It’s ironic that Paul McCartney’s first CD to be released digitally is his best proper album in years. Memory Almost Full is a record that’s not made to be downloaded individually iTunes style—this album is one that deserves to be listened to from start to finish without interruption. Yes, I was a fan of the Nigel Godrich produced Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and I had my doubts with the news that Paul was going to go back to Driving Rain producer David Kahne on Memory Almost Full. Why Paul? Why I yelled out when I read the news, but oh boy, was I proven wrong. Sorry Nigel, Macca and Kahne have bested you with Memory.
After talking about the last album with my new buddy Paul a few nights back (the name’s just a coincidence), we both still were raving about Chaos. Looking back, revisiting the album after my initial review is that the Godrich-produced record sounds a bit too melancholy. Where were all the upbeat numbers beside “Fine Line?” Even so, we Macca fans owe so much to Godrich because I believe that Paul wouldn’t have finished Memory without first recording and releasing Chaos.
Paul actually started working on Memory even before he began recording tracks with Nigel Godrich. He needed the Chaos experience to go back and finish his best-sounding album of the last three. I am surprised to be digging Memory so much even though I am so not a fan of Kahne. (I don’t think I could ever forgive him after the whole debacle with trying to shelve Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel’s album because he didn’t feel there were any hits on the record. Don’t get me started…) One thing I do give Kahne credit for, and the reason it’s Paul’s best sounding album, is that his goal was to capture all of Macca’s sonic styles from the past. If you’re a Wings fan, like me, you are really going to love Memory Almost Full.
The album starts with a mandolin-flavored ditty called “Everybody Dance,” which is a perfect way to start. The mandolin is an instrument that Paul recently fell in love with, and he may have gotten the inspiration from George Harrison. George is the one who inspired Paul to pick up and play the ukulele, one of the many instruments that Harrison mastered. Macca actually played a tribute to Harrison during his Back in the U.S. tour with a ukulele version of “Something.” “Everybody Dance” is a more upbeat number that Paul learned after first strumming his new favorite instrument. His daughter loved the sound of Paul’s mandolin so much that Macca improvised the lyrics for his little girl’s amusement when he saw her dancing around the room. I love the bluesy tapping of Paul’s feet reminiscent of his shoe percussion on “Blackbird,” it just matches so well with the warm sound of the mandolin swing.
Memory then segues into the “Fine Line”-esque “Ever Present Past.” The lyrics in this upbeat song go along with the theme of Memory: “I hope it isn’t too late/ searching for the time that has gone so fast/ the time that I thought would last.” Paul started this premise on Chaos and continues this on Memory as he looks back with less melancholy eyes.
“See Your Sunshine” is a heartfelt, upbeat number that has Paul singing an ode to a new love. Paul has had the roughest of years, he’s in the middle of a messy divorce but even the pain of his break-up hasn’t dampened his mood or ever-hopeful spirit. This is the reason I feel Memory is such a superior album to Chaos. Instead of continuing the gloomy mood he had on his last record, Paul sings “I want to see your sunshine.” This is what the record sounds like, sunshine to Chaos‘ rain. I adore the harmonies on this song, very Denny Lane-esque. Maybe with Paul looking back at his life he’s singing an ode to his old Wings mate.
“Only Mama Knows” starts off with a somber string sample reminiscent of the opening to Neil Finn’s “Sinner” from Try Whistling This (incidentally, Paul has worked with Mitchell Froom, who produced several Crowded House albums). After the sweet violin solo, “Only Mama Knows” turns into a “Junior’s Farm”-ish rocker that would have fit on the Wings album Band on the Run next to Paul’s “Helen Wheels”-like riffs before the refrain and the chorus. I love the way the song starts off sad and breaks into a joyful jam as Paul sings about looking back at the choices Mama made. Is it just me or do the harmonies sound so Wings like that it not only sounds like Denny Lane but Linda McCartney singing background vocals? Well if you look careful at the title of the album, there’s an anagram of “for my soul mate LLM” which are the initials of Linda Louise McCartney, the true love of Paul’s life. I like to think that Linda’s spirit was with him through out the making of this electrifying album.
Throughout his long and illustrious career, Paul has always loved singing about birds; there was “Blackbird,” “Bluebird” and even “Free as a Bird,” yet with Memory he sings “the bright red cardinal flew down from the tree” on “You Tell Me.” This song is an acoustic beauty that has the aching flavor is akin to “For No One” with the harmonies that sound straight out of the Pipes of Peace era for Paul. The harmonies on Memory are so incredibly addictive they match the sweet intensity that Paul has on his high pitched vocal on “You Tell Me.”
“Mister Bellamy” has some of the best lyrics on the album, as well as some great piano. This is one of those “character songs” that John Lennon once said that Paul is so brilliant at creating, like “Lovely Rita,” “Lady Madonna” and “Honey Pie” from the days that were Fab. As Paul sings “I’m not coming down/No matter what you say/ I like it up here without you” it sounds like he’s singing to his ex, at least this is my interpretation and how I feel when I hear the song. The deep bass vocal echo the unique singing stylings of `Pretty Little Head” from the always underrated and often forgotten Press to Play album of 1986. When Kahne said he wanted to emulate all of Macca’s vinyl flavors, he sure wasn’t kidding. This guy knows his McCartney.
The wickedly cool sounds in the very effective and mostly instrumental coda of “Mister Bellamy” leads us into what I have dubbed the “Memory Medley”—my favorite part of the album. The smooth segues and stellar sequencing of the record are the best ever for a McCartney album since Ram. Macca and Kahne have essentially taken the idea first heard on side two of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and incorporated it to the latter half of Memory Almost Full.
“Gratitude” follows next with a Flaming Pie‘s “Souvenir” meets “Oh Darling” like bluesy vocal that drips a Memphis-flavored passionate vibe. This is another uplifting number that has Paul singing “I want to show my gratitude for being loved by you.” He looks back at former flame without the ache of bitterness that most of us feel remembering past lovers. So hard to do but Paul does it effortless on this post break-up love song.
Paul jumps to a piano-heavy and joyful number “Vintage Clothes,” and sings “Don’t live in the past/ don’t hold on to something that’s changing fast.” He is in such a hopeful mode which is incredible and shows the strength of a man that has lost his Mother, his lyrical and songwriter partner Lennon, his soul-mate Linda and now divorced at sixty—you would think that looking back at a life of loss would bring someone down but not Paul McCartney. Yeah he has the success, the fame, money and glory but even throughout all the pain he is still the eternal singing optimist who we have grown up with. This is why I so love and respect Sir Paul McCartney—after all of these years, he’s creating life affirming and cutting edge songs that are catchy and timeless as ever.
“Vintage Clothes” slides into the ’50s-like rockin’ ditty he captured so fluidly on Run Devil Run resurrected on “That was Me.” I imagine Paul looking through all of his old photo albums, films and mementos as he sings “The same me that stands here now/ if fate agreed that all of this/ to make a lifetime, who am I to disagree, that was me.” Once again as he looks back with a smile not a frown with an idea that I have always championed, everything that we have done, all the choices that we have made in our lives have led us here to this very moment and made us the person we are today.
In the ’70s and on the song “C-Moon” Paul sang “How come no one older than me never seems to understand the things I want to do?” My fellow Gemini, Macca, and I think alike. I have always understood him even when he was unpopular and I was seen as an outcast being a die-hard Macca fan. He has sung for me, he has been there through all my trials. I feel like I have aged along sweetly with McCartney. On this album I too feel his bliss as he looks back where he once belonged. I am there with him, where I have always been on the journey with and the experiences in my own life; this is why I connect with a song like “The End of The End.”
When he sings “At the end of the end/ it’s the start of a journey to a much better place” I am there with him. In this new chapter as Paul digital, he’s as vibrant and charismatic as ever. The past is prologue and I am looking forward to his next one. Until then I will relive this Memory over and over again, with a voice that’s linked in time, and will sing the soundtracks of our tomorrows aging so perfectly, one could never feel alone again.
Lindsey Buckingham – Under the Skin
Neil Finn – Try Whistling This
Paul McCartney – Ram