Paul McCartney | Wynton Marsalis

Paul McCartney Gives Starbucks a Hit

Paul McCartney. You know, he's 64 years old. On June 1, he celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' landmark album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

Four days later he will release his newest album "Memory Almost Full." This is a landmark of sorts, too. It's his first album release on Starbucks' Hear Music label. McCartney, the most successful pop performer/singer/writer in history, has left the mainstream music business.

The good news is that "Memory Almost Full" is excellent, just as good as his Grammy-nominated "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard."

But McCartney, sources say, felt that Capitol Records did nothing to promote "Chaos" despite its four nominations. The album, like most of Capitol's releases, went nowhere. So the pop star is gone, and his departure is a blow to a record company on the ropes.

McCartney took his entire back catalogue with him when he left, too. This includes all his solo albums, and Wings releases, everything from McCartney to "Ram" to "Band on the Run" and "Chaos."

It's not like CDs still really sell or that many people are busy looking for "Red Rose Speedway" or "Flowers in the Dirt," but still: McCartney as a solo artist is one of the great success stories in the now nearly dead music business.

Whether taking "Memory Almost Full" to Starbucks is a smart move remains to be seen. The coffee chain has had a lot of hits with other company's releases, but also some duds. Can you say Antigone Rising?

And, of course, Starbucks also sells CDs at high prices. I have personally resisted James Morrison's album while waiting for cappuccino because it's $14.99. I could download it for $5 less.

On the other hand, outside of Amazon.com, Starbucks is one of the few places people my age will buy a CD at all. The remaining "record" stores are multitask disasters with thunderous hip-hop music making the visit very unpleasant.

Like most everything else in the music business, the era of contemplative record hunting through bins is over.

Even so, buying "Memory Almost Over" in Starbucks should prove to be a rewarding experience. McCartney is true to form on this CD, offering lush ballads and jangling rockers with as much gusto and unembarrassed gushing as ever. From the opening track, a mandolin-powered ebullient "Dance Tonight," to the closing power surge of "Nod Your Head," he's still got it.

Of course, nowadays, you listen to a Paul McCartney record more closely than ever for the lyrics. Is "Dance Tonight" some kind of comment on his gold-digging ex-wife's stint on "Dancing with the Stars"? Is the beautifully wistful "You Tell Me" sung to his late, beloved wife, Linda? What about "Ever Present Past" and "Vintage Clothes"? Aren't they nostalgic reminisces of that first, now much-missed marriage? It would seem so.

My favorite track, "That Was Me," a rockabilly shuffle, is disarmingly reflective for McCartney. For years, until his excellent "Flaming Pie" album, he eschewed real emotion for a veneer of flashed peace signs.

"That Was Me," as it is, inaugurates a five-song medley that finishes off "Memory." "Feet in the Clouds," "House of Wax" and "The End of the End" comprise the bulk of the medley. Some of the publicity compares this to the suite on "Abbey Road." Not really.

The medley really reminded me of a similar one on "Red Rose Speedway" and on some of the other solo albums. Paul McCartney loves a medley, you know. He loves stringing together short bits with different melodies.

Luckily, he's good at it. His medleys usually contain at least one gem. Back on "Red Rose," it was "Hands of Love." On this album, it's "Feet in the Clouds," a tour de force where McCartney — who has absolutely improved 100 percent as a lyricist — insists he has his "head on the ground" in a Beatle-esque counterpoint that even John Lennon would admire.

What will happen when "Memory" joins the ventis and the grandes and the chocolate-covered graham crackers on the Starbucks shelves?

Already, McCartney says he has made a video for "Dance Tonight" with director Michel Gondry. Natalie Portman is featured in it. But neither MTV nor VH1 plays many videos, and none by rock stars who will turn 65 three weeks after his album is released.

But no one writes or sings like Paul McCartney. After a roller coaster career of tremendous highs and curious lows, he has acquitted himself brilliantly on "Memory Almost Full."

Wynton Marsalis Honored?

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis may have been honored for something last night by Mont Blanc and the Tribeca Film Festival down on the very Lower East Side of Manhattan.

I don't know if he was, since when I arrived I was told that there was no room at the dinner despite the evidence of many empty seats. And this was after receiving countless e-mails beckoning yours truly to this mysterious event.

The forlorn unoccupied chairs may have belonged to the celebrities who were advertised but didn't show up: Drew Barrymore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alicia Keyes, Lucy Liu, Chelsea Clinton, Ed Burns, Parker Posey and Ludacris.

I did see writer Salman Rushdie with wife, Padma Lakshmi, who hosts "Top Chef," so I guess they are still together. Grace De Niro and actress Naomi Harris were also on hand, but I was told they couldn't be interviewed.

"No one can be interviewed," a publicist whispered to me with great urgency.

Marsalis apparently also was not available.

Marston Associates, whoever they are, owe me $11 for a wasted cab ride. But I did get a great, cheap Mexican meal at El Sombrero with another reporter, Jeffrey Slonim, and PR star John Medina, who works with Peggy Siegal.

On the sign outside El Sombrero, just in case you don't speak Spanish, there's a picture of a sombrero and these words: "The Hat." It's as if they consulted David Lynch.

The real shock of the new Lower East Side, by the way, is the proliferation of fancy little shops. This was the "World of Our Fathers," the great gate of immigration from the opening of Ellis Island in 1892 through the 1930s.

Pushcarts once lined the streets; now there are Jaguars. The discount luggage shops on Orchard Street are threatened by boutiques full of $500 pocketbooks the size of ... luggage. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, whom I miss more each day: "And so on."

As the Talking Heads once put it: "You may ask yourself, How did I get here?" The answer is: an $11 cab ride.