Paul McCartney’s 14th solo studio album, Memory Almost Full was the first release by Starbucks’ Hear Music label.
The album had a long gestation. McCartney recorded the first set of demos with his touring band in September 2003 at his Hog Hill Mill studio in East Sussex. Around nine songs are known to have been worked on.
The following month sessions began at Abbey Road Studios, with David Kahne producing. Eight songs were recorded at Abbey Road: ‘You Tell Me’, ‘Only Mama Knows’, ‘Vintage Clothes’, ‘That Was Me’, ‘Feet In The Clouds’, ‘House Of Wax’, ‘The End Of The End’, and ‘Whole Life’.
The sessions were curtailed, however, when McCartney opted to work with producer Nigel Godrich on a new set of songs, which were released in 2005 as Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.
When I was just finishing up everything concerned with Chaos and had just got the Grammy nominations [in 2006] I realised I had this album to go back to and finish off. So I got it out to listen to it again, wondering if I would enjoy it, but actually I really loved it. All I did at first was just listen to a couple of things and then I began to think, ‘OK, I like that track – now, what is wrong with it?’ And it might be something like a drum sound, so then I would re-drum and see where we would get to.
I took it from there and built it up. I went through, track by track, making changes as I went along. I fixed things I wasn’t too keen on and it just evolved from there. Without me knowing, or really trying, it started to get its own theme, a sort of thread that holds it all together. So I suppose it’s about half new stuff and half old stuff from 2003.
Work on Memory Almost Full resumed in late March 2006, and continued in April and July. Around 20-25 songs are believed to have been recorded during this time, although a number remain unreleased. Sessions took place at Hog Hill Mill, Henson Studios in Los Angeles, RAK and AIR studios in London, and SeeSquared Studios in New York.
In a burst of creativity, ‘Mr Bellamy’, ‘Ever Present Past’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Nod Your Head’, and ‘In Private’ were all recorded on the same day. The other songs taped during this period were ‘Why So Blue’, ‘222’, and ‘See Your Sunshine’, and work on the 2003 recordings also continued.
‘Dance Tonight’, the last song written for the album, was recorded in January and February 2007 at RAK, and ‘Feet In The Clouds’ and ‘222’ were reworked, while other titles were completed. One song, ‘Perfect Lover’, had been recorded in 2005 for Chaos And Creation but was rewritten as ‘Ever Present Past’.
The opening track of the album is ‘Dance Tonight’. I recently got myself a mandolin and I was just playing about with it and came up with the basis of this track. A couple of weeks ago we made the video, which was great fun. It’s directed by Michel Gondry and stars Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Crook. I’m not going to give the plot away. You’ll have to go and watch it for yourself, but we had a good time doing it.
With recording finally complete, the album was mixed by David Kahne and Andy Wallace at SeeSquared, Soundtrack, and Hog Hill Mill studios.
Lyrically, parts of Memory Almost Full drew on McCartney’s Liverpudlian upbringing. In particular, the album closed with a song cycle which referred to his childhood, and also his time with The Beatles.
In places 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. The album is evocative, emotional, rocking, but I can’t really sum it up in one sentence.
There is a medley of five songs towards the end and that was purposefully retrospective. I thought this might be because I’m at this point in my life, but then I think about the times I was writing with John and a lot of that was also looking back. It’s like me with ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – I’m still up to the same tricks!
The songs also referred to past relationships. McCartney’s first wife Linda had died of cancer in April 1998; he wrote the song ‘You Tell Me’ about her.
‘See Your Sunshine’, however, was described by McCartney as “pretty much an out-and-out love song for Heather. A lot of the album was done before, during and after our separation. I didn’t go back and take out any songs to do with her.”