this context shows it to be true. And that’s not even considering the cover of “There’s a Place,” which closes out the album. It makes sense that Brown and Thomas would throw a Beatles tune into the mix, though it comes from a previous era than the one the rest of the album is concerned with, and thus ends the affair on a questionable note. (Or were they going, uh, back to the start?)

I’d say Back to the Start is worth a shot if either of these are true of you: a) You enjoy psychedelically-inspired music, and/or b) You’re a big fan of Bruce Thomas. I can answer affirmatively to both, and I’m glad to hear my second most favorite bass player back in the groove. Who knows? Maybe Spencer Brown and Bruce Thomas will get together for another go-round, go more grandiose and give us something really, truly fab.

2.75/5 (no label; available to order via Amazon)

 

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