Memory Almost Full

Imagine the burden of being identified as a living music icon, a legendary figure of near mythical proportions. Everything you do is analyzed by thousands of critics who revere your early career and compare you current work against that receding glory. Millions of fans world wide await you’re new work with heightened expectations. Paul McCartney is, despite his knighthood, a mere mortal who pulls from his own life experiences for source material and weathers the ebb and flow of creative inspiration.

Memory Almost Full allows us the chance to step away from the image of Sir Paul and witness a man who has embraced the aging process by acknowledging his past while embracing the future. The songs on this album highlight production elements and arrangements from McCartney’s musical evolution. Here and there you’ll hear instrumentation that puts you in mind of “Fool On the Hill,” “Penny Lane” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Now the orchestra rolls in and Live and Let Die comes to mind. The band kicks up and one is reminded of “Band on the Run.” This is not to say that McCartney is cannibalizing his own catalog – far from it. This is a CD that says hello to the future with a familiar voice and McCartney seems to enjoy playing with the sounds that brought him to this point in his career.

McCartney begins the CD with “Dance Tonight” a song that features his new passion – the mandolin. It’s a simple song that would work nicely as a Traveling Wilbury song. Following that is the single “Ever Present Past” which sets the focus for the rest of the album, at least thematically. There is a lot of reflection in these songs and no regret that I could discern. McCartney reminisces on childhood adventures through the emerging success of the Mercy Beat years. “Gratitude” is an earnest attempt to move beyond bitterness at the end of a relationship and although critics have assumed this song deals with McCartney’s ongoing divorce he has denied this.

The album hits its highpoint with a highly introspective five-song cycle that begins with “Vintage Clothes.” This is as honest as a musician gets with both himself and his audience. Through these songs McCartney examines his own life and seems to marvel at where his choices have taken him. “The End of the End” is as close to maudlin as McCartney gets but it is his most revealing song. He walks a fine line as he sings about his wishes for the day that he dies and he is perfectly clear on the point that he believes in “a better place.”

Musically McCartney is all over the place on this disc. Rockers followed ballads, orchestration sets off acoustic arrangements. And Sir Paul can still warble like a nature boy or howl with the rockers.

There has been much made of the fact that McCartney left his long time label, Capitol, and is the first artist to sign with Starbuck’s new music label, Hear Music. It’s a smart move on McCartney’s part. His audience will still purchase CDs especially if that disc happens to be spinning while they are grabbing an extravagant coffee drink. The music industry is changing and Sir Paul is a smart businessman as well as a great musician who still has a lot to offer.

And as an addendum, there is already a rumor going around about the album title. It is claimed the “Memory Almost Full” is an anagram. “For My Soul Mate LLM” (Linda Louise McCartney) is what theorist have claimed. McCartney, who has been through this before, says it is just coincidence. Such is the life of an icon.

Rosemary Welsch, WYEP Afternoon Mix Host