CK Retro Review: Venus And Mars by WingsPosted: October 13, 2016
It’s never a good sign when an album is more well-known for the tour it spawned than for the music contained on it. And Paul McCartney’s decision to allow some of his fellow Wings to take the lead might have helped band harmony, but it didn’t help the quality of 1975’s Venus And Mars. Macca didn’t produce any out-and-out classics for the album either. That said, if you only consider his songs, there’s an impressive variety of styles that he covers here that are all handled adeptly, and his commitment to the material is never less than full-tilt. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt”- Caught between a generic rocker and quasi-mystical claptrap, Denny Laine’s lone writing contribution to the album is eminently skippable.
12. “Crossroads Theme”- Wings interpretation of the theme to a long-running British soap opera is tacked on at the end because, well, why not, I guess.
11. “Letting Go”- An odd choice for a single this. Maybe McCartney felt he needed a rocker to put across to the masses, but why he chose to embellish it with such overbearing brass and such embarassingly clunky lyrics is a mystery.
10. “Medicine Jar”- Jimmy McCulloch does a nice job here as a frontman, even if the song doesn’t quite feel of a piece with the rest of the material. Sad subject matter though considering his drug-and-alcohol-related death just a few years later.
9. “You Gave Me The Answer”- McCartney has never been shy about his love of pre-rock genres, and his facility with melody translates across the eras. This is by no means good enough for the Great American Songbook, but it’s charming nonetheless right down to the old-timey vocals.
8. “Venus And Mars”- The acoustic-and-synth opener to the album, it’s intriguing enough that one wishes to hear the full song. With the reprise, you kind of can.
7. “Venus And Mars (Reprise)”- See above.
6. “Magneto And Titanium Man”- Casting Marvel superheros and villains as side players in the tale of an alluring female robber shouldn’t work, but McCartney’s conviction makes it so. It doesn’t hurt that the rhythm keeps your head bobbing even when the narrative twists and turns beyond all sense.
5. “Rock Show”- It rocks convincingly and includes some nifty interludes that show off McCartney’s ability to seamlessly meld seemingly disparate parts into a whole. Songs about the life of a touring rock band are notoriously hard to pull of though, since the average Joe can’t relate, and I’m not sure if Paul completely clears that hurdle here. But the energy wins the day.
4. “Love In Song”- The melody carries this a long way, as does McCartney’s lovely, yearning vocal. You can make fun of the lyrics if you want to when you read them off the page, but, in the context of the dreamily melancholy tune, they’re just fine.
3. “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”- I guess I could nitpick and wish that Paul had written another verse to beef this one up. But the sentimental sway of the chorus gets me, as McCartney sweetly imagines the inner life of an elderly couple. It might not be as incisive as John Prine’s “Hello In There” about the subject matter, but it deserves credit for even considering that subject matter at all.
2. “Listen To What The Man Said”- He could crank out tunes like this with such effortlessness that he was often taken for granted at the time. Now when you look back at the catalog and see the sheer amount of indelible singles he turned out you have to bow down to the magnitude of it all. There’s a sweet message in the song about love’s indomitable nature that the melody delivers right to the heart. McCartney’s vocal sticks to the sturdiness of that main tune, allowing Tom Scott to sprint all over the place on sax for just the right flourish.
1. “Call Me Back Again”- You’d never guess that the bulk of Venus And Mars was recorded in New Orleans from the sound, with the striking exception of this track, which is kind of a son of “Oh Darling” what with McCartney soulfully emoting. The horns are employed much more artfully here, and Paul does this kind of scream-singing as well as anyone. You can imagine him on his knees in the studio, wracked with emotion as he hopes for that call back. Wonderful performance.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul McCartney’s “other” band, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March 2017. The link below that is to my Amazon page, where you can check out all my Counting Down books and e-books.)