Record companies, which were designed to sell physical products to brick-and-mortar stores, are so 20th century that even old-timer Sir Paul McCartney is hawking his latest album with the help of a glorified coffee shop. There is a method to the Cute Beatle's madness. After all, Hear Music, Starbucks' record label, helped make Ray Charles a superstar again, 30 years after most fans had stopped paying attention. Since people are more likely to pick up a CD while ordering a latte than to actually set foot in a record store, the odds look good that "Memory Almost Full" will be a hit.
But there's something more interesting than a businessman striking the most lucrative deal for himself. It's easy to forget that even though the guy is about as legendary as a legend can get, McCartney's last two studio albums have sold fewer than 1 million copies in the States combined. And, despite all the hype surrounding "Memory Almost Full," his new record is a stinker.
Many feel that McCartney has a permanent "Get Out Of Jail Free" card thanks to such works of genius as "Yesterday," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Hey Jude," and... the list goes on. But with so much money involved, was it right to let this record out of the gate based on McCartney's past glories when, if it didn't have his name on it, would have been relegated to "Click here to purchase now" status on someone's Myspace page?
The record sounds unfinished. The lyrics are insipid even by McCartney's standards. The music borders on amateurish. But because he was a Beatle 40 years ago, he gets more free passes from the music press than George Bush got after 9/11. Journalists who get paid to be objective are reviewing this album as if they're on Sir Paul's payroll. Evan Serpick, in Rolling Stone, references everything from early Beatles straight through to "Abbey Road" for the sake of hopeful Beatlemaniacs, as well as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, for those who only know McCartney as the guy who was too dumb to sign a prenup when he married Heather Mills. We don't hear any of that, any more than we hear Beatle-esque hooks on a Nine Inch Nails record because Trent Reznor owns a copy of "Revolver."
Let's face it -- Kelly Clarkson is not a legend. But she's had more hit singles in the last five years than McCartney has had in the last 20. And still, BMG had the guts to reject her new release, even on the heels of one of the biggest selling records of the decade. (They've since conceded, and the record will be released in June.) McCartney is one of those artists who, when he makes a good record, it usually sells (1997's critically acclaimed "Flaming Pie" is his best-selling record of the last 15 years, selling about 700,000 copies in the U.S. and earning gold record status), and when he makes a bad one, it usually doesn't (2001's horrible "Driving Rain" sold less than 400,000, even with a hugely successful tour promoting it), no matter how much hype is behind it. Every Starbucks will be playing "Memory Almost Full" all day on June 5, the day it's released. If Hear Music really wants to sell this record, maybe they should reconsider.
Everyone, no matter how talented, can use some guidance. McCartney may have his producer, David Kahne, but we can't help but believe that someone of McCartney's status would ever be told what to do by anyone, with the possible exception of his longtime producer and mentor (and fellow knight), Sir George Martin. We may not have written "Yesterday," but after a lifetime of listening to and loving Paul McCartney and the Beatles, we wish Sir Paul had been as creative when writing and recording these songs as he was when it came to selling them.