Memory Almost Full, recorded over a period of nearly five years and finally released in 2007, doesn’t suffer at all from any inconsistencies in tone, as you might expect from such an elongated project. It’s actually quite a cohesive batch, one that plays to Paul McCartney’s strengths: Melodic dexterity, energetic performances, thoughtful but not full-of-themselves lyrics, a willingness to be silly and lighthearted, and the ability to pull together disparate strands of music into an affecting whole. There’s nothing here that’s mind-blowing, but there’s also not much that’s less than solid either. Here is a song-by-song review.
13. “Feet In The Clouds”- The only part of the medley that dominates the second half of the album that feels a bit routine. That’s the good thing about a medley though: There’s always something waiting just around the bend if you don’t like what you’re hearing.
12. “See Your Sunshine”- Not his best love song nor his worst. The lyrics are underwritten, but I like the chirping backing vocals, which remind me of “The Battle Of Who Could Care Less” by Ben Folds Five.
11. “House Of Wax”- Probably about as near as to prog rock as Paul has ever approached, and he acquits himself well in his effort. The lyrics, full of poets, lightning and “wild demented horses,” are weird, wild stuff.
10. “Mr. Bellamy”- One of the things I like about this dark tale is how Paul never lets us in on whether the titular character actually jumps to his death or not. McCartney also clearly relishes playing all the parts in this little operetta, including the authorities bumbling their way to the rescue. A fun oddity.
9. “Gratitude”- McCartney does about the best Little Richard impression around. The fact that he can do it and not have a song sound like lazy nostalgia is the trick. This one gets elevated by the stirring bridge.
8. “The End Of The End”- It’s a little too on-the-money as a closing statement (even if it’s not the closing song.) Still, the melody gets to you and the lyrics actually promote something of a joyful wake amidst the somewhat somber tone of Paul’s vocal.
7. “Nod Your Head”- You haven’t been paying very close attention to Macca’s career if you don’t realize by now that he’s going to undercut the more serious, “traditional” closer with something light and goofy. But this is one case where I’d actually take the goofy song over the serious one.
6. “That Was Me”- Paul rifles through his past history while giving his bass a workout. He adds some scatting, which is a relatively unique occurrence in the McCartney songbook. It’s a nifty little testament to how unreal one’s past can seem, and that’s something to which even a non-superstar can relate.
5. “Only Mama Knows”- Propulsive and hooky, like a second coming of “Jet.” The lyrics set up a story that they never quite tell, with McCartney playing the orphan left behind for we’re not sure why by we can’t say whom. Heck, even the narrator doesn’t know. Where’s Mama, dammit, to clear this up? (Somebody page Vicki Lawrence.)
4. “Vintage Clothes”- I sometimes wish Paul would heed the advice from this song when he chooses his setlists, if only so he would give a nod to great late-period albums like this one. “Don’t live in the past,” he exhorts and then churns through a sprightly rocker with some fascinating musical twists and turns. There is triumph in this tale for those who may feel their sell-by date has passed: “Check the rack/What went out is coming back.”
3. “Dance Tonight”- An attempt to learn the mandolin led to the infectious riff that kicks off this song and underpins it all the way. Back in the 70’s this would have been fallen into place with songs like “Let ‘Em In” or “Come And Get It,” songs whose sole aim is to be as catchy and good-natured as humanly possible. David Kahne’s production enhances the sonic irresistibility of it all. If a 16-year-old with bangs over his eyes had released the same exact song in 2007, they would have hailed him as the Next Big Thing.
2. “You Tell Me”- For much of the album, McCartney’s looks back to his past are either fond or whimsical. This is the one time when he seems to grieve about how quickly the time has passed, and it is a moving moment. The phrase “that summer of a dozen words” is perfect; why would you need to speak when everything is so right? Lovely, even when it gets a bit bogged down by bird-watching and beekeeping.
1. “Ever Present Past”- First of all, the title is great, so you’re off to a nice start. Second, and this is no offense to Paul’s excellent touring band, but the most chemistry displayed on any song on the album comes on this one-man band production, which possesses both thunder and nuance. And finally, it’s a little bit revealing lyrically, which is, quite frankly, not something that we can always expect from McCartney. It feels like it covers some of the same ground, musically and lyrically, as “My Brave Face,” which is why I didn’t go a star better. But it’s still a ripping good pop track.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on The Beatles, check out my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs in the link below.)