CK Retro Review: Memory Almost Full by Paul McCartney

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.

TWO STARS

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.

THREE STARS

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.)

FOUR STARS

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 jimbeviglia@hotmail.com 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.)

 

 

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CK Retro Review: Driving Rain by Paul McCartney

It just felt like there was too much going on for 2001’s Driving Rain to have much of a chance of making its mark. It was Paul McCartney’s first complete album of originals since the death of his wife Linda, and, in the interim, he had taken up with Heather Mills, so that aspect of it seemed to overshadow the actual music. On top of that came 9/11, which led McCartney to promote the album with “Freedom,” a jingoistic one-off that had little to do with the rest of the lovey-dovey material. All that aside, however, the album suffers anyhow from being unnecessarily long at 16 songs, not one of which quite muscles its way into classic territory. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

16. “Spinning On An Axis”- McCartney’s first of two songwriting collaborations with son James on the album is sunk by lyrics that aren’t nearly as deep as they want to be and music that struggles to define what it wants to be and ends up not being much at all.

15. “Freedom”- The intent was impeccable, and there’s no question the song did it’s job at the Concert for 9/11. But going back and listening to it as anything more than a curiosity is not something I can see many McCartney fans doing.

14. “Heather”- Some decent chord changes, but this mostly instrumental felt indulgent then. And, of course, knowing the outcome of the marriage, it feels downright awkward now.

13. “Back In The Sunshine Again”- The second McCartney/McCartney track on the album is a little better than the first, but not much.

12. “About You”- The rock racket it tries to raise sounds labored, and, by this point in the album, the praising love songs are struggling to say something new from the ones that preceded them. It does find its groove in the run-out, but by then you might have lost interest.

THREE STARS

11. “Tiny Bubble”- Not to be confused with Don Ho, the best part of this bluesy midtempo track is McCartney’s willingness to let the melody drift to unlikely places. Nothing too memorable, but sounds pretty good while it’s on the speakers.

10. “Rinse The Raindrops”- The main section with the lyrics is forceful enough. How much tolerance you have for endless instrumental noodling probably dictates how you feel about the rest. As someone who thinks “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” should have ended before the bongos enter the picture, you can guess how I feel about it.

9. “Your Loving Flame”-Suffers from a lot of the same issues as “From A Lover To A Friend.” There’s a nice melody in there, but the lyrics are cliched and the production pushes a little too hard to try to get it to lighter-waving mode. That said, it fits into a kind of pleasing balladic template that makes you like it in spite of your best intentions.

8. “Driving Rain”- More jazzy than we’re used to from Paul, this one. And he wears it pretty well for the most part, although the improvisatory lyrics run out of steam as the song progresses. I do like the line, “Something’s open it’s my heart” though.

7. “Riding Into Jaipur”- Just a few weeks after the release of this album, George Harrison passed away. This feels like a preemptive tribute by Paul, and a pretty able one at that.

6. “Your Way”- Locating the heart of the country has never been an issue for Paul, and he does so effortlessly with this little, foot-tapping love song that’s charming if a bit slight.

5. “From A Lover To A Friend”- I feel like this echoes classic McCartney efforts without quite getting there on its own. The music is unmistakably lovely, stirring piano balladry with Abe Laboriel Jr. doing an excellent job on the Ringo-style fills. But the lyrics are all over the place to me, pronouns kind of thrown about willy-nilly to confuse the perspective and no real unifying aspect to really make the emotional connection. The music wins out in the end, but it feels like it could have been so much greater.

4. “Magic”- The serendipity of love is explored on this dreamy song. Macca’s bass work is inventive, and some leftover Jeff Lynne mojo must have been hanging around the studio from the Flaming Pie sessions, because this one could easily have slid onto an ELO album circa ’78 or so, which is a good thing.

FOUR STARS

3. “Lonely Road”- Those electric guitars really have some edge to them, and McCartney’s lyrics speak with a kind of fierce honesty to the disorientation that one feels after someone they loves moves on. Bluesy and tough, this song conjures up some raw emotions. Alas, it sets a personal tone that the rest of the songs just don’t quite sustain.

2. “I Do”- Producer David Kahne doesn’t shy away from ladling some Beatlesque bombast to the production here, and it suits the delicate melody and McCartney’s sweet sentiments. Just enough melancholy is located on the periphery to make the loving center that much more affecting. And Paul is everywhere, both singing high and lovely and rolling underneath it all on the bass, a wonderful performance at both extremes.

1. “She’s Given Up Talking”- Slow, heavy and compelling, with lots of vocal and instrumental effects that make matters all the more interesting. Kahne does a nice job laying things on and then pulling them away, while the relentless thrum of Paul’s bass and the smack of Laboriel’s drums provide steady ground. Add on the quirky little character sketch that McCartney delivers in the lyrics and you’ve got an unheralded track that would make for a great live cut if he ever decided to showcase some of his late-period solo stuff.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out the link below to my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now.)