For music critics—and probably some Beatles fans—Paul McCartney's latest solo effort, Memory Almost Full, is a big pink elephant in the room. It's the first proper release from Starbucks' Hear Music label, and its pink-and-black packaging, goofy photo book and apologetic title are all a little suspect. We want to acknowledge it, we know it should be acknowledged, but we are afraid. We're afraid of the by-yuppies, for-yuppies Starbucks stigma. We're afraid of the negative thoughts it could conjure toward a great pop-music legend. So we let it sit on desks or shelves, waiting.
But Starbucks employees—who had to listen to the album repeatedly on the day of its release (Tuesday, June 5)—didn't have that luxury. So I asked a few of them to share their thoughts on the record, and, somewhat surprisingly, the young baristas I spoke with had nice things to say—or nothing at all. At Northwest 21st Avenue and Lovejoy Street, a young brunette told me, "It's pretty good. It's poppy, you know." But after a moment she added, "I don't know if I would buy it myself." She also offered to put it on for me, as did every employee I spoke with.
Another young lady at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Overton Street told me, "We're not supposed to talk to the press at all." Though a (wink, wink) customer did say, "[McCartney] is one of my musical idols. [Memory] is what I expected. He's mellowed out over the years." She specifically mentioned liking the mandolin on "Dance Tonight" and the distorted guitar on "Only Mama Knows" (a song that may actually be a bit too rockin' for the adult contemporary set Memory is sure to attract). And Memory Almost Full—which, mysteriously, is an anagram for "For my soulmate, L.L.M." (McCartney's late wife, Linda Louise McCartney)—is certainly eclectic. From bluesy, "Get Back"-style growls on "That Was Me" to soulful piano pop ("Ever Present Past"), experimental rock ("House of Wax") and mature ballads ("The End of the End"), the album's greatest fault is embracing the occasional cliché. But when you're an artist whose imitation spawned rock clichés to begin with, that's pretty forgivable.
One employee admitted that though some Starbucks-touted music—which ranges from pretty excellent (Feist, Wilco) to pretty shameful (Maroon 5, Keith Urban)—makes her go "ewww," she hadn't really focused on Memory just yet. But I got the impression that, once she did, she'd judge it fairly. In fact, her attitude gave me hope that no matter who bankrolls your music, it still has the opportunity to speak for itself. And listening to Memory proved to me that Starbucks-issued McCartney is really nothing to fear—unless, of course, you have to listen to it "all day." As the aforementioned brunette assured me, "That was a little much." ?