Speed along the highway / honey I want it my way

Oh, I’m a suck­er.

I stick with peo­ple, I sure­ly do. Take James Paul McCart­ney. I’ve either bought, or cajoled out of EMI (most­ly the lat­ter in the past decade or two) every post Bea­t­les album he’s made. I bought, with hard earned pock­et mon­ey, McCart­ney, from the PDC in Palmer­ston North in 1970. It was the same shop I’d bought Sgt Pep­per, Abbey Road, Let It be, The Bea­t­les and With The Bea­t­les from, so it was a grand tra­di­tion.

I fol­lowed McCart­ney with Ram and every­thing else, despite the dimin­ish­ing returns. And boy, did they dimin­ish. All was fine until Band On The Run, which felt a lit­tle light­weight but it had boun­cy tunes that worked on the radio.

Then the vac­u­um and the wait came. And came and came. And still, I acquired every album, well aware that there was like­ly noth­ing on them worth my time. All those ter­ri­ble Wings albums – indeed, over the next two decades it’s not an unrea­son­able over­state­ment that there was very lit­tle that float­ed above the crap mark­er, I can only think of the Good­night Tonight 12” mix and per­haps a track or three on McCart­ney II.

But that was it. The only glim­mer of hope came when his col­lab­o­ra­tions with Costel­lo (Just Like Can­dy) arrived in the late eight­ies, but his draw­ings from these (on the Flow­ers In The Rain album) didn’t come close to Costello’s. And the boot­leg ren­di­tions that float­ed around illus­trat­ed to all who still cared to lis­ten (and it was a shrink­ing num­ber), that he need­ed a pushy ego like Lennon or Elvis, but we all knew that any­way

I saw him play in 1993 and, between the cheery, but lite, ren­di­tions of The Bea­t­les hits, we were sub­ject­ed to the hor­rors of Bik­er Like An Icon and the like – every time he announced a song from his solo career, the queues grew at the hot­dog stands and bath­rooms. I was watch­ing a Bea­t­le but clear­ly, or so it seemed, a Bea­t­le past decline.

Then came Flam­ing Pie, in 1997, and it had its Mac­ca moments, despite the trade­mark lousy lyrics, but lousy lyrics have been a McCart­ney fea­ture since – ahh – Michelle, or for that mat­ter Yes­ter­day. You can for­give the vol­ume of bad lyrics when a) they are tem­pered by Pen­ny Lane or Rigby’s lyri­cal majesty, and b) the melodies are so entranc­ing­ly won­der­ful. Flam­ing Pie was a 2 ½ out of 5, but that was a mas­sive step up from Press to Play or Lon­don Town.

How­ev­er, that was fol­lowed in 2001 by the rather won­der­ful Dri­ving Rain, a record that for the first time in decades not only sound­ed con­tem­po­rary but fin­ished. I guess pro­duc­er David Kahne needs to take some cred­it, but I cred­it it more to the fact that final­ly Paul no longer felt the need to com­pete, to make records that might con­quer the charts, and the last time he did that was on 1971’s love­ly throw­away Wildlife. Dri­ving Rain had its hor­ri­bly twee moments for sure, and end­ed with the excru­ci­at­ing­ly awful bonus track, the 9/11 anthem Free­dom, but despite that, it was a con­fi­dent mod­ern pop album from an elder states­man.

But that was only the first step in the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of the man who wrote We Can Work It Out. 2006’s Nigel Goodrich pro­duced Chaos And Cre­ation was a full-blown return to form and is eas­i­ly his finest solo album since the ear­ly 70s.

So to 2007 and a new album and a new label, cou­pled by quite a media ruckus over both his divorce and his move to Starbuck’s Hear Music, plus a return to Kahne as pro­duc­er. McCart­ney was reward­ed for the strength of his pre­vi­ous two stu­dio albums, by his best chart posi­tion in the US for a decade, with a num­ber three album chart entry.

Mem­o­ry Almost Full, how­ev­er, as much as it feels like a com­fort­able old friend from first lis­ten, is not quite the album its pre­de­ces­sor was, but nei­ther is a slip back to the ugly decades. Paul still sounds con­fi­dent in him­self, with absolute­ly noth­ing to prove and this record real­ly has its moments. I love the con­cise Liv­er­pudlian (for want of a bet­ter word) rock­er Only Mama Knows, which sounds like it was honed on the floor of the Cav­ern by a teenag­er bought up on Lit­tle Richard; and the pompy House Of Wax, which is very much Maybe I’m Amazed on some sort of drug; oh, and the sin­gle, the infec­tious­ly charm­ing Dance Tonight, a song that only McCart­ney could get away with – it’s just so FAB and could eas­i­ly have been lift­ed off side two of the The Bea­t­les. There are oth­er moments, quite a few in fact, but I sus­pect that Kahne doesn’t have the same edi­to­r­i­al author­i­ty as Goodrich as the lyrics have re-acquired the dread­ful tag more often than they should, and there are times when you know that some­body real­ly need­ed to say, “no, that bit needs to go”. My friend Chris also notes that a decent back­ing vocal here and there would not go amiss.

But, yes, it’s ok in a Paul sort of way – a lit­tle too slight per­haps and dis­ap­point­ing after Chaos, but as one review not­ed, this is per­haps a more fab album than we, all things con­sid­ered, had the right to expect from Paul McCart­ney aged 65, and I’ll go against the crit­i­cal tide and say that it’s more pleas­ant and less ego­tis­ti­cal­ly faux-roots album than any of the last three Dylan albums. But I know every­one dis­agrees with that so I’ll shut up.

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