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Snap Judgment: Paul McCartney's YouTube video premiere

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The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper may be rapidly approaching its 40th birthday, and the guy who sang “When I’m 64” on that disc, Sir Paul McCartney, is closing in on his own 65th. But don’t think for a second that he’s lost touch with pop culture’s cutting edge over the decades — or at least, don’t say so to his face. Sir Paul has been going to great lengths lately to show that he’s still way hip, after all. First, he decided to ditch the archaic major-label system and release his new album Memory Almost Full (due June 5) on Hear Music, the upstart label created by Starbucks. And yesterday, he announced that the video for Memory‘s first single, “Dance Tonight”  — directed by of-the-moment helmer Michel Gondry and co-starring the similarly au courant Natalie Portman — would get its world premiere via YouTube. (That’s right, folks, even the Beatles know what YouTube is. Maybe Ringo’s watching your webcam diary right now!) The clip’s already up, a few hours ahead of schedule. So is it any good, or just a gimmick? (Check it out below, then click through for PopWatch’s insta-take after the jump.)

First things first: This isn’t some amateurish viral clip — I’m looking at you, Diddy.This is a full-fledged collaboration with Gondry, one of the mosttalented directors working today. (Sir Paul agrees: In a press release,he says he thought Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind “had agood sense of humour and was a very well-made film.” Quite so.) Andthis video is pure Gondry. It opens with a few quick music-free scenesbetween Macca and a package-delivery guy, whose thoroughly awkwardinteractions recall Gondry’s The Science of Sleep. Soon enough,McCartney’s unwrapping a brand-new mandolin and beginning to play thesweetly melodic “Dance Tonight.” From there, as so often in Gondry’swork, things take a distinctly dreamlike turn. Gondry uses the samevideo-projection technique he deployed in the White Stripes’ “DeadLeaves and the Dirty Ground” video to sprinkle a few gamboling ghostson the screen; one of them is Portman, though I didn’t even recognizeher on first watch. The delivery guy freaks out right away, butMcCartney seems quite content as he wanders through his increasinglysurreal home, accompanied by a growing conga line of translucently-projected guests.

Overall, it’s something of a retread for Gondry — there are none of themind-boggling visual twists that show up in his best work — but that’sstill not half-bad. Gondry’s warmed-up leftovers, after all, are stillhotter than most directors’ fresh meals. And the low-key tone turns outto be a great fit for McCartney’s song. Those ethereal dancers, presentbut intangible, dramatize his themes of time and loss without gettingtoo maudlin. When Sir Paul himself becomes one of the video ghosts inthe clip’s final scenes, it’s a perfect nod to his own slow progresstoward memoryhood. And given that McCartney hasn’t made a music videoworth watching since — I dunno, “Ebony and Ivory”? — this one is adefinite treat.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Will you be clicking again on SirPaul’s digital delight? Does this make you more or less excited for Memory Almost Full — or do you even care at all what McCartney’s doing these days?