Saturday, June 09, 2007
McCartney's Memory Almost Full
Paul McCartney's new CD, Memory Almost Full, was released this week to much fanfare by Starbuck's new music label, Hear Music. I downloaded the grande version, also known as the Deluxe Limited Edition, that includes three extra songs and a 26-minute interview.
How does one go about reviewing a new Macca album? Should you consider it on its own, as one separate entity? Or should you put it in the context of his 40+ year career? It's not fair, really, to compare this work against anything done by the Beatles, or even Paul's early solo years. Will it match up to Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, Abbey Road? Of course not. Does it match up against current artists, like John Mayer, for instance, or Jack Johnson? Possibly. Which is either a testament to Paul's enduring talent and drive, or a knock against the current stale state of rock n' roll.
The music here is strong, as it always is on a McCartney album. In fact, there are many stand-out tunes. It opens with the mandolin-driven "Dance Tonight," which is a real foot stomping, sing-along tune (great video, too.) This is followed by "Ever Present Past" which is one of those perfect pop tunes that in another era would have been a top-ten hit. "That Was Me" is a great, funky little number that reflects on all the eras of his life, from when he was a child "with a spade and bucket" by the sea, through his Beatles years "That was me, Sweating cobwebs, Under contract, In the cellar, On TV, That was me," up to the present day "The same me that stands here now." "Vintage Clothes" is another nostalgic song that is so infectious, it will have you whistling along.
"Only Mama Knows" is a real rocker, as is "Nod Your Head." These two fit into the "Helter Skelter" category—not much to the lyrics, just pure rocks songs to keep you going. The knock against McCartney has always been the shallowness of his lyrics. On Memory Almost Full he tries to dig deeper on a few songs. In "The End of the End," Paul sings:
On the day that I die
I'd like bells to be rung
And songs that were sung
To be hung out like blankets
That lovers have played on
And laid on while listening
To songs that were sung.
This is Paul singing about his death! I wanted something a little more insightful, mournful, deeply personal. This is a man who has endured the deaths of his first wife Linda, John Lennon, George Harrison, Brian Epstein. Shouldn't he have more to say? Does he believe in heaven, will he see Linda again, or John & George, or his mother who died when he was a kid? Does he have any regrets? How will his death affect his young three year-old daughter? Comparatively, on Harrison's final CD "Brainwashed," which he recorded when he was dying from cancer, these were his thoughts on the subject:
I never knew that life was loaded
I'd only hung around birds and bees
I never knew that things exploded
I only found it out when I was down upon my knees
Looking for my life, looking for my life
Oh boys, you've no idea what I've been through
Oh Lord, I got to get back somehow to you
A tad deeper.
On the soulful "Gratitude," Paul sings about his failed relationship with his second wife, Heather. Ooh, I thought. He's going to put that gold-digger in her place!
Well I was lonely
I was living with a memory
But my cold and lonely nights ended
When you sheltered me
Loved by you
I was loved by you
Yeah I was loved by you
I want to show my gratitude.
Hmm. Not exactly "Instant Karma" there. Maybe it was sarcastic? No, I think Paul is sincere. He's taking the high road here. But I wanted some anger, a flash of the chip on the shoulder that Lennon always had. The problem is expectations. The problem is mine. Why am I still expecting Paul to suddenly be an angry poet? That was John's role. (If Lennon hadn't become a musician, I believe he still would have been a major artist—but as a poet, not a rocker.) I shouldn't expect a 65 year-old man to suddenly become something he's not. He is what he is—what he always was. What he is is one of the most accomplished and talented rock musicians in the world. Memory Almost Full is a solid piece of work, one that I am finding I like more and more with each listen. Amazingly, Paul's voice is still strong, still a beautiful instrument.
Starbucks has a winner with this CD. I'm going back for a refill.