Music Review: Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full

by Jeff Siegel

Critics have a special challenge when writing about a new Paul McCartney album. Anyone old enough to remember the Beatles knows it’s not going to be as good as a Beatles record. Anyone who doesn’t remember – or know – the Beatles is always a little annoyed that an old man gets that much attention for something that is obviously not going to be any good, because, after all, an old man did it.

Which means, as hard as it is to believe, that anyone who tries to listen to each album and judge it on its merits always begins the process by feeling a little sorry for McCartney.

McCartney’s new disc, Memory Almost Full, probably won’t do anything to satisfy the first two groups. It’s not as good as a Beatles record, and it’s not especially modern, current or cutting edge. Both of which are irrelevant, of course; it isn’t a Beatles record, and judging something by how hip it sounds is as silly today as it was at the beginning of the rock era.

Memory Almost Full stands on its own – a well-made, professional effort by someone who knows more about making a rock 'n roll record than almost anyone in the history of the music. It features McCartney’s trademark sound, a jingliness that can best be described as a Lennon-McCartney song before John Lennon got his hands on it. Most of the 13 songs are well-written and several – "Dance Tonight," "Ever Present Past," "Vintage Clothes," and "That Was Me" – are solid, these could be hits in waiting (assuming McCartney was still played on the radio, which he isn’t).

In this, it’s a lot like 1997’s Flaming Pie, in which the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. Listen to each record, and some songs stand out and some don’t. But in the end, it turns out to have been a pretty nifty piece of work. And, like Flaming Pie, Memory Almost Full will age well – no doubt sounding better in a couple of years than it does today.

Where Memory Almost Full differs from most of McCartney’s solo work is in its tone, which features very little of the ex-Beatles’ trademark optimism. But since the album was written by a man whose beloved wife is dead, whose second marriage was a disaster and who is about to turn 65, it shouldn’t be surprising that the themes are a trifle darker than Band on the Run. Death comes up more than once, lost youth is a recurrent theme, and McCartney seems to seriously wonder about his legacy. "Ever Present Past," for instance, certainly isn’t a Dylan rumination, but it’s about as close as McCartney is ever going to get (Searching for the time that has gone so fast/The time that I thought would last).

Is this a good record? Without a doubt. Will it change anyone’s opinion about McCartney? Probably not. Critics, and especially rock music critics, are some of the most close-minded people in the world. McCartney, who wrote "Silly Love Songs" just to annoy those critics, has known that for a long time.

(The photo shows Sir Paul McCartney performing in Prague in 2004; the photo is used with a GNU license for public distribution.)

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