The 'Cute One' Has Still Got It
Former Beatle Paul McCartney (does he really need an introduction these days?) has followed up his critically-lauded Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005) with a collection of songs that not only lives up to the quality of its predecessor, but in many instances surpasses it.
While it does feel somewhat uneven at times, Memory Almost Full, released on Starbucks' Hear Music label, ultimately satisfies. The album opens curiously with a happy, mandolin-based tune called "Dance Tonight" that is about as simple as it is catchy. It's one of those songs that probably shouldn't work, but does. In fact, it's probably almost irritatingly catchy if you don't like ear candy - it's one of those that just won't leave your head once it's in there.
But there are far more substantial components at work here, the highlight being "Only Mama Knows," a classic McCartney rocker that will remind listeners of Wings' heyday. The orchestral intro is way too long, but once the song kicks in, it presents quite a ride and shows us McCartney at the top of his game.
The first U.S. single, "My Ever Present Past," shows McCartney in fine form with his popcraft as well and it's the first of many songs on the album that reflect Memory's loose theme of nostalgia.
One personal favorite is "Mr. Bellamy," an oddly experimental and quite engaging number about a man who is threatening to jump off a building. This hearkens to the Beatles circa 1960s without really sounding like any one song in particular. Another favorite is "Vintage Clothes," which packs a melody that, quite honestly, is potentially among the best the man has ever written (OK, top 50, at least). "You Tell Me" shines as a tender and sad ballad that, while it doesn't find McCartney giving his best vocal performance, at least pulls a heartstring or two.
The album more or less culminates in a five-song suite, featuring highlights such as "Feet in the Clouds" and the superb "House of Wax," while ending with the wistful "End of the End," in which McCartney shares how he would like to be remembered when he is gone.
As with most McCartney albums (at least the modern ones), there are a couple of stinkers. "See Your Sunshine" is a groaner that sounds too much like something left over from his terrible 1980s output, while "Gratitude" reaches for something more than it actually achieves, especially in the lame lyric. And there is one track that comes after the aforementioned suite that really shouldn't be here at all, except maybe as a hidden track or on the deluxe edition as an extra "B-side." The song is "Nod Your Head," and while Paul belts out the vocal with earnest and the guitars vaguely recall riffs from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the song itself is just too silly to be taken seriously.
Actually, sometimes I think "Nod Your Head" is just Paul screwing with us.
Whatever the case, Memory belongs up there with McCartney's best and shows us that he not only hasn't lost anything, but that he continues to find new grooves and a new muse. At 65 years old, this is a man who sounds nearly as vibrant and inspired as the kid who sang "I Saw Her Standing There" well over four decades ago. We all should age so well.
Find out more about the old man and his music at www.paulmccartney.com.