Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Paul McCartney 29: Memory Almost Full

For his next trick, Paul recorded another original classical piece, the churchy Ecce Cor Meum, then boldly left Capitol Records for the first time since 1979, choosing to let Starbucks promote his latest release worldwide. Memory Almost Full is an old/new affair of sorts, being that it completed some tracks he’d started before recording what turned out to be 2005’s excellent Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. The result isn’t bad, but it follows his tradition of including a few cringe-causing moments amidst some new potential classics.
“Dance Tonight” could be one of the latter, a simple happy song he wrote reportedly while watching his young daughter enjoy the noodling on his new mandolin. A little more elaborate is “Ever Present Past”, which always seems to be on the verge of saying something but never quite does. “See Your Sunshine” hearkens back to his early ‘80s pop sound, and for that alone, it seems more like a song for Linda than his current wife, no matter what he insists. A mournful piece for strings brackets “Only Mama Knows”, which seems mostly an excuse to rock and work the word “godforsaken” into the lyrics as much as possible. The gloomy “You Tell Me” acknowledges his age, as will another track to be discussed. “Mr. Bellamy” is downright odd, sung from the points of view of a man on a ledge and the people below. The final minute of the track is given over to a wandering pastiche of piano, acoustic and clarinet. “Gratitude” has a forced R&B delivery that isn’t very convincing.
Much was made at the time of the suite of songs that, while written and recorded as separate entities, were sequenced in the style of Abbey Road but come off more like those on Red Rose Speedway. (Unlike most of the album, which he played all by himself, four of the five were recorded with his touring band.) “Vintage Clothes” has a nice Beach Boys break in the middle. “That Was Me” is a look back that unfortunately comes off as a little pompous, but it’s replaced by the nicer “Feet In The Clouds”. Suddenly, however, “House Of Wax” revives the classic Wings sound for something of a detour into a horror movie. But it’s “The End Of The End” that’s the most striking song here, an actual rumination on his own funeral, beautiful and sad at the same time. “Nod Your Head” tries to diffuse the gloom with a loud, throwaway track. What most people didn’t realize was that, in the spirit of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” via “Please Please Me”, it’s not so much a song as a blatant plea for oral sex.
Memory Almost Full got decent reviews, and the Starbucks connection helped it sell by the bucketful, but neither he nor his new record company were kind to the fans lining up to buy it. It was first issued as a single CD, and also in a deluxe package that wouldn’t fit alongside the other McCartney CDs in your rack and included a second disc with three extra songs—an instrumental, an actual song and a mishmash that predicted his next move somewhat—and an interview about the album. Then, just in time for Xmas, a “special edition” in a standard-size case included the album plus the three extra songs on a CD, plus a DVD with video clips and whatnot. Had they just gone with that version, everything would have been fine.

Paul McCartney Memory Almost Full (2007)—

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