As music sales continue to shrink and the industry remains helpless in its fight against piracy, news of Paul McCartney s deal with Starbucks’ newly formed music label quickly became the hot topic among Rock critics and the music industry as a whole.
Starbucks marketing strategy was simple and smart. By playing and selling McCartney s album in branches of the coffee-house empire around the world, the legendary star would receive a huge amount of publicity. In turn, radio stations that stopped playing his music would be forced to alter their position. More importantly, the record would be sold in its vast international network of cafes, a unique selling outlet.
Some critics saw the former Beatles’ move as desperate attempt to reach a new, younger audience as well as reconnect with his older fans, many of which stopped buying his solo records years ago. Others rejected transforming music into a mere commodity.
Audiences, however, couldn t care less. The album debuted in the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, making it McCartney s best-selling solo album in more than a decade.
Doubtless, Starbucks marketing is the key reason behind the album s success. That’s a shame, however, since Memory Almost Full is McCartney’s weakest set of songs since 1993 s Off the Ground.
Not that the record is bad; it simply doesn t measure up to the bittersweet contemplation of his last record Chaos and Creation at the Back Door or the majestic elegiac of 1997 s Flaming Pie.
McCartney s solo career was fraught with turbulence and inconsistency. Between the 70s and the 80s, he produced only two albums that can be classified as great: 1971 s Ram and 1982 s Tug of War.
Despite the critical success of those two albums, McCartney s post-Beatles output was eclipsed by former band-mate John Lennon s phenomenal records as well as George Harrison s masterpiece All Things Must Pass.
The albums McCartney released between Tug and Pie slipped from the average to the inconsequential. The revelatory Pie, which was written during Linda s painful last days, launched McCa s longest successful streak. It continued with Run Devil Run (1999), the uneven, yet ambitious Driving Rain (2001) and the aforementioned Chaos.
With the release of his latest creation, McCa s fans assumed that the effects of his nasty and much publicized divorce from Heather Mills might seep into his music. It did not. Instead, he created a concept album about memories, past lives and mortality.
The album kicks off with Dance Tonight, a catchy, endearing ditty performed primarily on ukuleles, setting the generally jovial mood of the album.
Ever Present Past is one of the many album cuts that see Liverpool s favorite son revisit his adolescence. For McCartney, his memories merge with his present until they become an entity hard to separate. That Was Me, a blithe swing number with shades of blues and rock, fondly recounts his time in scout camps, with The Beatles and in film.
McCartney does not have regrets; he regards his past with a smile in appreciation of the countless moments of bliss he enjoyed. Only in the almost mournful You Tell Me does he completely divulge a yearning for the freedom and innocence lost through the years.
See You Sunshine and Gratitude touch upon his relationship with Mills and, surprisingly, he doesn t appear to hold any grudges. On the contrary, McCartney is grateful for the love she gave a lonely man living with a memory. Ultimately, both songs sound shallow, naive and strained.
Memory, lyrically and sonically, is a throwback to the gaudy musical arrangements of Wings, McCartney s second band. While the album is a leaner, more cohesive record than the majority of his post-Beatles work, few of the songs are truly memorable.
No other musician can match McCartney s knack for producing a great melody, and there are splashes of greatness scattered in several parts of the album. Over-ambition remains his Achilles heel, and unlike Chaos, the new album finds him trying too hard to little effect.
Along with You Tell Me and Dance Tonight, the album is worth purchasing for End of the End; a poignant mediation about death in which the 65-year-old star envisions his funeral and the peacefulness of an afterlife.
On the day that I die I d like jokes to be told, and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets, he sings without a hint of cynicism or sorrow. The old British lad has finally come to terms with his fragile existence and it no longer intimidates him.
Memory Almost Full is available at Virgin Mega Stores and I-Tunes.