They'll be sipping java to a sage McCartney

Paul McCartney is doing more than the gardening, and is most sincerely not wasting away.

Macca, as you might have heard, is 64. But as the cute Beatle inches closer to retirement age, he's behaving like a thoroughly modern guy.

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He's just made his solo material available digitally on iTunes for the first time, and rumor has it that an Apple-to-Apple agreement will soon find the Beatles catalog online as well.

Sir Paul has also been talking up his new touchingly personal album, Memory Almost Full (MPL Communications ***), with newfangled Internet sites such as pitchforkmedia.com as well as old-fashioned outlets like the New Yorker.

He's also found an up-to-the-minute way to sell it, leaving his longtime corporate companions at Capitol Records to sign a deal with Starbucks' Hear Music label, which will result in the CD's being played continuously all day today in more than 10,000 java joints around the world.

And what will those soy-frappuccino swiggers be hearing? A 13-song collection that (not surprisingly) flows with McCartney's usual melodic grace while it is (surprisingly) underlined by a sweet sadness that gives it more compelling depth than anything he's produced in some time.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, McCartney's 2005 collaboration with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, had considerable charms, but the excellently titled Memory Almost Full cuts deeper.

It starts off with the winningly simple "Dance Tonight," a sprightly mandolin strummer that has a video directed by Michel (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) Gondry that costars Natalie Portman, a chum of McCartney's daughter Stella.

McCartney is often typecast as featherweight because he makes lighter-than-air music that seems to come to him so effortlessly, and he suffers in many ways from comparison to a sainted former songwriting partner who possessed a biting intelligence that's rarely been matched among rockers. And, OK, he's written more than his share of lightweight, silly love songs.

But the passage of time and the pain of loss - this is a guy who's lost one wife to cancer and is going though a messy divorce with another - give ballast to Memory Almost Full. As does the act of looking back, after more than 40 years in showbiz.

On the smartly-non-nostalgic "Vintage Clothes" and "Ever Present Past," McCartney gets downright Faulknerian in his acknowledgment that the past is never dead, it's not even past.

And on the five-song suite that ends the album, he takes a long, deliberate look back, bemused by all the experiences that "make a lifetime" on the bouncy "That Was Me" and sounds ruminative yet sanguine at the piano as he imagines his own funeral in "The End of The End."

Thankfully, we haven't quite reached that point yet. It's still handy to have you around, Sir Paul.


Rihanna
Good Girl Gone Bad
(Island/Def Jam **1/2)

It's not as if the Barbadian-born Rihanna ever came across with the fatty island patois of a Marcia Griffiths or a Cocoa Tea.

But since her dancehall-style debut, 2005's "Pon de Replay," Rihanna has found her cadences and melodies leaner, meaner and less Caribbean with each record. Maybe hit-makers like Jay-Z - the label boss who raps on the electro-pop single "Umbrella" - and Norway's Stargate team coaxed her from the island's lilt.

More than likely, it's 19-year-old Rihanna calling the shots.

Like the image she's forged - a sleek fashionista with severe cheekbones - Good Girl is dramatic and hard without losing track of Rihanna's sensual charge.

The snap-crackle of electro-dance with synths and tech-heavy kicks (on "Push Up on Me") allows Rihanna to retain her soft sexuality. Even when bugged out on "Breakin' Dishes" or crooning through the wince-worthy lyrics on "Rehab," cowritten by Justin Timberlake, Rihanna just ain't nasty.

Even if she wants to be.

- A.D. Amorosi


To hear samples of "Memory Almost Full," go to http://go.philly.com/albums


Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or ddeluca@phillynews.com. Read his blog, In the Mix, at http://go.philly.com/inthemix.



They'll be sipping java to a sage McCartney

Dance Tonight / Paul McCartney

Ever Present Past / Paul McCartney
The End Of The End / Paul McCartney
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