Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
There used to be a Fruit Pastel (soft pastel candy for you North Americans) advertisement on television that asked if you could put one in your mouth without chewing. I guess a similar challenge could be to review a Paul McCartney album without comparing. The lazy tendency is to ask how it stands up to the canon: is it as good as Sgt Pepper, or is it a return to form. McCartney has spoken about how he has been able to free himself from such an ordeal but could the critic, looking for a cheap shot? Macca has also been saying that he could never find a song-writing partner like John Lennon and let us face it he has tried with Elvis Costello, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder who are no slouches! And you can't help thinking, "if Lennon had walked in as he wrote 'Mr. Bellamy' or 'Gratitude' or 'That Was Me,' what would have been added? How could these songs have been?" And we are chewing that pastel again!
There is actually much to chew on here. There are some great songs, some rocking riffs, some fascinating sounds and passionate vocals on Memory Almost Full. Having said that when I first heard the single, "Dance Tonight," I thought it was a joke ditty, not a real, live ex-Beatle song, but hey, we've recovered from Frog Chorus's and Freedom and the entire album Press To Play, so a catchy single is no real challenge. Mind you, try to listen to "Dance Tonight" without getting caught in the hum and shuffle! By half way through the opinions have turned and we are into a heavy weight McCartney effort. "You Tell Me" is a guitar ballad with musical intrigue and unsophisticated poetry and beauty. "Mr. Bellamy" has you chewing that pastel with echoes of Sgt Pepper and the character creation of an Eleanor Rigby. There is a lingering outro with lovely soundscapes around spacious piano. It could also have sat neatly on McCartney 2, and that makes you think McCartney 3 would have a good title for the entire project.
Gratitude sees the grit of his old Little Richard voice coming out again. "Vintage Clothes" could be Revolver with great harmonies that are almost Beach Boys (!!) in places and "Twist and Shout" elsewhere. This song leads us into a kind of medley-type section more like Red Rose Speedway than Abbey Road. It all revolves round themes of childhood, a theme that again was very much part of his mid-sixties work like "Penny Lane." "That Was Me" is about The Beatles that speaks of playing with the band in the cellar and TV. It is like an entire biography in two and a half minutes and maybe my favourite McCartney song for quite a while. "Feet In the Clouds" has him back at school. "House of Wax" is surreal poetry that seems to be about warzones and apocalyptic visions and spotting where the poets are. "The End of the End," a companion piece for "Let It Be," perhaps, is as spiritual as Sir Paul ever gets, "At the end of the end / It's a start of a journey / To a much better place / And this wasn't bad / So a much better place / Would have to be special / No need to be sad." It's another song about heavy issues for the man who wrote "Silly Love Songs."
So as I have said, a lot of stuff to chew on, and that is not a bad thing. When you can compare McCartney with the best of his past and a real depth of content, something good is happening.
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian
Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in
with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual
of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out;
Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting
he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day
night @ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web
of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org . He also tries to spend some
with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.