Listening to Memory Almost Full, I initially thought: hey, this is pretty darned cool. But I soon sank to the resignation that: no, is really isn’t. My attention wandered away during the album’s meandering second half.
There are definitely stellar moments during the disc’s overarching themes of personal memory, its reevaluation over time, and evaporation upon death. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will satisfy me in the long run. It’s a ray of sunshine on a slightly overcast day, continually fading behind clouds, leaving me wanting for its occasional warmth.
But first, the good: Paul McCartney doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks about his music, and his confidence is stamped on every note. While Chaos and Creation at times sounded distant and reserved, the songs on Memory Almost Full are compressed and in your face (which I may cynically suggest is so they play well over Starbucks’ loudspeakers). But when McCartney hits the sweet spot of expectation and delivery, there’s nothing like it. I’d say the first six songs all pass the audition.
- The mind-achingly simplistic opener “Dance Tonight” benefits from its directness and the addition of new instruments at just the right times.
- “Ever Present Past” is instantly memorable, classic McCartney, with a steady groove and some nice swooping melodies. When it opens up into “the things I think I did…” there’s a keyboard twiddle reminiscent of “With A Little Luck.”
- Next comes the warmth of “See Your Sunshine,” a trip back to 1979 with syncopated piano chords, a killer vocal hook built around nothing but “doo doo doos,” perfectly placed dew drop chimes, and stellar bass playing to boot.
- The rocker “Only Mama Knows” is a catchy combination of “Jet,” Madness’ “Our House,” Crowded House’s “Tall Trees,” and Susanna Hoffs’ “It’s Lonely Out Here.” Paul is an abandoned child contemplating the motivations of his absent mother. Given the setting of an airport lounge, is Mama the chanteuse of “Jet?” The song is framed by contemplative string sections, the latter of which echoes the song’s guitar licks.
- I can’t help but read into the possible intent of “You Tell Me,” which is an acidic alternate track from Chaos and Creation. A lover wonders if the singer was really there during
several romantic memories of the past, to which the the answer is a cold “you tell me.” Is it directed to the former Mrs. McCartney?
- “Mr. Bellamy” is a multi-part song like “Uncle Albert” or “Band On The Run.” I initially thought this character was an anti-social elder locked in an upstairs bedroom, but according to Paul, he’s a suicidal everyman on a window ledge, threatening to jump. Paul voices the different characters of the story, recalling Queen but more surely, early Wings.
Wow, could Memory Almost Full get any better?
But after these first six songs, things get sloppy, and soon the Walrus is wallowing in excessive wastefulness. Lyrics become painfully obvious, chord progressions non-existent, and vocal inflections revert to the familiar McCartney standbys of high falsettos, baritone bellows, and whoops to a non-existent audience. “Gratitude” features increasingly tiresome vocal noodling, “That Was Me” is essentially boastful egomania, and the death song “The End Of The End” won’t make an appearance at many funerals (I think “Let It Be” will still be more appropriate in that regard). Especially weak is the album closer “Nod Your Head,” a tired descendant of “Helter Skelter” combined with the hokey pokey.
I’ve read a few reviews claiming the latter half of Memory Almost Full is akin to the second side of Abbey Road. I politely disagree. There is a string of several songs with nary a break between, but the songs themselves are nowhere on par with the material on that hallowed Fab Four album. If Memory Almost Full were advertised as such, I’d have to ask for a refund, and not for the latte.
I was ultimately frustrated by the glimmers of perfection that beg for a little more effort or a road not taken. Personally, I prefer the calculation of Chaos and Creation. But I’m satisfied with the first half of Memory Almost Full, and look forward to the next sunny excursion of the cute Beatle.
Note: Via iTunes, I downloaded the “extended” version containing three extra tracks. Most notable is the mysterious, out of character jazz exploration “222,” where McCartney’s pure voice minimally blurts out “look at her walking” in the manner of a muted trumpet. That experiment is stunning stuff — could I have an extra shot of that, please?