Review: Paul McCartney, Memory Almost Full
Forty years ago (!) McCartney wrote the classic “When I’m Sixty Four”. Now, at age 65, he’s released “Memory Almost Full”. I expect almost everyone familiar with the Beatles will listen to McCartney’s new CD with this somewhere in mind; certainly every review I’ve read points it out. What struck me on listening to “Memory Almost Full” was how life at age 64 as envisioned by McCartney when he was in his twenties failed to capture what he has ended up doing.
The 64 year old man in the old Beatles song was pretty much following the script of what younger people and society in general expect of the “elderly”. “You can knit a sweater by the fireside / Sunday morning go for a ride / Doing the garden, digging the weeds / Who could ask for more” Well, it seems McCartney, for one, could ask for more, as could anyone else who sees no need to conform to expectations when there are so many interesting, exciting and enjoyable things to do in the world.
“Memory Almost Full” is a rich, sweet, pop album that is not afraid to rock made by someone who is actively interested in making good music right now. In other words, it’s not at all what is generally expected from old musicians who were popular in their youth. Lyrically many of the songs take the perspective of a liftime that is closer to the end than the beginning. McCartney considers his life from his present vantage point and, for the most part, avoids maudlin sentiment or pompous self affirmation. However the music is as fresh and clean as it was forty years ago. On “Memory Almost Full” McCartney comes across as a guy who’s more concerned with making music than projecting an image. He uses the techniques and methods he knows well and has used before but because he isn’t simply following the same script he’s executed time and time again he’s still producing exciting music. Compare with a group like, say, The Rolling Stones, who have basically been making the same tired old album for how many years now? Years? How about decades. The vocal break near the end of “Memory Almost Full”‘s “Feet in the Clouds” is more creative and interesting than anything the Stones have produced in close to thirty years.
The upshot is that, contrary to almost everyone’s expectations, McCartney, who always seemed the most staid and conservative of the Beatles, has turned out to be the rebel who undermines and subverts the status quo with his music. The Stones were supposed to be the rebels and for decades they have been noisily playing that role. But that’s all they’ve been doing, playing a role, following the script, all image and little substance. Keith Richards as the gay pirate. Now there’s dangerous rebellion for you. Meanwhile McCartney undermines expectations, stereotypes and the social roles demanded of his age group simply by continuing to do what he’s always loved doing. Making good music without regard to anything other than “How does this sound? Will adding this make it better? How about if we try doing it this way?”
The most notable thing about “Memory Almost Full” is how fresh and alive it sounds. Which is precisely what makes it so subversive. Sixty-four year olds aren’t supposed to be doing anything that could be described with the adjectives “fresh” or “alive”. McCartney rebels by showing us that whether you’re 24 or 64 you don’t have to play the role society expects someone of your age to play. You can do what you have fun doing.
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me / When I’m sixty-four”. Sounds to me like the answer to that turned out to be a resounding “Yes”.
Music from this CD can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 005 – Playlist 1
3 Comments »