I've had Sir Paul on the brain lately, big time. He's been on the gossip pages lately, for one thing; for another, there's been an ongoing Beatles vs. Kinks discussion on the Kinks Digest, with the anti-Beatle forces stooping to a lot of vitriolic Paul-bashing, which really gets me steamed up. And for a third thing, I got a chance to hang out yesterday with my fellow Kinkette Nancy, who's always good for a mutual Macca swoon. (A lady of great taste, there.) So happy birthday, Nancy -- this one's for you.
I realize that I didn't give Memory Almost Full its due when it came out this summer -- it was released the same day as Nick Lowe's At My Age, a coincidence which overloaded my circuits for a few days. But I could tell from the very first listen that Paul had hit another one out of the park, and this track in particular jumped straight onto my list of all-time favorite McCartney numbers (granted, that's a long list).
It's irrepressibly sunny, an aspect of McCartney that turns off some folks -- but not me, no way. It's his fundamental take on life, and always has been. Get that melody, for one thing, so distinctively McCartneyish, a joyous roller-coaster ride from the very first note. The first line of the verse swoops downward, with just one little syncopated hitch halfway; the second line sweeps buoyantly back up, followed by a diving third line and a fourth line that climbs one last mini-peak to resolve the whole thing. Whatever the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (and he's had a few lately), somehow Macca manages to end on a major chord. The arrangement is seamless pop, a fluid stream of synthesizers and guitars that verges on sounding dense and overproduced -- definitely more Wings than Beatles -- but it never tips over into glossiness or bombast.
I have to admit, I always search McCartney songs for coded autobiography, and this one comes out with it right away: "I've got too much on my plate." (Imagine the sorrowful pout on that low note of "plate"). But when he adds,"Don't have no time to be a decent lover," I know he's waiting for us female fans to protest. We're hanging on his every word, and yearning for the promise of "I hope it isn't too late / Searching for the time that has gone so fast / The time that I thought would last / My ever present past." Now, I'll be honest, I have no idea what he's referring to --his late wife Linda? his insurmountable Beatle reputation? the tabloid-dogged shame of his messy divorce? All of the above? I do love how it evokes the jumbled emotions and memories of middle life (I refuse to call it middle age). Life's still happening, but you've got a lot of baggage by now. Why did we ever think this aging thing would be simple?
The tune gets even perkier in the chorus, as he flicks through a string of vague profundities: "The things I think I did / I do, I think I did / The things I think I did / When I was a kid." No specifics, just what it felt like to be one of rock 'n' roll's most fortunate sons. Macca was always a great chameleon, who could play any instrument and sing in any genre so long as someone would listen. And while he was busy tap-dancing, life slipped past. "I couldn't understand a word that they were saying," he admits in the bridge, "But still I hung around and took it all in / I wouldn't join in with the games that they were playing / It went by, it went by, in a flash / It flew by, it flew by, in a flash." That stunned repetition is wonderful, a humble groping for truth rather than pompous sermonizing. I may be old, but I haven't got all the answers, he's admitting -- in fact, I haven't got ANY answers. Sounds a lot to me like Ray Davies' "You're Asking Me."
The rhythm is unpredictable, another McCartney trademark (bassists do love to play with rhythm), energized by a propulsive tempo. Somehow this song always seems to be running away with itself, and Macca's hanging on for dear life, though with an insouciant smile. Well, life's a slippery proposition. Plenty of older artists ponder this truth with despair and gloom. Not Paul McCartney -- he's still tap-dancing; that all he knows how to do. And he's the best.