Paul McCartney isn't about to let a little thing like a contentious divorce send him on a bleak confessional bender. He opens Memory Almost Full, his 21st solo album, in fancy-free fashion, pulling out the mandolin and inviting pals over to ''Dance Tonight'' (an alternative gala to Dancing With the Stars?). Still, now that he's 64, even rock's most sanguine superstar is ultimately drifting toward weightier thoughts on mortality and the passing of time. Many of these Memory pieces have Macca taking stock of a pretty cool life that ''went by in a flash'' or, in ''End of the End,'' serenely anticipating his own final curtain. It's his version of Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind...if Time Out of Mind had cutthroat pop instincts and whistling solos.
Any Starbucks employee who'll be forced to spin this nonstop since Memory's the flagship release on the chain's new label should take heart: McCartney's ruminating has somehow inspired his zestiest music in eons. ''If fate decreed that all of this would make a lifetime, who am I to disagree?'' he yowls in ''That Was Me.'' The lyrics are nostalgic, but the music avoids the self-consciously Beatlesque touches of his other recent discs, freeing him up to make the equivalent of a great Wings album (a quality you'll recognize as soon as you hear ''Only Mama Knows,'' a rocker with a distinctly ''Jet'' engine). His best record since 1989's Flowers in the Dirt, Memory is beautifully elegiac and surprisingly caffeinated.
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