Memory Almost Full

Paul McCartney

A lot of people I talk to don’t understand why someone like Paul McCartney still makes records. “He peaked with the Beatles,” they say. Or: “His last great record was Band On The Run…” Or the more sympathetic and forgiving might say: “It’s been a rocky road since Tug Of War,” while the truly insane emphatically state: “Chaos & Creation In The Backyard was the best thing he’s done since Sgt. Pepper.” OK, first of all, I don’t begrudge other’s opinions about what kind of records Paul McCartney should make, or if in fact, he should continue making them. Personally, I don’t have a problem with new McCartney music, whether it’s good, bad, or inconsequential. I admire anyone who carries on in the face of adversity — be it their age, their history, or their general malaise in the scheme of preservation. McCartney’s latest, the out-of-left-field Memory Almost Full, is certainly subject to scrutiny. And while it has its highpoints, it conjures up questions of what the former Beatle, newly single and on a record label owned by Starbucks, is out to prove.

Whatever the motivation behind McCartney’s move from Capitol to Hear Music was, there is no doubt that all the promotion, money and ego they're putting into Memory Almost Full is substantial. That being said, McCartney claims this is the album he was working on when he got with producer Nigel Godrich to make Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, a far superior album. Which begs the question: Where was Godrich when McCartney really needed him? Memory Almost Full starts off innocently enough with the rather impish and simple, “Dance Tonight,” perpetuated by a bass drum, a mandolin and a rampant chant that losses its steam about halfway in: “Everybody gonna dance tonight…” One has to wonder if the multimillionaire ex-Beatle was watching his soon-to-be ex-wife on Dancing With The Stars, and felt inspired to write this ditty because, clearly, Heather Mills isn’t exactly someone who can go out and dance tonight or any other time without extensive and rigorous planning. Well, at least, that’s my theory.

From there, Memory Almost Full is a series of hits and misses. “Ever Present Past” and “See You Sunshine” are the type of pop monkey throwaways that have hampered McCartney in the past. For whatever reason, he thinks he needs to write these type of pop standards to stay relevant, when, in fact, he could utilize his artistry and capabilities distilling far more realized and suitable compositions. Unfortunately, there are enough people out there to eat this stuff up, thereby giving McCartney the incentive to write more, which makes it really frustrating. Well, at least the edgier “Only Mama Knows,” with its disarming and elegant opening, shows the guy can still punch out a decent rock and roll riff when he wants to. And standouts like “Mr. Bellamy” and “House Of Wax” demonstrate the cheeky one can brilliantly whip up a number on par with some of his best work. Overall, however, this disc could have used a little more care and feeding and nurturing, with a little less posturing and subservience to the powers that be. Perhaps Starbucks should have given old Paul a couple more shots of cappuccino, but it would seem he prefers his java with a little less flavoring.

~ Shawn Perry

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