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McCartney's 'Memory' proves just a bit spotty

Anyone mystified by the news that Paul McCartney has abandoned his longtime record company, EMI, and hitched his wagon to Starbucks' Hear Music label hasn't fully considered the marketing potential of this venture.

For starters, tomorrow McCartney's new album will play all day in every Starbucks store in the world. That's some mighty cross-promotion, and it will almost certainly produce huge first-week sales. But it won't make "Memory Almost Full" a great album. This collection is filled with half-baked ideas and shallow reminiscences, a pair of dated rockers, and one meditation on mortality that manages to be maudlin and bubble-headed at the same time. It smacks of Wings at its goofiest.

Of course even Wings had Paul McCartney in the band, and the man can write a charming melody. High points on the album include "Mr. Bellamy," a quirky, chamber-pop portrait that meanders through several movements, and the final minute of "Feet in the Clouds," where McCartney slices and dices his voice into lovely, machine-treated layers. "Dance Tonight," the opening song and lead single, is barely a song, more of a smiling aural snapshot of strummed mandolin and stamping foot. But in its simple grace the tune feels far more substantial than much of the deceptively orchestrated fluff that follows.

For his 21st solo album McCartney gave the boot to Nigel Godrich -- the longtime Radiohead producer who coaxed such remarkable depth from the artist on 2005's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" -- and reunited with David Kahne , who produced Macca's 2001 disc, "Driving Rain" (as well as recordings by a slew of other artists from the Bangles to the Strokes). By the sound of it, Kahne was content to play with arrangements and knobs. He plumps and ornaments peppy ditties like "See Your Sunshine" and a dead-end blues called "That Was Me" with enough instrumental cheer to generate an effervescent vibe, if not quality songcraft.

But there was no smart editing, no big-picture conversation, no quality control. McCartney needed someone to tell him that his exhortation on "Vintage Clothes" (Don't live in the past!) doesn't jibe with the "Ever Present Past" he celebrates so jauntily (and with so many '80s-style synths) a few songs earlier. Or that "Gratitude" is a bad song. Or that "Nod Your Head," a harsh and creepy amalgam of "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" and "Live and Let Die," was an ill-advised way to close this lightweight album.