Paul McCartney – Egypt Station (3 stars)

Paul McCartney – Egypt Station

Eighteenth solo record constructed with pleasing confidence

'I sat around all day / I used to get stoned / I liked to get wasted / but these days I don't,' sings Paul McCartney at the beginning of 'Happy With You', the fourth track on his new solo record Egypt Station; his eighteenth, not counting the soundtracks, the classical suites and his old bands, Wings and … the other one. Giving his history with certain herbal additives, none of these lyrical admissions are surprising, but what does bear noting is the tone of voice he uses – lost and uncertain but, as he approaches the chorus of the song, giving way to a certain contentment.

At the age of 76, McCartney probably doesn't want to go the whole way in imitating those other artists of his generation who have recently produced some of their finest work in the months before their death (namely, David Bowie with Blackstar and Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker). Anyway, this isn't one of McCartney's best albums – he was in the Beatles and Wings, how could it be? – but it's certainly a contender for the most powerful and complete piece of work he's made in the last three decades.

In fact, there's a certain note of bitter reflection and even loneliness in parts of Egypt Station, from the mournful, piano-led 'I Don't Know' ('I got crows at my window / dogs at my door… what am I doing wrong?' he begs, a heartfelt expression of doubt and maybe even depression) to the barroom rocker 'Who Cares', a kind of 'Get Back'-lite which appears to rail against gossips and critics who may dismiss him as superannuated; 'did you ever get sad by the game that they play / when they're making me feel like a rusty old wheel?'

With Adele and Foo Fighters superproducer Greg Kurstin – who recently revitalised Liam Gallagher's solo career – involved, there's a very definite sense that McCartney doesn't want to play to the elderly Fabs gallery, but rather create music which is contemporary and relevant. The single 'Fuh You' sweeps on the synthesised strings and vocal manipulation of an X-Factor hit, with McCartney boasting of his ability to stay up all night (the 'fuh' of the title isn't a mispronunciation of 'for'), while 'Despite Repeated Warnings' paints global – particularly American – politics as a liner heading at full speed for the rocks, captained by a madman, with the 'A Day in the Life'-style switch of pace midway indicating the crew's revolt.

These are the most discussion-worthy highpoints, but in truth this whole record is constructed with pleasing confidence, and more typical tracks like the piano ballad 'Hand in Hand' and the light bossa nova groove of 'Back in Brazil' would certainly not have felt out of place on one of McCartney or Wings' 1970s-vintage records, at least. Nothing here breaks new ground, but he's canny enough to know that's not what's required. Rather, the sound of McCartney keeping pace with surprisingly youthful vitality is triumph enough.

Out now on Capitol.

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