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Vinyl Cave: Memory Almost Full by Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney has kept up a steady pace of new albums since his days as a regular on the Top 40 charts faded out, though without that exposure it's hard to say whether his efforts are making their way much beyond a huge and devoted fan base. He's released classical works and a trio of semi-under the radar, more experimental releases as The Fireman, in addition to his higher-profile mainstream rock albums.

As someone who grew up a decade after the band's breakup as an absolutely non-objective Beatles fan, it's tricky to evaluate the quality of Paul's new releases as they appear. On hearing them when new, I've thought all his pop releases since the (initially) Soviet Union-only album of rock 'n roll covers in 1988 have been good. Yes, even the critically hammered Off the Ground. Other than that album, the reception by music writers has often generally agreed with my positive assessments. The naysayers must have mellowed out about McCartney just writing great pop songs -- such as on the still critically hated-on Ram -- and not always worrying about making statements in his music.

The last decade has seen him release the going-in-all-directions Driving Rain, the more concise and catchy (though often melancholy) Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, and 2007's Memory Almost Full. This latter album made some waves even before its release, as it marked the end of McCartney's long-term association with EMI. He became the first artist signed to Starbucks' Hear Music imprint, since shuttered in the company's reorganization.

Like Chaos, Memory Almost Full features many tracks assembled in McCartney's one-man-band format, along with several recorded by a full band. Musically, the album manages to combine a mix of the studio-band sound of the later Wings era, '60s-style production flourishes, and more modern recording techniques into a very coherent whole. It also doesn't hurt that Memory is more rocking than its predecessor.

According to McCartney's website, a number of the songs on the album date to before the Chaos project. Marking the changes of the interim, Gratitude is easy to interpret as a love note to former wife Heather Mills, while references in other songs could be taken as veiled shots at her. Overall, Memory dwells less on love than usual by McCartney standards, and continues the retrospective tone of parts of Chaos.

p>Most of the full band numbers are part of a five-song suite on side two, which flows together as the most memorable music on the disc. The mini-suite's final track, "The End of the End," could be Paul's '00s take on the much-discussed lyric to Abbey Road's "The End," this time considered much closer to his own mortality.

All in all, Memory Almost Full is my favorite new McCartney album in quite awhile, and made me go back and rediscover the excellent Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard. The ever-busy ex-Beatle has since released his third collaboration with Youth under The Fireman moniker, and I'm definitely looking forward to hearing it. (Hear Music 2007)

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