Judge Dennis Prince is happy to proclaim there's still plenty of Macca for this new millennium.
"In places it's a very personal record and a lot of it is retrospective, drawing from my memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone."
It's unfortunate that the tabloid and tabloid TV have recently been awash with Paul McCartney's painful divorce. Don't look for anyone to take sides here because this isn't the matter at hand but, rather, this is a look at what proves to be a very interesting and initially confounding new album, Memory Almost Full. As if copping to the fact that he's an analog guy in a digital world, Mac shows us he's quite at home in the New Millennium, the album title being proof that he can riff on a bit of tech-speak in his own inimitable way.
Although some will be digging deep into this release as a sort of unintentional expose of his feelings over the bitter separation from Heather Mills, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, there are tinges of admission and even regret at times but never bitter and always delivered with grace and style such as we have come to expect from Paul.
"I know people are going to look at some of the songs and interpret them in different ways but this has always been the case…I never really get to a point where I start thinking I'm going to write about specific subjects."
but I was lonely / I was living with a memory / but my cold and lonely nights ended when you sheltered me
I should stop loving you / think what you've put me through / but I don't want to lock my heart away
"Inevitably though, what I am thinking is going to find its way into what I'm doing."
The cover design—a stylish high back sitting chair—evokes numerous interpretations. Is this the chair your granddad might settle into, unveiling compelling life's experiences and adventures? Is this a piece of well loved fireside furniture, the sort fastidiously situated for focused attention, reading or listening to music? Or is this a plainly cosmopolitan statement, a coveted seat to take while leisurely sipping gourmet coffees within a cozy social setting?
The album's initial single, "Dance Tonight," plays like a silly ditty on first listen, loopy and disposable, but becomes infectiously irresistible upon subsequent listening. It's an upbeat number that encourages us to celebrate in lighthearted splendor. How curious, then, that we're led into a similarly catchy yet lyrically divergent "Ever Present Past," an explanation or sorts, maybe, for the swirling of recent events and disappointing dissolution:
I've got too much on my plate
With this opening stanza, we realize this isn't to be some forgettable pop indulgence but, rather, an opportunity to spend some time behind this guy's eyes. It's not morose or overly melancholy, mind you, but it has a definite purpose yet never shirks its duty to deliver songs that will measure up to the artist's vast accomplishments; it does that quite handily.
For those curious how the tracks measure up to previous Paul projects, there's plenty of recognizable influences here, the music being unapologetically self-referential to the man's near-40-year solo career—and we'd be disappointed if it wasn't, right? Therefore, expect first to revisit the tone and style his initial solo outing of 1970, Mac single-handedly laying down the instrumentation through the majority of the songs and delivering the likes of "You Tell Me" and "Gratitude." There's the enigmatic "Mr. Bellamy," odd in content and execution and somehow reminiscent of 1968's "Eleanor Rigby." Then there are Wings-like numbers such as "See Your Sunshine," a saucy little indulgence that sounds like an outtake from the London Town sessions. Certainly, the most surprising track on the album is the raw and raucous "Only Mama Knows," a hard driving song that sounds as if McCartney still has plenty of "Venus and Mars/Rock Show" and "Medicine Jar" within him, appropriately amped up to satisfy today's over-caffeinated crunch-rock consumers.
The second half of the disc, though, resoundingly reveals Macca's inner light at the moment, a legendary icon who is nonetheless affected by the unbiased effects of time. It's a mini-opus of sorts, strung together in continuity a la side two of Abbey Road. He leads us on a stroll along the path of experiences past and lessons learned, beginning with a smile and friendly wagging of his index finger in "Vintage Clothes" (Don't live in the past / don't hold on to something that's changing fast / what we are is what we are and what we wear are vintage clothes). From here, he fesses up to his own journey in "That Was Me" and then shows he hasn't lost affection for flights of fancy with "Feet in the Clouds." Next up is power ballad "House of Wax" that cleverly leads us to "The End of the End" where Sir Paul lays down instructions for his own eventual send off:
On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told
And so by the time the CD wraps up, we discover that this "cute one" is still devilishly sly, lifting his highly accessible musical latte (that is, "Dance Tonight") to his bean-grinding sponsors then proceeding to tell the story that was truly brewing within his being. In the end, it is the fan/consumer who wins here, getting so much more than the pleasant albeit heavily creamed lead track. Subsequent sips reveal a more potent cup of goodness that has bite but never a displeasing aftertaste. But wait, in a final wink and loving admonition, Paul reminds us we're never too old to enjoy good times—"Nod Your Head" startles us as a final track, fondly reminiscent of the spry "Why Don't We Do It in the Road." Cool.
As an after-beverage mint, this extended CD includes three additional tracks, previously available on the initial two-disc edition of the album. "Why So Blue," "222," and the instrumental, "In Private," are as good as the rest here yet would not work within the narrative structure of the core 13 tracks. There welcome additions, nevertheless.
But, wait, there's also DVD content in this deluxe edition, a second disc containing five live numbers, captured at The Electric Ballroom in London on June 7, 2007 and presented here in anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 widescreen. Joined on stage with his touring band, Mac offers up the Beatles' "Drive My Car" then bangs out "Only Mama Knows," "Dance Tonight," "House of Wax," and "Nod Your Head." Following the quasi-concert (the performances are separated by fades to black, therefore not likely in actual playlist order) are the official music videos for "Dance Tonight" and "Ever Present Past." The image quality is fine, boosted nicely by competent upscaling players. Color saturation is rich but pleasing. You'll see some moiré effect from Paul's striped ringer shirt, though. The "Dance Tonight" music video is presented in full-frame whereas the "Ever Present Past" video is offered in anamorphically-enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen. Audio is presented in PCM 2.0 Stereo, providing a slightly confined yet still satisfying listening experience.
In the end, we discover it's not the end at all for our beloved Paul. Easily, the man has so much more to offer, both in the studio and on stage, and we'd be foolish not to accept it graciously and gleefully. Although he's been accused of being perpetually opportunistic in his shameless self-promotions and alliances (as evidenced by this flagship release with Starbuck's new HearMusic label), the fact is he continues to command our attention and deserve our respect, musically. Paul is the undying Mop Top, the ever-present Beatle for a generation that realizes how much we still need him. Although his career has had ups and downs, we still cannot get enough of the Mac Attack and hope for ever more from this 65-year-young musical mainstay.
All said, this Memory Almost Full CD/DVD edition is just plain good and stands as a testament that this guy is still the Rock of Ages—to all ages, not just to Mom and Dad. So as much as Memory Almost Full appears as a well-deserved look back, it also works as a tantalizing taste of that which is yet to come.
Thanks, Mac…Can you mix me another?
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