Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full” Redux

This is a more detailed review of Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full album. I have to say after repeated plays it has grown on me. I still give it a 3.5 to 4 star rating on a scale of 5 stars. I’ll just call it 3.75 stars. A breakdown by song follows.

1. Dance Tonight

This song is so infectiously simple to catch that you may find yourself unable to get rid of it. Not that you would even want to. My two-year-old son, Emerson, and almost 10-month-old daughter, Maryen, bounce along to the beat whenever they hear Paul begin strumming the mandolin. Then grins spread across their angelic faces. When my son hears it in our van, he asks “‘Dance Tonight’ again?” as soon as it finishes. Another generation of Beatles fans to keep their music alive.

2. Ever Present Past

Behind the upbeat tempo which sounds like a racing stopwatch in places, are some playful lyrics that hint of the embellishment of the stories of one’s youth or the happy fragmentation of childhood memories. Then comes the bridge with a longing sense of time passing quickly, sadly where one begins to see fleeting time in memories within the maelstrom of childhood and young adulthood. The bittersweet bridge taps into the thoughts of mortality. I like this song. There is an urgency in the bridge’s lyrics that hint at Lennon’s “life is very short” chorus of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” The urgency is that life is never long enough.

3. See Your Sunshine

This song is my second least favorite on this album. Read on if you want to find out what I like least. This song kicks off with a chorus of “do-do-do-do’s” that I think takes away from a nice love song. Lyrically, I like this song. The over-production of it I do not like. Wipe it clean of “do-do” and keep it simple and the song would have been much more effective.

4. Only Mama Knows

This song begins with a few bars of violin only to kick you in the ass with McCartney’s hardest rocking song since 1979’s “Spin It On” on Wings’ last album, Back to the Egg. This song ends with violins again. It is a fun song to rock out to, even if the lyrics are about being abandoned. I do not know why Paul does not rock like this more often, instead of loading his albums with ballads.

5. You Tell Me

The song kicks off with a short piece that resembles a meditative church organ, perhaps signifying the lyrics meditation on summers past. It is a quiet song questioning the reality of happy memories. I think it is a good track on this album. It fits in well with the album’s pensive nature.

6. Mr. Bellamy

Mr. Bellamy is another playful character song about a man (or cat?) sitting up high on the ledge of a building (or in a tree). He has no intention of jumping or getting down, yet there is an effort to rescue him. He just wants some time, space, peace and quiet to think. I think of this song as a metaphor on the intrusion of modern life on our ability to have time, space, peace and quiet to think, to meditate on life and find answers. The song also might be a metaphor for trying to rise above the unwanted advice of others to find one’s own answers. This is stand out track on the album.

7. Gratitude

This song, for some reason, I cannot get into. I jump to the next track when it starts playing. It grates on me. It is my least favorite song on the album. He’s sung like Little Richard much better in the past and this time he falls short. The syrupy “gratitude” sung over and over does not make this song go down any easier.

8. Vintage Clothes

This is the first song of a five-song medley. It has grown on me. It has some nice experimental sounds in it. The lyrics urge the listener to recognize that it is alright to have memories as long as we do not try to live in them. Perhaps there is a “tongue in cheek” reference to the Beatles’ music still being so popular. “Check the rack, What went out is coming back.”

9. That Was Me

This pleasing second song in the medley is like a boastful, yet ponderous trip through a photo album. It has a “Wow! That was me?!” emotional response to seeing these images as you point them out to a younger person. There is a sense of wonder of how a single lifetime can seem like many lifetimes in looking back at it as a whole.

10. Feet in the Clouds

On top of a floating, slowly strumming acoustic guitar this third song of the medley, Paul speaks of being belittled by a teacher for having his “head in the clouds.” He withdrew from the admonishments to eventually have a life of walking in the clouds and boasts he “had it my way.” These appear to be painful memories to recall. Not every recognition of childhood is golden.

11. House of Wax

The medley’s fourth song drips into a melting house of wax. It seems to speak of the lightning strike of Beatlemania and the surreality of it that the poets — the Beatles — tried to make sense of as they went about changing and making musical history.

The surreal quality of the lyrics and the tone of the music make this my favorite song on the album. I think his former bandmates, John Lennon and George Harrison, would have loved the lyrics. Especially John. It is the darkest song on the album in tone and lyrically it is the most complex. It is lyrically a moody piece, a psychedelic piece, beckoning by song’s end that:

Hidden in the yard underneath the wall
Buried deep below a thousand layers lay the answer to it all.

During the height of Beatlemania some people believed them to be the answer. But Paul directs them that the answer is as much in death as it is in life. Every question unable to be answered in life will be answered in the afterlife. The answer is also what one takes to the grave. The entirety of life, of memories, of dreams, of loves, and past loves. It is everything a person is. And if one wants to find it, he or she has to dig deep to find it. The answer is inside all of us.

I have thought many times that Paul could create a song (or even an entire album) like this. Surreal and deep. Complex and psychedelic. It is a lyrical departure from playful, simple songs and slow, sentimental ballads. I have always wanted Paul to rise to the challenge and just blow every critic away with a complex album of a moody, psychedelic tone. Letting down his optimistic nature to reveal an emotionally bare soul as Lennon did with Plastic Ono Band and Harrison did on Brainwashed. Paul McCartney has done it with this song.

12. The End of the End

The end of the medley is an Irish wake, a celebration of a life — its memories, its laughter, its heart, its soul, its stories, and most of all its music. It is a celebration of the departed’s life continuing in those the departed’s life has touched and in the journey of the departed’s life into the promises of a much better afterlife.

The medley as a whole is lyrically more cohesive than the Abbey Road medleys, with the possible exception of the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley. It is a deeper exploration with the experience wisdom and maturity bring. It is a solid medley and yet each song could exist without the others. The fragments of incomplete songs of the Abbey Road medleys needed each other to musically exist. Musically those songs tightly progressed smoothly into each other. The Memory Almost Full medley forms a more complete story and the songs exist as chapters.

13. Nod Your Head

The last song was probably added on to avoid ending the album with a wake. Paul could have ended the album with the sound of shovels digging in the earth, if he had wanted to speak of the finality of this life. But he mentioned a journey in the afterlife in the previous song. And for him he sees it as a party. So he kicks it off raucously. Perhaps he’s admonishing the people grieving back on the other side, telling them that if they really loved him, they should get out of bed and start living again and live optimistically. Or perhaps he isn’t. I don’t know.

The Album as a Whole

If you like this album, nod your head. I am. I find it reminiscent and optimistic. I find its range of styles match its range of moods and themes. It is a cohesive album. It is a solid, quality album. In this day of music downloads causing the album to give way to the single, it is ironic that Paul releases a solid album to usher in his catalog of music for download.

Having initially stated a 3.75-star rating upon listening to the album, I would like to adjust it. I delved deeper into the songs than I thought I would. I found more than I thought I would find. Initially I thought Memory Almost Full was not as good as Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but it is as solid an effort and may even be better. I lost my CD of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, so I cannot play them back to back for a thorough comparison. Hey, Paul, could you send me a copy of Chaos?

I give this album a 4.5-star rating.

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