The latest releases reviewed

PAUL MCCARTNEY Memory Almost Full Hear Music *

After a lifetime with EMI, McCartney heads across to a new record label (co-formed by Starbucks). The general rule of thumb is that a first release on a new label is good enough to give new bosses sleepful nights and old bosses a V-sign, but this is something else altogether: who would have thought that a sound so densely bland could come from a man who helped create a new blueprint in popular music? There isn't a halfway decent song here; when Macca slows it down it gets as thick and sweet-sick as a container load of molasses; when he revs it up, it comes across simply as an old geezer overdoing it. No one expects McCartney to come close to the quality of his work in the 1960s and 1970s (and a portion of the 1980s), but these songs are so poor it's a wonder someone at Starbucks Head Office didn't choke over their skinny- malinky frappuchino when they heard the finished album. Available from Starbucks joints from next Friday; stick with the latte and muffin instead. www.paulmccartney.com TONY CLAYTON-LEA

MUMM-RA These Things Move in Threes Columbia ***

Mumm-rockers everywhere will rejoice that Noo, Niall, Gareth, Oli and Tate have finally released their debut album, seven years after they formed as callow 15-year-olds in Bexhill-on-Sea. Years of playing town halls, rowing clubs and village fetes have helped the five-piece develop their musical chops, and their early prog-psychedelic noodlings have been refined into such sharply focused powerpop songs as Out of the Question, She's Got You High, Starlight and This Is Easy. Take Klaxons' glo-sticks away and teach them to play properly, and they might have come up with the swirling guitar-synth mix of Song B, The Sick Deal and What Would Steve Do? Closing track Down Down Down has vestiges of Mumm-Ra's adolescent Floyd obsession, but overall they've kept the musical substance while avoiding bombast and mock- sincerity. www.mumm-ra.com KEVIN COURTNEY

Download tracks: Out of the Question, She's Got You High

THE NATIONAL Boxer Beggar's Banquet ****

2005's Alligator secured a universal thumbs-up from music journalists and bloggers alike, and many of that critical cabal wondered if the Ohio-born, Brooklyn-based five- piece could possibly equal it. Boxer kicks off with the gorgeous, piano-led Fake Empire and the Interpol-inspired Mistaken for Strangers; you begin to hope that it sustains this standard, and it does. The tone, varying from country gothic to dark ballads (Green Gloves) is more circumspect than its predecessor, and some of the arrangements, for all their sparseness, can stop you in your tracks. Matt Beringer's voice has a doleful beauty, never better than on Racing Like a Pro and Ada (both featuring Sufjan Stevens on piano), but it's the understated hybrid of brass, strings, piano and drums that combine into something very special. One of 2007's most inspired releases. www.americanmary.com SINÉAD GLEESON

Download Tracks: Fake Empire. Squalor Victoria. Mistaken for Strangers

NELL BRYDEN Second Time Around 157 Records ***

Mari Wilson meets Lyle Lovett, with a detour via a wide-awake Norah Jones: New Yorker Nell Bryden's distinctly catholic taste serves her well, and sets her apart on her first long player collection, following the mini-album From Midnight On. Bryden's songwriting straddles country, blues and jazz, with a respectful nod in the direction of big band, propelled by the twin engines of her throaty voice and her swaggering writing style. Pedal steel and washboard colour Where the Pavement Ends, conjuring vague echoes of Cher during her Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves era, but it's quickly usurped by the most subtle Brazilian percussion on Goodbye. The occasional lumbering production aside, this is music for ears unperturbed by dilettantism, and imaginations ripe to trace an alternative arc. www.nellbryden.com SIOBHÁN LONG

Download Tracks: Goodbye, Late Night Call

RICHARD THOMPSON Sweet War rior Proper ****

Our hero returns to sparkling form on this first collection of new material since the disappointing Front Parlour Ballads (2005). That doesn't mean the British legend has been resting on his deserved laurels; there have been compilations to compile, including his hugely entertaining 1,000 Years of Popular Music project. This collection has obviously, though not totally, been inspired by the war in Iraq, and there's an urgency and edge which has been missing in recent outings. It can't be easy to sustain the kind of moral intensity Thompson has thrived on. But his guitar playing is on fire: intricate, detailed fills contrast with flashing dramatic chords and full-blown searing solos. And songs such as Johnny's Far Away and Poppy-Red remain, like his guitar playing, distinctive hybrids of traditional form and rock sensibility. www.richardthompson-music.com JOE BREEN

Download: Dad's Gonna Kill Me, Too Late to Come Fishing