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Being a McCartney fan isn’t easy. A sort-of review.

The first purchased music I ever bought as a kid was a Paul McCartney album on cassette (I am a second-generation Beatle fan).  It actually wasn’t just an album, it was a double album.  My love affair with the Fab Four began with Paul McCartney’s Tripping the Life Fantastic.  By no means is it my favorite McCartney album today, but being the first of many many more, it holds a really special place in my heart.

From that first purchased McCartney album I divereged as a Beatle fan.  I became enthralled with Lennon, immersed if you will.  I devoured every Beatle album from there.  They were ingrained within me.  My 14 year old mind also swam through the shark infested waters of Lennon’s solo catalog. (The Lennon Collection was the first CD that I was ever to own.)  I was in another world.  It was rare that I would listen to Paul’s solo output though.  It’s weird to me now to think why that never occurred.

Paul McCartney

It is just now, though, several years later that I have tackled Paul’s solo back catalog.  Most moments throughout are brilliant.  Although there are clunkers that pop their head up periodically.   Either way, I have become something of a McCartney convert.  No longer do I have to apologize for silly love songs. 

OK, I’ll stop telling most of my McCartney history.  I dunno, this article just made me think of that.  That’s all.

Here’s what we’ve read.

It’s never been easy to be a fan of solo McCartney. And it’s no secret whose fault that is.

Some of the records are good, some great (McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, McCartney II, Tug of War, Flowers in the Dirt). Some are interesting failures (Wild Life, Red Rose Speedway, Back to the Egg, Press to Play, Flaming Pie, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard). Most are abominations (Wings at the Speed of Sound, London Town, Pipes of Peace, Give My Regards to Broad Street, Off the Ground, Run Devil Run, Driving Rain). But even the worst of his albums have between one and three songs that are so unbelievably good, and in the way that only Paul McCartney can be unbelievably good, that some of us—I have no idea how many; I’ve only met a few in person—keep coming back. Still, for every one to three great songs on his great to middling records (and if you’re ever curious, I’ll be happy to tell you exactly what those songs are and what makes them great), McCartney delivers a gesture, a photo, a video, an interview, a thumbs up, a face lift, a chin tuck, a hair dye, a revisionist Beatles reminiscence, a feint at being a regular guy, a wink at the camera that’s so corny, so indefensibly uncool that, as a fan, you can only wince. His recent in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound association with Starbucks for the release of his new album, Memory Almost Full, is only the latest in a long line of bummers, but it’s a big one.

Let me start by saying that the album is not only almost good. It’s his best record since 1989. And though one expects McCartney records to be all syrupy sweetness (I don’t, but one does), Memory is legitimately bizarre. It’s angry and fun, and it takes chances with song structure, textures, and attitudes. It feels contemporary without being dressed up in fashionable sounds. And it’s affecting in ways his music rarely is, not because it’s tender, but because it’s not. The armor suits him when he screams on “That Was Me,” or when he rumbles low in “Mr. Bellamy.” It’s always there, even when he gives directions for his funeral on “The End of the End.” Two or three lesser numbers aside, this is good, vital music. And to think it’s being made by a 64-year-old man whose most important work is inarguably 40 years behind him is pretty goddamn impressive.

Then he has to go and mess it up by trying to act cool.

Paul McCartney was never cool. Obviously. When he was a Beatle, he was really only cool by association with John, who was born cool. George was another kind of cool. Even Ringo was kind of cool. Paul was always off by a step (go watch A Hard Day’s Night). But he was the hardest worker, and he was also the real artist, the real craftsman. He was why the Beatles weren’t just cool. He was why they were the greatest thing that happened to music in the second half of the 20th century (at least). He was the finisher. And the fact that he was so unrelentingly not cool while being so unbelievably good is what makes him such a fascinating pop figure, to me anyway. I keep listening because he still delivers good songs, and always has the potential to write the perfect one. He’s done it before, many times. But even if he pulls it off again, I’m not sure I want to hear it blasting out of the speakers of a Starbucks, to say nothing of every Starbucks, which is where Memory Almost Full received its public debut last week.

• • •

I don’t have a big problem with Starbucks at all. I try to avoid them (unless I’m looking for coffee anywhere else in America besides Seattle, in which case I’ll walk a mile to find one), but whatever. Sometimes it’s just the easiest. Nor do I object to them selling music; most of what they carry is respectable, and the advent of Hear Music, Starbucks’s record label, has generally been beneficial to the careers of good bands. Think Starbucks selling music is lame? Ask the Shins, the Decemberists, Feist, and all the other upper-middle-class indie bands fighting (and I mean fighting) for rack space how they feel about being sold there. For Paul McCartney to align himself with the only demonstrable force left in the world of CD retailing makes perfect sense. But goddamn if I ever want to hear another word about music marketing. And goddamn if I feel the need to be confronted by his music—which I like more than everyone I’ve ever met combined—every time I want a cup of coffee. It feels like an aesthetic assault, not the way you want to discover anything. I went into a couple of Starbucks stores last Tuesday to see what it was like, and what it was like was this: Starbucks with Paul McCartney’s new album on an endless loop. They all had to play it all day. It could’ve been any record. And the other promotional gambits they’d lined up to commemorate the release were no better: video crews dispatched to 10 key Starbucks locations around the world to record birthday messages from fans (to be shown on You Tube when McCartney turns 65 on June 18). And then there’s that picture of him leaning into the frame pursing his lips like it’s 1966, plastic surgery and dye job on full display. I mean, seriously, dude: You’re Paul McCartney. Have some dignity. Neil Young shows his age. Bob Dylan does too. You were once prettier than both of them, but time waits for no man. Cool is a lie anyway. Let it go.

Look, I’m a total sucker. Every time he puts out a new record, even a live record, even a weird sound collage with the Super Furry Animals, even when I already get it for free, I’m gonna buy it. (Not the classical ones, though; a man’s got to know his limitations.) The first one I bought was Tug of War (1982). I have bought 15 more since, plus the 14 that preceded it. Last year I paid $500 for a pair of 10th-row seats to see McCartney and his band play the KeyArena. (Totally worth it, by the way.) We’re into the thousands of dollars if you start counting bootlegs. But I don’t care about the money. And I don’t believe he does either. He wants the glory. Or needs it. For some reason, he continues to set up scenarios that preserve the idea of him as a fun-lovin’, good-time rock star, worshipped by the people, but still of the people. Such a pose is perverse for a man in his mid-60s, but all the more so when his music is as interesting and weird as this new album is. He’s better than that, or at least he should be. That pose was convincing to everyone when he was a Beatle in the ’60s, to people who were too stoned or dumb to care when he was a Wing in the ’70s, and to people who either remembered or didn’t know any better when he was solo in the ’80s.

I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who believes it now.

Source: Seattle Stranger


10 Responses

  1. What the author calls abominations (Speed Of Sound, Pipes of Peace, Off The Ground), I call good; what the author calls interesting failures I call abominations (Wild Life, Press To Play). It just goes to show, it’s hard to find agreement of fans regarding Macca’s catalog.

  2. i found this article so bitter,really full of bitterness,maybe i wrong,but it doesn’t convinced me,at all!how could a reporter telling that he admires sir Paul,and in the meantime despise him,and criticize him in a negative way?i think he couldn’t!because,you can have only two possibilities:you like him and accept him as a person with his qualities and faults,or you don’t like him and nothing else!(this is my opinion).by the way apart from the reporter’s contradiction i loved instead John with no doubt!because i think sir Paul is been much more requested by the female side cause of her image,a well-behaved,clean,tender,sweet image,his well-behaved and respectful attitudes,and his way of singing so romantic,soft,(he was the contrary of John!)than the other 3!in my opinion,i think it’s not beautiful what is considered by thepeople beautiful,i think something or someone it’s beautiful when you really like,but just by your own,individual choice.so,i think sir Paul was really wanted just because of his romantic image,but i think also,John or George,Ringo could be romantics,too!i loved John because he really knew what he really would,because he said everything he thought and he wasn’t scared about it,because i think if you lived with him,you could live some adventures everyday,and above all i loved him,cause of his cheerfullness that sometimes he hidden it inside him,but when he put it out of him,everyday there was a lot of fun!but,back to Mccartney,i think he also has other qualities like for example:he is altruist,he is worried about social problems,nature,animals,he is vegetarian,he loves his daughters and his sons,he written and writing so many beautiful songs,he playies really good,i don’t really know why this reporter criticized him so in this strange way!and above all,he told that some others famous singers looks like younger than sir Paul even if they are the same age as sir Paul or they are older than Paul! i think it isn’t wrong!but right,neither!because even sir Paul looks younger than others 65 years old men!maybe he has some wrinkles on her face,but c’mon,boys!it’s normal!he is 65,now!he could looks younger but years passed even for him! i didn’t like this article,and even if i’m not quite a sir Paul’s fan(i’m John’s one!)i’m a Beatles fan ,too,and because i’m a Beatles fan and i respect very much as people,and like songwriters,singers and musicians sir Paul,George and Ringo i think this article is like something to forget,absolutely!the whole article is all a contradiction!

  3. i will continue to love paul – this person has his opinions, i have mine. i still believe paul is amazing…though i do believe part of

    “Paul McCartney was never cool. Obviously. When he was a Beatle, he was really only cool by association with John, who was born cool.”

    — i believe Paul was cool in his own way, they all were. but i do believe his coolness increased with John…this could just be my Lennon-Obsessedness taking…but i do believe so.

    & what really anoys me about this articale:
    “But he was the hardest worker, and he was also the real artist, the real craftsman. He was why the Beatles weren’t just cool. He was why they were the greatest thing that happened to music in the second half of the 20th century (at least). He was the finisher.”

    i don’t believe this shit for one second. first: how would he ever know what went on? he wasn’t there. not to mention, its again an opinion, so he can thik what he wants. and actually JOHN was the more “real artist” than Paul. i mean, they both are, but come on. Plus, because they both were the driving forces, thats what made the beatles the beatles. obiously, after their split, going solo, they never acheived the fame that the beatles did, nor can they ever dream to. so i really really realy don’t like this article.

  4. I’ve been given a good many opportunities to giggle the last couple of weeks. Most of the paid music reviewers and no few of the volunteers, having discovered that Paul can actually both write songs and sing them, have submitted for our education a list of Paul’s best and worst solo albums.

    My amusement starts in the next review I read in which the two lists are practically identicle except that “Best” and “Worst” captions are reversed.

    This certainly isn’t a new situation with McCartney’s work. My Beatlemania mentor finds Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard to be far from his favorite album but loves Memory Almost Full He loves McCartney II while I think he hung the Moon in Ram (the Monkberry Moon of course.) I also am blown away big time by Memory but I love most of C&C as well; thus proving only that Paul’s writing doesn’t get stuck in a rut. And THAT is one of the best things I can think of to say about Paul McCartney.

    Jane at Marplesbeatles.wordpress.com

  5. Paul may not be the coolest, but I still love him. The man is a musical genius and an all around good guy. Like mom always says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. Chill out Seattle Stranger. :o)

  6. Come on! McCartney releases his best music in years, the cd debuts at #3 on the Billboard charts – with virtually no radio support, and the writer of this article complains about coolness! Anybody who can make music like he does and play bass lines like he does (check out ‘That Was Me,”) has got to be one of the coolest guys to be walking the planet. Get real.

    BTW, Flaming Pie is a terriffic album.

  7. paul is cool but the writer is lame. ulla you are right 100%…bitter paul hater there..that is not the review of a paul fan…..he needs to write about himself since he is so perfect. the press show how stupid they really are…. let the fans review memory almost full not a hater…….. he even admits that he’s not a fan of paul’s solo stuff, why waste paper and write a review.

    “sorry if you thought the beatles were cute in their mop tops and loved a hard days night but we have grown up, have you?”…john lennon 1969…..

  8. for awc1967:REALLY GOOD AWC!!!GO jOHN!!!!!

  9. McCartney with his Hofner strapped on, going through his amazing, jumping basslines, and being able to sing in time through it. Now, that’s cool.

  10. Whatever you think of Paul McCartney, he has to be one of the most influencial musicians the world has ever seen.
    Sure, some songs maybe seen as throw-aways but I dare you critics to name one band or songwriter that doesn’t once in a while get it wrong…
    For the love of god how many songs has Paul written already?!
    The man is 65, has a fabulous past and still a few good songs up his sleeve I’d reckon.

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