There were many people who sang the praises of Paul McCartney’s last outing, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, but I wasn’t one of them. While Paul may have found some new-found lyrical inspiration, I thought the album sounded like a tepid Middle-Of-The-Road offering without the grandiose swells that I expected from collaborating with producer Nigel Godrich. It was another example of why I’ve stopped believing the hype around the occasional McCartney album that gets labeled as “his best album since…”
Besides, I’ve been around long enough to know that Paul is never going to regain his pinnacle achievements with The Beatles and he’s probably not going to top such recognized post-fab material like Ram or Band On The Run.
At the same time, Paul McCartney still has the ability to surprise me and he’s done exactly that with his latest effort Memory Almost Full.
If you’re as cynical as I am, I’m not expecting you to believe me. Truth be told: I’m still having a hard time believing it myself and I will confess that I ignored Paul’s personal plea on Amazon to “click the button” and buy the album. Instead, I acquired my copy of Memory through “other” distribution points. I justified this because I still think Paul owes me for shelling out my hard earned allowance money for that piece of shit called Back To The Egg.
So as you can see, I’m not only cynical about Paul McCartney, but a little bitter as well.
Upon first listen, I was met with the friendly sounds of a strummed mandolin while McCartney gleefully sang a moronic ditty about dancing tonight and everybody feeling all right as a result of it. The funny thing is: I didn’t care. For a dude that told us to let ’em in, that we could let this whole damn thing work out, and keenfully observed that the keys on a piano were black and white, I’ve come to expect some stupid lyrics to come out of him. What was different about “Dance Tonight” was how off-the-cuff and intentionally simple it appeared to be. It sounds like it was conceived, arranged, and recorded in the span of an hour or two and I can’t express how positively wonderful that is for a Paul McCartney album.
What’s even more refreshing is how the rest of the album continues with that feeling of immediacy and combines it with some themes that McCartney finally sounds comfortable with addressing: his well-publicized age and the realization that there are more years behind him than ahead (“I hope it isn’t too late / Searching for the time that is gone so fast / The time that I thought would last” -“My Ever Present Past”). In typical Paul McCartney fashion, he remains sanguine about such daunting topics, never bitching about the aches and pains and not once feeling sorry for himself.
All of this is packaged in an almost homespun, art-rock album not seen from him since 1980’s McCartney II album. And for the record, Memory Almost Full is substantially better than that release.
It meanders skillfully between the melodic expertise that we’d expect from Paul with an off-kilter approach that he’s hasn’t mined in years. Wisely placing the more accessible material towards the front, McCartney presents the final six songs as a mini-suite. It culminates (sort of) with “The End Of The End,” a piano and string ensemble in which he asks that bells be rung and songs be played on the day of his death. “At the end of the end/It’s the start of the journey/To a much better place” he admits while, literally, whistling as he ponders what awaits him in the afterlife.
Just when you think the album’s going to end on a somber note, he wraps up Memory with “Nod Your Head,” a noisy romp with distorted guitars and horns that, again, shows Paul thinking about the end of the road in a very carefree fashion (“If you think the life you’re leading/Is better than the life you led…Better nod your head!”)
Memory Almost Full may be the first McCartney album I’ve heard in decades (the all-covers effort Run Devil Run doesn’t count) that hasn’t left me resenting how he’s lazily allowed his talents to languish. So while I’ve promised that I wouldn’t use the “best album since” comparison, I can tell you that Memory Almost Full is the best album from Paul McCartney since we had to start counting how consistently shitty his albums have been. If the idea of death has finally shaken him from his creative slumber, then here’s to hoping that he’ll make more efforts like this as he moves towards his final act.
Paul McCartney – “Dance Tonight”
Memory Almost Full EPK