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A tale of two Pauls: McCartney moves ahead, Simon looks back

Both 76 year old boomers have new albums. McCartney's is 'Egypt Station'; Simon's is 'Into The Blue Light.'

Paul McCartney.
Paul McCartney.Read moreMJ Kim

It's true: Rock and roll is really old.

Cherished pop music heroes are dying, leaving fans to look for ways to hang on to emotional connections that have sustained them for decades.

That could mean hunkering down for eight hours in front of the TV grieving for Aretha Franklin, or trekking to a museum show like the David Bowie Is exhibit in Brooklyn. Tom Petty has an American Treasure rarities box due this month, and there's a Questlove-conceived 4U symphonic Prince tour trekking around the U.S. that somehow has no Philadelphia date.

This has also been the year that several baby boomer acts decided they'd had enough, or at least that they will have had enough once they complete that one final 'I've had enough!' tour. Paul Simon's Homeward Bound show came through in June, and two more long goodbyes will make it to Philadelphia this month.

Elton John's planned three-year-long Farewell Yellow Brick Road opens in Allentown on Sunday before arriving at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday. And folk heroine Joan Baez plays Sept. 26 at Verizon Hall on her Fare Thee Well tour.

But not everyone who qualifies for Social Security benefits is calling it quits. There are plenty of acts still doing boffo business on the road, like the Eagles, who sold out the Phillies stadium this summer a few weeks before their 1976 Greatest Hits album bypassed Michael Jackson's Thriller to become the biggest-selling LP of all time.

>>READ MORE: The classic rock generation is getting ready to retire. Who's going to fill their shoes?

Billy Joel also packed Citizens Bank Park for the fifth consecutive year, and Bob Dylan will stop at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Nov. 17, though the Nobel Prize-winning songwriter hardly seems to be the happy warrior as he goes about his business on his Never Ending Tour.

Which bring us to someone who does: Paul McCartney.

On Friday, McCartney released Egypt Station (Capitol ** ½)  his 18th solo album, accompanied by a flurry of cheerful promotional activity: He was on Howard Stern's show, the WTF with Marc Maron, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and in June did a Carpool Karaoke episode with James Corden that was both celebratory and moving. On Friday, he was scheduled to play a free show on his YouTube channel.

Egypt Station is a typically upbeat, energetic, and forward-thinking collection of songs from the 76-year-old songwriter. It's even a bit randy and a tad risque, but we'll get to that in a minute.

McCartney wasn't the only 76-year-old Paul to release new recordings on Friday. Simon — who turns 77 next month — also put out a new record, In the Blue Light (SMG ***). It's a stark contrast to McCartney's album in that it's melancholy and quiet in nature, with more of the elegiac quality you would expect from a septuagenarian releasing his 14th solo album.

(And McCartney and Simon weren't the only Pauls getting busy last week: Birmingham, Ala., retro-soul band St. Paul & the Broken Bones, led by singer Paul Janeway, released their record Young Sick Camellia on Friday, and British singer Paul Carrack — the guy who sang Squeeze's "Tempted" and Ace's "How Long" — also put out a new album that day. Paul Westerberg, Paula Abdul, and diamond-and-gold-grilled Houston rapper Paul Wall didn't get the memo, apparently.)

Simon's In the Blue Light, in fact, isn't an entirely new album at all. He uses the collection as a way to revisit his solo career, and to make fusses and fixes to songs he's decided could've been done better in the first place.

For the most part, he avoids his best-known tunes. There's no alt-version of "Graceland," or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Loves Me Like a Rock," the 1970s hit he scored with Philadelphia gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds. The only tune familiar to casual Simon fans is "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor," which, like "Rock," was from 1973's There Goes Rhymin' Simon, and appears here in a newly recorded version that's more jazzy, featuring the sound of Simon's wife, Edie Brickell, snapping her fingers.

On his 2011 album So Beautiful, or So What, Simon included a song called "Rewrite," about songwriting that used the writer's process of revision that goes into a creative project as a metaphor for an adult with plenty of troubles attempting to tidy up his life. "I'll eliminate the pages, where the father has a breakdown, and has to leave the family," he sang, vowing to substitute it with a passage "Where the father saves the children, and holds them in his arms."

On In the Blue Light, Simon goes back to songs he's treasured, like the lost gem "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War," from 1983's Hearts & Bones, which he's performing on tour in an affecting version with New York chamber ensemble yMusic. He tinkers, he adjusts, and he generally displays a light musical touch. He indulges a predictably human instinct of an artist past retirement age who can't resist the urge go back and fix the things he feels he got wrong in his art, in a way that's not as easy to do in your personal life.

McCartney, by contrast, doesn't look back. Egypt Station consists of 16 new songs produced by Greg Kurstin, the pop hitmaker who has had success with Adele, Sia, Beck, Kelly Clarkson, and many others. The deluxe version of the album even includes two brand-new bonus songs, one of which, with typical McCartney positivity, is called "Get Started."

Egypt Station is by no means a great record: It's marred by well-meaning bromides like "People Want Peace." Its two sexually frisky songs — the thumping "Come on to Me," and the eyebrow-raising libidinous "Fuh You," which conjures visions of Sir Paul chasing wife Nancy Shevell around their boudoir — are missteps. Particularly the latter, which was cowritten with and produced by OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder, the one song that McCartney didn't pen by himself.

But while Egypt Station isn't going to be ranked by Macca fans as among his best solo work, like 1971's Ram, I still found it heartening to listen to. Part of what distinguishes McCartney, along with his marvelous melodic abilities and innate musicality, has always been his optimism, going back to the more upbeat parts of "We Can Work It Out." (John Lennon was responsible for the "Life is very short" bridge.)

That bounce in his step still suffuses nearly everything the cute Beatle does, and you can hear it throughout Egypt Station. Of course, with three quarters of a century of a richly lived life behind him, there are times when songs like "Dominoes" and the winningly simple (but not silly) love song "Happy with You," can't help reference the past.

But they never dwell on it or fall into any sort of regretful melancholic haze. That would be entirely uncharacteristic of McCartney, who's still an ebullient and effusive entertainer who told Stern last week that he has no intention to stop. Along with the release of Egypt Station, he also announced a number of U.S. tour dates for next summer (though not one in Philadelphia yet). That seems like a perfectly Macca thing to do: As his contemporaries are packing it in, he's making plans for the future.