Friday, November 09, 2007

"Ever Present Past" / Paul McCartney

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.

Ever Present Past sample


IƱaki said...

I think this could have been one of the best songs in Paul's career, but I'm sorry to say that I don't like the way it sounds. And I don't like it because of the "fluid stream of synthesizers and guitars that verges on sounding dense and overproduced -- definitely more Wings than Beatles". I like this acoustic version much better:

Lyrically it's very good and the melody is very catchy, but to me the album version sounds like made by a computer. We can't agree always! ;)

Anyway, even if I liked Chaos more I find MAF an interesting album and it has a few songs that are between my favourites by him. House Of Wax, Mr Bellamy, Why So Blue... Have you heard Why So Blue?

You're right Holly, Paul is the best.

Happy Birthday Nancy.

Holly A Hughes said...

Mmmm, Why So Blue -- I was hoping to avoid buying the expanded Memory Almost Full, but then I heard that song and realized I had to buy the new version too. And I suppose I should be mad at Paul for the bait-and-switch, but being mad at Paul McCartney just doesn't work for me. (Now, if Mick Jagger had pulled a fast one like that...)

Thanks for the link to the acoustic version. Excellent! And you know I usually prefer an acoustic performance -- but I've gotten hooked on the charged-up energy of the album cut. We're way past critical judgment here!