"Many years from now" must have seemed like an understatement to 16-year-old Paul McCartney, wondering if he'd still be needed or fed at the age of 64. As it turned out, all doubt as to the latter had ceased by his 22nd birthday (though few could have predicted he'd end up washing down those meals with the liquid pride of Seattle). As to the former? Now that McCartney, as of the date of this album's release, has reached that mythic age, his greatest work is 40 years behind him, his solo peak over 30 years gone. Does the world need a new Paul McCartney album? The answer is yes, at least as much as it needs anything else that passes for music these days. With Memory Almost Full
, Macca is back. No, it's not Ram
or Band on the Run
. It might not even be Flowers in the Dirt
--in 1989, he had a full band, the support of Linda, and Elvis Costello as a collaborator. Here, he's on his own. Literally: on the majority of the tracks, everything but the strings is multi-instrumentalist Paul. But the surprise is that it's one of his freest, loosest affairs in years, sonically reminiscent of the Tug of War/Pipes of Peace
era with nods to Abbey Road
in the album-closing medley, McCartney's gravelly tones on "Gratitude," and 2007's version of "Her Majesty," the palate-cleansing "Nod Your Head." It's a surprise because of the album's inescapable sense of retrospection ("Ever Present Past," "Vintage Clothes," "That Was Me") and even a bit of weariness. The next-to-last song is "The End of the End," after all, in which McCartney tells us about what he'd like to happen "on the day that I die." (He wants "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," and will likely get his wish.) But it never gets overwhelming, for McCartney mostly resists his tendency to get plodding and maudlin. In fact, Memory Almost Full
must be the most sanguine album made during the dissolution of a marriage since...well, ever. "What went out is coming back," he sings in "Vintage Clothes," and from the sound of things, that may not be just wishful thinking. What's past is prologue; if we're lucky, what to come may be McCartney's late renaissance. --Benjamin Lukoff
Started before and completed after the downbeat-yet-still-satisfying Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, Memory Almost Full is a perfect capture of Paul McCartney, the pop star. With a huge sweep of his musical past at his fingertips and fully aware that he is the most newsworthy he's been for years, McCartney returns with the first album in his career for a company other than EMI.
The fact that we're talking Hear Music, the label of Starbucks, as his main partner almost takes music full circle right back to the coffee bars that were all so much the rage in Macca's youth. But this is no skiffle record; but there's certainly a whiff of straightforward, direct pop with the unabashed wistfulness of its predecessor left to one side. This is his first album that marries the globe-trotting crowd-pleasing McCartney of late with his huge, adoring live audience as opposed to the dark stuff of Driving Rain and Chaos. But then, let's be frank, it has been something of a tumultuous decade for the old boy.
What we have is clean, clear, upbeat McCartney, referencing virtually every part of his 45 years as a recording artist with some very strong song writing (although 'Mr Bellamy' actually manages to sound like 10cc). 'See Your Sunshine' has that lovely summer feel that evokes 'Arrow Through Me' or 'Heaven On A Sunday'; 'Gratitude' could have been on the White Album. 'That Was Me' fully acknowledges his Fab past. He strolls back to the medley of Abbey Road to close, climaxing with the moving 'House Of Wax' before writing his own funeral song in 'End Of The End'.
When you see Paul McCartney in concert, there is that moment when you see his old footage behind him and you are amazed that it's the same guy there in front of you. Memory Almost Full has the same effect - unashamedly nostalgic and not without its flaws, it still sounds very much of the now, something that a Macca album hasn't done in a while. --Daryl Easlea
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