Memory Almost Full
Rating: 5 out of 10
Some of the first people to hear Memory Almost Full, Paul McCartney’s latest album, were getting their morning coffee and were on their way to somewhere. 10,000 stores nationwide, all providing cream and sugar for the coffee and some artificial sweetener for the ears.
After leaving EMI, longtime label of the former Beatle, Paul decided to be the premiere act for Starbuck’s record label, Hear Music, the coffee gods’ foray into something more than caffeinated consumer culture. As a result, Paul = Coffee. He’s Paul McCoffee. No longer will the general public associate Paul with walruses, death and lefties. No! I think Paul; I think coffee. Paul is dead, Paul is dead, misshimmisshim…now I’m dying for some fucking coffee. Maybe that was the Starbucks plan. I’m not sure if it was Paul’s, but he has left chaos and creation for the sake of marketing. And that’s why Memory Almost Full sounds so Starbucks appropriate.
With 2005’s Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, Paul could’ve ended on an amazing note. He was finally honest and open, almost sympathetic and so fully tapped into his undeniable brilliance that it was shocking to listen to. With producer, Nigel Godrich’s help, Paul had, for a little while, abandoned his public persona as Sir Safe&Bland. But, I’m not sure he saw it that way. The experience for Paul was unfortunately exhausting and frustrating despite the final product being as good as it was. I guess, at his age, it only makes sense to keep the work environment serene, and the music too. Maybe there was something to Paul’s “Mr. Bellamy,” where he sings: “I’m not coming down/no matter what you say/I like it up here without you.”
The first three tracks are what you expect to hear at Starbucks: smooth, light, and mass-produced. “Dance Tonight” at least has personality and means well, but it’s not really much of a draw. “Ever Present Past” is disingenuously upbeat, almost like Paul’s just going with the motions. “See Your Sunshine” suffers from the same posture, positioning laid-back basslines with faux-rock delivery and cheesy hooks.
“Only Mama Knows” feels like a song that Paul considered. Beginning with orchestrated strings that then lead into some fairly loud rock guitars, (loud for this album anyway), it breaks a little into Journey territory when it goes into very desperate reprises of “hold on” over chilling harpsichord. It’s not perfect, but at least it feels like Paul is awake.
It isn’t really until after the slow and morose “You Tell Me” that some inventiveness comes into play.
“Mr. Bellamy” kicks some life into the mix, utilizing catchy piano loops and some playful melodies, invoking a sound and style almost reminiscent of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” After seeming to end, the song then kicks into a minute long instrumental outro that makes you wish there were more moments like this to be had.
“Gratitude” and “Vintage Clothes” exploit some interesting ideas but get weighed down by clichéd lyrics and lack of direction. The latter track leads directly into “That Was Me” which at least inspires the ears to pay some attention. It’s a simple track but it wears that familiar pleasantness that McCartney exudes and it winds up being somewhat redeeming.
“Feet In The Clouds,” an otherwise upbeat little ditty, might’ve been excusable if not for the unnecessarily long section toward the end of the track where the line ”Yes, I find it very, very, very, very, very, very, haaaaaaaaard” is repeated ad nauseam in an array of stupid vocal effects, one of which recalls Cher’s horrible dance song about “life after love.” That’s all I could hear once that effect came into play, proving that, sometimes, producers should leave certain buttons untouched.
The emotionally epic “House Of Wax” and mortality-based “The End Of The End” at least provide some honest depth and allow the string section some music they can actually enhance. “Nod Your Head” comes off like an afterthought and Paul tries too hard to kick some life into the final act. It was disappointing coming out of my stereo but, emanating from Starbucks speakers, providing background noise for the morning rush, it makes perfect sense. It was, for the most part, made to ignore.
”…no need to be sad/with the end of the end...”
The version of Memory Almost Full that I purchased came with three additional tracks that were played solely by McCartney. These tracks by themselves are better than the album and thankfully remind the listener that there’s a still a good songwriter in there somewhere. Instrumental track “In Private” plays like a variation on the road song. Clocking in at barely 2 minutes, the track sets a mood with minimal effort. “Why So Blue” could easily be a stray track from Chaos and Creation as it carries with it the emotion and lyrical depth of 90% of that album. “222,” one of the strangest and most expressive tracks I’ve ever heard come from McCartney, has one verse that is sporadically sung in a despairing high pitch three times over hi-hat taps and walking piano notes. One verse; no chorus. It’s a mesmerizing track.
I really hate not liking this album, especially when I know what McCartney is capable of. But, unfortunately, Memory Almost Full fails to captivate and doesn’t really give me a whole lot of optimism in terms of what to expect from the Hear Music label. It really feels like its sole purpose is to release albums that’ll sound okay being played at a reasonable level, which isn’t what you’d call very rock n’ roll. I just hope that Paul’s memory isn’t too full. Full? Full. Yeah, I could use a refill.
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