Memory Almost Full (MPL Communications Ltd, 2007)
Reviewed by Pedro Blas Gonzalez
In an industry that is shamelessly producer driven, people who are responsible for assembling half-competent groups overnight, and who make dress, spectacle and outrage take center stage -- not music -- Paul McCartney proves the value of being an island of talent in a sea of momentary and fashionable refuse.
In Memory Almost Full, his latest inspiration, all tracks are written and composed by McCartney, in addition to playing all instruments except strings. This album closely resembles the musical and creative energy that he displayed in his two other distinctive solo productions, McCartney, immediately before the formation of Wings and McCartney II, coming on the heels of the breakup of that memorable group.
The 13 tracks that make up this album revolve around the theme of the passage of time and ageing. These themes find sublime, poetic expression especially on songs like: “Ever Present Past,” “You Tell Me,” “That Was Me,” “Feet in the Clouds,” “House of Wax” and “The End of the End.” These songs are evocative of the meaning of the album’s title, Memory Almost Full, or what is essentially a reflection on the end of life.
“Dance Tonight” along with “Ever Present Past,” the two signature releases of the album, are both uptempo songs. Characteristic of McCartney’s music, none of these recordings telegraph the punches. Surprise and unpredictability continue to be a staple of his music. The melodies in this album are piano-driven. Even this is interesting, because none of these studio recordings come across as being emblematic of mere rock music. All of the songs accomplish much more than the limitations set by standard rock songs.
For instance, “Dance Tonight” employs a playful mandolin as the dominant instrument and McCartney whistling portions of the catchy melody. “Ever Present Past” is perhaps the best example of his use of guitar riffs. However, refusing to write songs that are moved along by overly aggressive drumming and a frantic tempo, this album is another example of McCartney’s individualistic disregard for the taste of his critics. For the decade that Wings existed, the music press hurled unqualified criticism at the group for not sounding like every other rock group. For his part, McCartney did not tow the line and ended up by creating music that has stood the test of time.
“See Your Sunshine” is a melodic song that displays great interplay of piano and his well respected booming bass, which never exists as mere backdrop rhythm. “Only Mama Knows” begins and ends with beautifully melodic strings. For those looking for a genuinely dyed-in-the-wool rock song, this song will not disappoint.
The acoustic ballad “You Tell Me” is reminiscent of old McCartney downtempo songs. Actually, this song conveys a rather sad quality that bespeaks of the nostalgia of days gone by. “The End of the End” contains some of McCartney’s most pressing lyrics. The song is about how he would like to be remembered. Here, we once again encounter him whistling the melody, as if gentling walking away into some post-mortal realm.
“That Was Me” displays an autobiographical flair, where McCartney is awed by the passing years, from childhood to fame and stardom, and culminating in old age. His bass line in this song is some of his most poignant yet. Jazzy fingering techniques carry this song. “House of Wax,” a quasi-lament, finds him giving his all emotionally.
If forced to choose the most endearing and memorable quality of Memory Almost Full, one would have to say that the lyrics of these songs are some of the most profound and poignant that he has ever composed. This is a moving record that is replete with melodies that will easily become classic McCartney songs. It is also a glaring indictment of just how much talent actually still matters.
Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Amongst his intellectual pursuits is his interest in the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-autonomy and philosophy.