Review Summary: Even in his golden years, there's no rest for the wicked. Macca's back.
You’ve gotta feel sorry for Sir James Paul McCartney (MBE). He hasn’t had the best couple of years recently. After a plethora of bad press from allegations made by his ex-wife, Heather Mills, and a nasty divorce in the media spotlight, Paul just wants to get back to doing what he loves- writing, recording and releasing pop music. He’s been doing it since he was a teenager, and has provided us with countless pop hits in his illustrious career. Which brings us to his latest – Memory Almost Full
. This is an album that manages to encompass absolutely everything that is great (and everything that is not so great) in record time. It is a smorgasbord of pop and “classic” rock with plenty of twists and charming lyricism.
Never one to go stale, Sir Paul initially throws the listener off guard with the folksy stomp of opening track and lead single “Dance Tonight”. Here, Paul’s boppy basslines are replaced with a wonderful sounding mandolin, an instrument that is a force to be reckoned with in pop music (see “Losing My Religion” for all the proof you need of this). Over the simple instrumentation of a stomp box and the aforementioned mandolin, the lyrics are kept short, sweet and simple- “Everybody gonna dance tonight!”, Paul carelessly sings. “Everybody gonna feel alright!”. Okay, so it’s no “Maybe I’m Amazed”, but it’s a lovely little song that isn’t too demanding and will worm its way into your head, slowly but successfully.
The album is a “back to basics” approach to the McCartney musical style with mixed results, going from songs that sound like they are from The Beatles
cutting room floor to songs that could have potentially been hit singles for McCartney’s former band, Wings
. The “Back In The U.S.S.R” meets “Jet” rock out track of “Only Mama Knows” is an example of retro done right (it seems to help if you were actually there when the music being paid tribute to now was being made). In addition, “Ever Present Past” and “That Was Me” stand out as two of the best songs Paul has written in the past decade. They are retrospective, but not in that really sad, pathetic way that Ringo Starr
has been doing on his past couple of albums (even McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” is better than Starr’s latest, Liverpool 8
). More, they are in quiet awe of the life that he has lead, and how quickly it’s all gone - “It went by, it flew by, in a flash”, Sir Paul muses on “Ever Present Past”. On this track, he also confesses that, with “too much on his plate”, he doesn’t “have time to be a decent lover”. You don’t want to think it, but you can’t help but wonder if Heather knew anything about this.
“That Was Me” gives us Sir Paul looking back at the little things in his life, remembering doing things like “playing conkers at the bus stop” and “Merseybeatin’ with the band”. It amazes him to think that the person that is in all those photographs, all those memories, even all those songs, was “the same me that stands here today”. A simple idea executed terrifically well.
Of course, mixed results obviously aren’t going to be entirely positive. Songs such as “See Your Sunshine” and “Gratitude” represent the much lamer, daggier McCartney of the mid-to-late 80s, featuring cheesy lyrics, grating harmonies and several cringeworthy moments. It’s best to only listen to these tracks once or twice to get what I mean; or better still, skipped entirely.
Then, there’s “Mr. Bellamy”. No, it’s not about the guitar wizard that fronts Muse
. Mr. Bellamy is actually a cat, or so we are lead to believe, of whom McCartney sings from the perspective of. Over an erratic piano loop that you can’t help but think sounds a little like “Chocolate Rain”, Paul sings loudly and proudly about how he’s “not coming down” (from a tree, we would believe) and that he “likes it up here”. In a lower key, he sings from the perspective of the firefighters trying to get said cat out of said tree. It’s all very silly, but at the same time sticks out as a highlight of the album being adventurous and genuinely interesting in both song structure and musicianship.
Memory Almost Full
really does have something for everyone, from the passing McCartney fan to the McCartney fanatics. It’s an album that can go seamlessly from the beautiful piano ballad “The End Of The End” to the rocking Queen-meets-“Kashmir” stomp of closer “Nod Your Head” without throwing you completely. With the release of 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard
and now this, it seems that Sir Paul has nothing to prove and is free to make just the kind of music he wants to. He may be turning 65 this year, but this album especially show signs of a possible Johnny Cash
-style final run of great albums.
One can only hope. Watch this space.