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Music Review: Paul McCartney — Memory Almost Full

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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?

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  • Chuckie

    While I agree that “Chaos” is the superior album, I honestly thing you are selling the second half of the album short. In fact, you didn’t mention two of my favorite tracks – “Vintage Clothes” (I LOVE that “What we are/Is what we are” bit!) and “Feet In the Clouds” (the multi-layered vocal breakdown halfway through absolutely defines gorgeous).

  • Webomatica

    Hi Chuckie thanks for the comment. You know, I agree that those two parts of Vintage Clothes and Feet in the Clouds are pretty cool. However those are just moments in those songs that are neat and I don’t really care for either song overall – especially in comparison with the first 6. Just an opinion as always… but because this review has comments, you’ve let your opinion be heard, too!

  • Bob Rice

    Typical that a music critic would not be able to appreciate the second half of this album. It is always any artists most creative material that the average listener has the hardest time understanding. Give it a few more listens Webomatica, you’ll get it eventually.
    Specifically, “That was Me” should be easy for even you to get into. But you did get one thing right “Paul McCartney doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks about his music” and thank God for that.

  • Brad

    I personally find the medley to be the highlight of the CD. I get giddy listening to Vintage Clothes and That was Me. While I understand your take on “That was me” as boastful, its Paul Mccartney thinking back on his life in disbelief. If anyone has a right to do so, its him. I find both songs to be just awesome. He sings the hell out of each and the bass playing is sublime. House of Wax is over the top 70s rock but with a twist that makes it a real highlight (you didnt even mention the song!). End of the End is not maudlin or sappy, but sweet, direct and musically pretty clever as the chords get more complex while the music stays the same. Lastly, I’m so sorry you missed the significance of Nod Your Head. Imagine Paul by the bedside right before Linda’s death. She lay too sick to talk but could answer Paul’s questions with a nod of the head. Its a pretty touching and rousing closer number. Keep listening… I think you will come around on the second half of the CD.

  • Webomatica

    In my opinion, Paul McCartney’s music with the Beatles (and my favorite stuff) was largely music that one could “get” on the first or second listen. Instantly accessible, pop stuff.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • http://aldo63 aldo63

    I think this CD is great. How could you not comment on house of wax. that song is awesome. i agree “gratitude” should have been ommited from the album or at least Nils, would have done a better job with it.

  • Will

    This is the album every Beatle fan knew McCartney could do, not just the best McCartney album, but the best post-Beatle album, period. It’s a tour de force that breaks new ground and yet a musical memoir that screams “Remember what I did? Well, look what I can do now!”

    This album is current and ancient and touches on a lot that happened in between. It sends tears of joy running down my cheeks. How anyone could dismiss the “latter half” of it, where “The End Of The End” plays against “Nod Your Head” like but in dramatic contrast to “The End” and “Her Majesty” from Abbey Road, I can’t fathom. It’s musical and lyric art on a plane higher than McCartney ventured before.

  • Glen Boyd

    Will wrote:
    How anyone could dismiss the “latter half” of it, where “The End Of The End” plays against “Nod Your Head” like but in dramatic contrast to “The End” and “Her Majesty” from Abbey Road, I can’t fathom.

    If you can find my own review of that Will (elsewhere on the site), you’ll find that I did see that and made note of it.

    Exit Glen’s shameless self-promotion.


  • aloysius peabody

    I’ve never heard so much good music on one album. The melodies are Beatle caliber. The singing, except for “You Tell Me” (weak falsetto)was impeccable and he rocked much more than usual. “Chaos” was excellent but “Memory” puts it to shame. I think an album is good if half the songs are good and I thought 11 of the 13 on “Memory” were excellent. I don’t know or care about any messages being sent or any great musical or lyrical inroads being made, all I know is that this album sounds great and that’s good enough for me.

  • Jim

    Me thinks that Nod Your Head has another meaning quite similar to Please Please Me. 😉