Tuesday, July 03, 2007

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 two 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 anyay.

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….everytime he announced a song from his solo career, the queues grew at the hotdog stands and bathrooms. I was watching a Beatle but there was a clear notion of 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 them when a) they are tempered by Penny Lane or Rigby’s lyrical majesty, and b) the melodies are so entrancingly wonderful. But Flaming Pie was a 2 ½ out of 5, which was a massive step up from Press to Play or London Town.

And that was then 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 chart, and the last time he did that was on 1971’s lovely throwaway Wildlife. It 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.

paul_mccartney 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 arguably his finest solo album. It has less filler than either McCartney or Ram, and feels less slight and contrived than the only other contender, Band on The Run.

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 acquired the appalling 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 that a decent back 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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