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McCartney still in fine formPaul McCartney - Memory Almost Full
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 19, 2007
Review by Tony BonyataIn the nearly forty years since the world's most celebrated music group dissolved, former Fab Four Paul McCartney has had his shares of ups and downs (and I'm just speaking about musically. We can leave all of Sir Paul's personally affairs to the tabloids).
Ever since his first 1970 self-titled solo effort, much of his work has been criticized for either being half-baked of overwrought saccharine pop, which hasn't always been off the mark. As unfortunate as it may be, critics have always had a hard time distancing themselves from McCartney's groundbreaking work with The Beatles, but listening to gems like his second solo effort Ram (credited to both Paul and his wife Linda), 1973's rewarding Band on the Run, his 1989 collaboration with Elvis Costello for his return-to-form Flowers in the Dirt album, 1998's Flaming Pie and more recently with his 2005 Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, not to mention a gorilla's handful of fantastic singles ("Junior's Farm" and "Live and Let Die" anyone?), should demand that McCartney be judged on his own merits.
That said, his most recent effort, Memory Almost Full, is a pleasing record that, like much of his solo work, has flashes of greatness, yet is unable to sustain it for the entire length of the album. Released on the newly minted Starbucks' Hear Music label, the album opens with its finest moment - the jaunty, mandolin-driven pop delight "Dance Tonight," a song that is enjoying heavy airplay not only through the more traditional outlets of radio, but also on a successful new Apple iPod commercial that finds Paul skipping around in his Chuck Taylors while merrily strumming his mandolin, along with a brilliantly produced video by Michel Gondry which in less than two months has already received nearly a million views on You Tube (Key Fab moment: At video's end when Paul's gyrating behind his signature Hofner bass in the middle of a spectral rave and cheekily smiles at the camera). The song itself is so simple it's ridiculous, which just shows that Paul hasn't lost his touch at creating a composition brimming with positive vibes, an indelible melody and catchy lyrics that demand to be sung, hummed or whistled along with.
As it turns out "Dance With Me" is the only monster tune of the lot, but thankfully there are still enough other inspired delights here to keep things interesting for the majority of the record's forty-two minutes. Both "Nod Your Head" and "Only Mama Knows" are fist-pumping rockers, while "Gratitude" is a powerful soul number filled with beauty and grit. "Mr. Bellamy" is an interesting prog-rock ditty that sounds as if Kate Bush was re-inventing "Eleanor Rigby" for her Dreaming album, and "Vintage Clothes" is another fine example of some sweet and simple, yet effective pop rock.
As too often with much of Paul's solo output the good is also spotted with some less-than-satisfactory fluff. As catchy and snappy as it may be, the sugary "Ever Present Past" and "See Your Sunshine" sound like latter-day Wings going through their more glib motions, while "You Tell Me" turns out to be maudlin filler.
The most poignant and moving moment on the record, however, is "End of the End" where the recently turned 65 year-old musician bravely confronts his own mortality as he muses "On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told. And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets that children have played on, and laid on while listening to stories of old," before happily whistling the poignant melody. While Sir Paul may be contemplating his own existence, even in his golden years he proves that, one way or another, he'll always be with us.
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