Paul McCartney | Memory Almost Full (Hear Music)

cd_mccartneyI distinctly remember sitting outside K-Mart, pulling the plastic off the latest album and examining lyrics and artwork.

 

 

 

 

"We jump up for joy
Who cares if we look like a girl or boy
What we are, is what we are and what we wear
Is vintage clothes, vintage clothes:

A little more, a little tall
Check the rack
What went out, is coming back"

To write something (I hesitate to call this a review) about Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full, I pulled some choice Beatles' albums—Revolver, Abbey Road, and Beatles for Sale—to get a handle on where he came from. I have already, unfortunately, committed to memory much of his solo career since I grew up during those years. It is hard to find anyone who will come out and say the Beatles were crap (though now, bravely, people are starting to take shots at Sgt. Pepper's—yes, wait 40 years to throw stones). They were easily one of the most creative bands of the '60s. It isn't a stretch to say that in a decade with so many unique bands and artists, the Beatles resided near or on top of the heap. I know, I know: Dylan, Hendrix, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Zappa, etc. However, a case can be made that if the Beatles didn't do it first, they at least did it better. Much of this can be placed on the songwriting abilities of John Lennon and McCartney. In a brief period (historically speaking), they produced some amazing songs and, with the able assistance of George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and producer George Martin, created a catalog that still holds up today.

What is apparent on much of the pre-1967 Beatles music is that there is much give and take on the lyric writing. There was a battle between the two main songwriters in the band, and compromise produced some wonderful songs. You can hear the sweet of McCartney placed alongside the tart of Lennon to great effect on many of the songs they produced between 1964 and 1966. A song like "Ticket to Ride" is both simple and complex, working on many levels. Lennon was the cagiest of songwriters, loving the turn of a phrase and always using a pun when he could. McCartney, heart on his sleeve, played the good son. As the band grew bigger, these two personalities separated and finally frayed in 1970 (most would say by 1968).

The post-Beatles McCartney has had a very spotty record, both with his bands and his solo projects. McCartney was and still is the most commercial Beatle. Even while in the band, he was the one who would write the songs that often ran counter to the rock esthete of the time. Where Lennon was all for musical experimentation (how many of you have sat through "Revolution #9"?) and roots rock, McCartney was all for crafting pop songs. (Years later, Lennon publicly whipped McCartney saying [in lyric] that he had not written a good song since "Yesterday." McCartney responded with "Silly Love Songs." So there.) And he was successful, to a point. As I said, I grew up with this. I was the kid in the early '70s with a wall full of Beatles pictures and a fervent hope that the band would reunite. I had a huge amount of Beatles vinyl and worked my way through each of the solo collections, buying each one as it came out: singles, LPs, eight-tracks, and cassettes.

As McCartney better suited my youthful enthusiasm, with each release I was there: Venus and Mars, Speed of Sound, London Town… I distinctly remember sitting outside K-Mart, pulling the plastic off the latest album and examining lyrics and artwork. I remember that first listen and memorizing those songs and the colors of the albums. McCartney's songs on his solo albums are often based on simple concepts that do not fall far from the tree. It was as if McCartney can only write about what is in front of him. The subject of the songs often became what Paul was doing: Paul is getting back to nature ("moving to the heart of the country"), Paul is in love ("my love"), Paul smokes a lot of pot ("Hi, Hi, Hi"), etc. Not that these songs are bad; they are just so remarkably shallow. When McCartney was confronted by bigger issues like the death of Lennon or his soulmate and wife, Linda McCartney, he tended to dip his pen a little deeper into his emotional trough. For a 40-plus-year-career, though, it has happened too few times. Add to this misguided pairings with Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and even Elvis Costello (who all tended to allow his popitude to take over for the sake of recording a song with Paul McCartney), and you have a career that has limped along critically while doing quite fine monetarily.

This brings us to the new and painfully over-hyped Memory Almost Full. Go to any Starbucks and you will see McCartney plastered everywhere (yes, you can get a Starbucks drink card with the man on it; their label Hear Music has released the album). It appears that all stores participating in the promotion (and there are many) are required to play it ad nauseum. There is also a creepy ad for iTunes with an animation-enhanced McCartney running haphazardly through scenes like someone's midlife-crisis grandfather. I was ready to hate the album. Memory Almost Full, though, is not awful. It is like the rest of McCartney's catalog: adequate, but nowhere near what he is capable of.

"Dance Tonight" (the lead off track and the one played during the iTunes commercial) is a nice stomper and easy enough to sing along to (or whistle); a good start and certainly enjoyable enough. What becomes apparent as you progress through the album is the seeming need for McCartney to touch each of the bases of his musical career. Some of these songs sound as if they might have been outtakes from the late '70s and early '80s. A song such as "Ever Present Past" is just the kind of musical confection that McCartney threw out there in the '80s: it means nothing and will rot your teeth. It is also McCartney's idea of word play that is just so irritating.

More promising is a song like "Mr. Bellamy," which offers some intricate orchestration and good singing chops. Though it sounds like "Uncle Albert Pt. 2," it is still much better than the song that follows, "Gratitude," which is McCartney trying to be Al Greene (whom he is not). "Vintage Clothes" is one of those songs that sounds like McCartney was driving through a neighborhood (or perhaps chauffeured at this point) and, seeing a sign for a thrift store, the words fell out of his mouth. Must be good enough for the album. (Go ahead and deny it, Paul.) There is a nice breakdown on this song, though, with reflections that I only wished he had taken further.

If I can get personal here: Look, you are Paul McCartney. The promotion budget on this album is more than all the indie bands in the United States and United Kingdom will spend in a year to produce all of their albums. Give us 13 decent songs!

Memory Almost Full? Don't waste any more of your space with this. Download "Mr. Bellamy" and maybe "Dance Tonight." The rest can be consigned to history. C | Jim Dunn

 

Speaking of money, you will notice now that you can go on any downloading/subscription service (iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.) and see the entire McCartney catalog. Sir Paul will be raking in the money and you, dear listener, can follow the whole career—the good, the smarmy, and the quite impossibly bad (Back to the Egg).

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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