In the Autumn of 2003, Paul McCartney started recording a batch of songs for his new album. However, he wasn’t satisfied and started work on a new project with producer Nigel Godrich, which was subsequently released as “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard” in September 2005. Between March 2006 and January 2007, he reworked six of the the initial songs and wrote some more which then became “Memory Almost Full”. Five of the songs on the album were recorded in one day in March 2006 day with Paul McCartney playing all the instruments.
An anagram of “Memory Almost Full” is “For My Soulmate LLM” and Linda McCartney’s middle name was Louise. Many of the songs, especially the medley of five songs that take up most of Side Two, are concerned with looking back. Paul McCartney said “A lot of it is retrospective, drawing from memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone.” An observation that many people make about Beatles’ songs is that, in the second half of their career, many John Lennon songs were personal whereas Paul McCartney’s songs were more observational. This album is, possibly, one of the most personal albums of his career. In April 2006, he separated from Heather Mills and it is inevitable that feelings of sadness and regret surfaced in the songs, even though he would never write something that specifically refers to an incident in his personal life. He said “There is quite a bit of retrospective stuff, and looking at that, I thought, ‘Whoa, I wonder if there’s any particular reason?’ But then I thought, when I was writing ‘Penny Lane,’ that was me in my early 20s writing about when I was 15, 16. That’s retrospective. It’s a natural thing, I think, for a creative artist. Because the past, in a way, is all you have.” In another interview, he acknowledged that “it’s a very personal record and a lot of it is retrospective, drawing from memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone.“
“You Tell Me” is a languid, drowsy song with yet another beautiful melody, backwards guitars and lyrics that recall a long hot hazy summer. Was he really there – he can’t quite remember. “Was I really there with you? Let’s see – you tell me.” Paul McCartney’s voice is high pitched and fragile, quite unlike a lot of his work.
One day, Paul McCartney went into his favourite guitar shop and he was told that they had a left handed mandolin in stock. He realised that he didn’t know how to play it, so over Christmas, he taught himself by composing a new song, “Dance Tonight“, which his three year old daughter, Beatrice, started dancing to.
Paul McCartney is famous for a “thumbs up” sign to show that he is feeling positive and grateful. To celebrate this attitude, he wrote a song called “Gratitude” which he described as “just me being grateful for the good stuff in my life, past and present. That’s the thing about me, when I talk about love, it’s often general; it’s not always specific. If people think these songs are specific to Linda, that wouldn’t be true. But they’re pertaining to Linda, or my children, or other things in life for which I feel grateful.“
The five song medley on Side Two starts with a track called “Vintage Clothes“. Paul McCartney still owns an old mellotron and the sampling and looping that this vintage machine permits forms a crucial part of the song. When discussing this song, he said something very interesting about his rationale for working. “I always loved that ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the tape loops on the Beatles track ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. That was like, ‘Yes!’ It’s the same thing I’m trying to do now though, which is just do something to interest and excite myself. It’s very selfish really, but why not? I mean, why else do you write music and write songs? It’s not really for any other reason than to turn yourself on, you know?” The lyrical content of the song addresses the contradiction of professing to look forward, not backwards, whilst wearing vintage clothes.
“That Was Me” is a great up-tempo rock song in which Paul McCartney looks back to his youth when he was at a scout camp, on a beach, “Merseybeating” with his band, sweating in dirty clubs. He states “that was me” as if in awe of his younger self, scarcely able to believe it.
“Feet In The Clouds” starts by Paul McCartney remembering that his teachers told him that his head was in the clouds. Musically, this is interesting with a string section, a vocoder and falsetto backing vocals.
“House Of Wax” is a brooding, echo-heavy meditation on sudden revelations, degeneration and destruction. “Hidden in the yard, underneath the wall, buried deep below a thousand layers, lay the answer to it all.” Paul McCartney’s voice has never been stronger and the terror and strength it conveys reminds me of the title track to “Wild Life“. Rusty Anderson’s electric guitar playing is astonishing and helps to make this song one of the most interesting and dynamic songs of his career. In my opinion.
As if that wasn’t remarkable enough, the final song in the medley is “End of the End“, in which Paul McCartney addresses the issue of his own death. He doesn’t consider it to be a sad song. “I started thinking of the Irish wakes and this idea of, sort of, celebrating a person’s life, so I just wrote on the day that I die I’d like jokes to be told and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets. I kind of surprised myself, I think, with that. I was glad it came out celebratory instead of kind of morbid.” The songs lyrics describe death as “the start of a journey, to a much better place,” and he thinks “that may well be true. Nobody knows for sure. I think ‘There is more in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ — Horatio — but you know, I think it’s a great world, I think we screw it up probably. I think it basically is a sort of fantastic place, so there’s no reason for me to think that after it isn’t fantastic, too. But it’s a guess.”
This is an astonishing album that reveals much about Paul McCartney’s feelings and attitudes.