Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Memory Almost Full

I also owe y'all a review of Macca's latest album, don't I?

The short version is that Memory Almost Full, went set alongside his body of studio recordings over the past ten years, shows conclusively that age, maturity - and, yes, tragedy - have sharpened, not dulled, his creative prowess. Make no mistake, this one's special.

Forget the commercialism of the Starbucks deal. Like Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run and (to a lesser extent) Driving Rain, this album stands on its own merit.

Ironically, the only track I'm not particularly fond of is the one chosen as the North American single - "Ever Present Past." Not that it's weak, but it's not as representative of the mood of the album as the other tracks.

The opening track - "Dance Tonight" - has taken hits from some critics for being too cute. Y'know what? It is cute. Swallow it. Apparently written whilst entertaining his young daughter with the mandolin, it is cute, but it's also fun - happily, and urgently, fun.

Urgency. Paul's best work has always been characterized by a rare sort of emotional urgency: ballads like "Hey Jude," "Let It Be" and "Maybe I'm Amazed;" rockers like "I'm Down," "Helter Skelter," "Hi Hi Hi" and "Band on the Run," even folksy little ditties like "Blackbird," "Put It There" and "Calico Skies" - they are written, and sung, with an edge. You can tell when Paul McCartney is on and when he's mailing it in - think of the contrast, on his smash 1982 record Tug of War, between the heartbreaking ode to John Lennon "Here Today" on the one hand, and the successful (but entirely forgettable) "Ebony and Ivory."

On Memory Almost Full, that emotional urgency is evident in every track Perhaps on a certain level, the urgency within him is greater than ever: now 65, Paul McCartney is no spring chicken, and the voice has deepened and roughened a bit since 1997. The vocal performances are excellent - not lazy, not strained - but they convey an almost unsettling vulnerability: songs like "Gratitude" and "House of Wax" in particular sent shivers down my spine.

Other highlights: "Mr. Bellamy," whose protagonist joins the pantheon of funky Macca characters created over the years (Eleanor Rigby, Uncle Albert & Admiral Halsey, Rocky Raccoon, Jenny Wren, the nameless girl from "She's Given Up Talking," the Famous Groupies & the Lead Guitarist Who Lived in Epping Forest - to name a few); "Only Mama Knows," an amazing rock melody; "Nod Your Head," which more than one critic has compared favorably to "Why Don't We Do It In the Road"; and the closing medley, particularly "The End of the End," which will be remembered as possibly the most powerful lyric he's ever written. For those who are inclined to splurge on the Special Edition CD or the extras package on ITunes, "Why So Blue" is the best of the bonus tracks by far.

Honestly, it's impossible for me to write this as anything other than a fan. So you can take what I have to say with a grain of salt if you wish. But a quick scan of the reviews available online shows I'm not alone in saying this one is special. Here are a couple of examples. A quick hop oer to wikipedia shows that the buying public is paying attention: in the states, Memory Almost Full is finishing its fifth straight week in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Not bad.

As I write this, "House of Wax" is playing on the ITunes player. And it still gives me shivers. Yeah, this one's special.

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