Don't let the impeccably bright melodies or clever, accessible arrangements fool you. On Paul McCartney's 21st solo album, Memory Almost Full, this master craftsman of the artful pop song focuses on somber topics - divorce, growing old, dying - as the uncluttered music maintains a lively mood.
McCartney lyrically eschews (for the most part) the twee approach that has marked his solo recordings and his work with Wings. He has long written poignantly reflective songs over quirky, unerringly melodic arrangements. But Memory Almost Full feels more upfront, certainly less pretentious than his early solo records or even his most recent albums. Macca isn't looking through rosy shades anymore.
For the bold new album, McCartney took an equally bold approach in promoting it. After having been on EMI since his Beatles days in the early 1960s, McCartney signed to Starbucks' Hear Music label for Memory Almost Full. The video for the album's first single, "Dance Tonight," premiered last week on YouTube and has been viewed more than 500,000 times.
While lyrically exploring his life today at 64 (the age he famously mythologized 40 years ago on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), McCartney isn't regretful. Mortality haunts the album, but the artist maintains a sense of optimism, as heard on "End of the End": "On the day that I die/I'd like bells to be rung/And songs that were sung/To be hung out like blankets/That lovers have played on."
On the spirited "Gratitude," McCartney unblinkingly addresses the end of his marriage to Heather Mills. But he does so without a trace of vinegar: "I'm so grateful for everything/You've ever given me/How can I explain what it means/To be loved by you."
But not all of Memory Almost Full centers on evocative reflections of the past. This is a Paul McCartney album, so jaunty, pointless songs pepper the mix. The CD opens with one: the stomping, slightly corny "Dance Tonight." "Mr. Bellamy" is another needless, overlong number, but the sprightly, keyboard-led arrangement is interesting.
Though the music is invigorated and memorable throughout, McCartney, who worked with producer David Kahne, offers no new tricks. He essentially recycles glints of Wings and the best of his solo work. But the candid record is more focused than his last album, 2005's mellow, meandering Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. It's a colorful, unromantic look at an amazingly fruitful life.