CK Retro Review: Pipes Of Peace by Paul McCartney

Recorded for the most part at the same time as predecessor Tug Of War and released by Paul McCartney just a year later, 1983’s Pipes Of Peace suffers by comparison to the earlier album. It’s hard to hear some of the songs and not think that they were leftovers. That said, it’s the more experimental album, as McCartney and producer George Martin attempted to keep listeners on their toes, not easy to do for an artist as ingrained in the culture. They occasionally succeed and occasionally overdo it, but the efforts are admirable. Here is a song-by-song review (ratings based on a five-star maximum):

TWO STARS

11. “Tug Of Peace”- Attempting to provide a kind of link to the previous album, McCartney included this percussive, electronic quasi-instrumental that calls back to “Tug Of War.” Busy, but not that engaging in the end.

10. “Through Our Love”- The idea, I suppose, was that this would be the unifying, stirring ballad to wrap it all up. But it’s lyrically underwritten (lots of “true/you/do” rhymes) and lush enough to cause a toothache.

THREE STARS

9. “The Man”- The arrangement is a little overbaked, helping to undercut some interesting ideas (the lyrics are a kind of cousin to “The Fool On The Hill”) and the combined charisma of McCartney and Micheal Jackson on the lesser of their two collaborations on the album.

8. “Average Person”- Some of the effects get a bit cloying on this track, one which would have been better served by just playing it close to the vest with the solid piano-driven rhythm. Maybe one too many musical ideas on this one, but McCartney’s energy and commitment keep it afloat.

7. “Sweetest Little Show”- On this track, some good-natured rockabilly gives way to a contemplative acoustic guitar part. This is one of the times on the album where the experimental bent helps lift what could have been a pedestrian track.

6. “Hey Hey”- A fiery instrumental co-written by jazz fusion legend Stanley Clarke. It kicks up more dust than anything else on the record.

5. “Pipes Of Peace”- The title track is quirky and melodic, even if it seems grafted together from the bones of other songs, including ELO’s “Fire On High,” The Beach Boys’ “Heroes And Villains,” and Macca’s own “C Moon” and “Let ‘Em In.” It always struck me as the set-up for a concept album that never materializes, but it’s heartfelt enough to register.

4. “The Other Me”- It’s not me; it’s me. That seems to be the argument leveled here by the guilty suitor portrayed by McCartney in this nice, if relatively inconsequential, little midtempo number. And, hey, haven’t we all acted like a “dustbin lid” from time to time?

3. “Keep Under Cover”- It has an effective, stomping groove that nicely counteracts the strings and really pops when it emerges from the dreamy opening. The lyrics mainly stay out of the way, but McCartney sings them fervently enough to make you think there’s more there than meets the ear.

FOUR STARS

2. “Say Say Say”- McCartney certainly got the better end of the bargain when it comes to his collaborations with Michael Jackson. Whereas Michael kept the limp “The Girl Is Mine” for Thriller (and, who remembers this, actually released it as the leadoff single,) Paul was able to include this pop-funk ripper (and “The Man”) for Pipes Of Peace. He wouldn’t always be so fortunate in his business dealings with the Gloved One, of course, but these were happier times between the two. Their ease together pours out of the speakers here.

1. “So Bad”- I’ve professed my affinity for Paul’s occasional falsetto soul testifying elsewhere in this series, and he really nails it in this one. I’ll also defend the lyrics, which may seem to some to be mindlessly simple. I would argue that complicating them would have distracted from that melody, as soft and mesmerizing as a leaf gently twisting in the wind as it falls to ground from on high. Should have been a bigger hit, if you ask me.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul McCartney’s first band, check out the link below to preorder by new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, which arrives in March.)

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CK Retro Review: Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

The show must go on, as they say, and Paul McCartney rose to the occasion on his first album following the death of John Lennon with one of his finest efforts in years. 1982’s Tug Of War reunites him with George Martin, who brings his gilded touch to the album, especially the ballads, which are uniformly fine and occasionally brilliant. The mid-tempo numbers glide about elegantly, while the harder stuff is feisty and fun. The first side outdoes the second side by a pretty good margin, but overall Paul was back on firm, crowd-pleasing footing with this one.

TWO STARS

12. “Dress Me As A Robber”- Way too busy, this Latin/disco number doesn’t ever settle on an identity.

11. “Be What You See (Link)”- Dreamy interstitial that’s gone almost as soon as it arrives.

10. “Get It”- McCartney’s chance to work with idol with Carl Perkins is far from objectionable. But there’s not much to it that will make it stick in your memory banks, other than Carl’s laughter at the end of the track.

THREE STARS

9. “The Pound Is Sinking”- It gets a little more twee than some of Macca’s biggest critics would like, but the bounciness of this rundown on the world’s currency keeps it in the black. Good enough to be somebody’s favorite on the album, for sure.

8. “Ebony And Ivory”- Hey, we’re not arguing that the views on race relations are anything too profound. But the melody is as comfy as old slippers, and the funky coda where McCartney and Stevie Wonder go to town with some vocal improvisations is worth the price of admission.

7. “Somebody Who Cares”- The way the bluesy, minor-key verses open up into the surging chorus is the evidence of an old pro at work. This one doesn’t do too much but what it does it does well. Pleasant on the ears, for sure, if not particularly challenging.

6. “Ballroom Dancing”- It’s kind of out of place on the album, but I guess it would be out of place on any rock album (except maybe the White Album, where stuff like this was all part of the crazy tapestry.) McCartney’s ability to pull off this antiquated material always amazes me; even when you don’t think it’s what you want to hear, he convinces you otherwise.

5. “What’s That You’re Doing”- Wonder revives some of his mid-70’s magic with this relentless funk workout, letting Paul tag along for the ride. It doesn’t go very far from its initial groove, which carries it a long way, although maybe not quite six-plus minutes down the road. Still, the two superstars fit together seamlessly on a song that easily could have been a hit had they edited it down and released it as a single. But “Ebony And Ivory” sold about a quadrillion copies, so who am I to quibble?

FOUR STARS

4. “Take It Away”- If there’s a fault to be found with this song, it’s that it very much sounds like it could have been on a late-70’s Wings album, not quite in synch the early 80’s times. Still, McCartney is relaxed and smooth throughout, with the lyrics tripping off his tongue effortlessly and the charging chorus, with “Savoy Truffle” horns and Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd pushing the beat recklessly onward, is grabby. Paul’s bass work counters the light-footed melody nicely. Everything in its right place.

3. “Tug Of War”- McCartney keeps the lyrics vague enough that they might refer to his relationship with Lennon or to actual armed combat. Or maybe both. It nicely captures the senselessness of combat, much like Floyd’s “Us And Them” in that regard. The inherent sadness in the song comes from the unspoken fear that the “time to come” and “another world” promised might not actually arrive. In addition, it smoothly modulates between the acoustic, dreamy opening section and the urgent, electric second half. An excellent starter, for sure.

FIVE STARS

2. “Wanderlust”- I know that Paul has certain crowd-pleasers that have to go into every concert, but I couldn’t believe when I read that he has never played this live. Ringo adds his inimitable sense of touch on the ballads here, the horns are suitably buoyant, and McCartney sings the stuffing out it. When all of those countermelodies start to crash into one another in the final moments, prepare for the chills you’re bound to receive. As moving a defense of restlessness as you’re ever going to hear; the Captain, representing the staid world that refuses to take chances, gets his head handed to him in this musical argument.

1. “Here Today”- Imagine the pressure McCartney must have felt to make some sort of epic statement on his relationship with Lennon. That he had the foresight to pull back and simplify things down to their essence is beyond admirable; it was a stroke of genius. The song sidesteps the sappiness that easily could have enveloped it while still delivering raw emotion, and Martin does one of his stirring without being showy arrangements in the fashion of “Yesterday.” Isn’t that what friendship is, the idea that someone gets inside the song that we sing in a way that mere acquaintances can’t possibly achieve? Hurting as we all were, McCartney’s song was as much what we needed to hear as it was what he needed to say.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, in the link below. It’s due out in March.)

 

 


CK Retro Review: Their Satanic Majesties Request by The Rolling Stones

Blame it on the lack of a George Martin type to bang wild musical ideas into coherent shape. Blame it on the drug arrests and court dates that diverted focus from the record. Or just blame it on the fact that The Rolling Stones were well out of their wheelhouse in the wilds of psychedelia. For whatever reason, 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request, its devoted group of contrarian supporters notwithstanding, was a bit of a mess then and still a bit of a mess now. Yet it did have a pair of crackling tracks to buoy the second side and would have been a great deal better had like-minded songs from the era “We Love You” and “Dandelion” but included. And, if nothing else, it served its purpose of refocusing the band on the earthy path it was always meant to tread, leading to the greatest period of music in their career. Here is a song-by-song review:

ONE STAR

10. “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)”- What happens generally is we move on to the next track and make a mental note not to cue up this endless instrumental the next time around. It’s less pretentious than “Revolution 9” though, so that’s something.

TWO STARS

9. “Gomper”- If they were indeed aping Sgt Pepper’s, I guess this was their “Within You, Without You.” The Quiet Beatle need not have felt threatened.

8. “In Another Land”- Bill Wyman finally gets his showcase. Alas, the harpsichord-laden verses are the kind of trippy pondering typical of that era that hasn’t aged that well. It’s too bad because the chorus ain’t half bad.

THREE STARS

7. “On With The Show”- Although it feels tacked-on to sort of force a concept-album feel, the song surprisingly proves that Mick Jagger could do McCartneyesque whimsy with convincing flair.

6. “2000 Man”- Had this song stuck with the folksy acoustic segment all the way through, you might just have ended up with a four-star number. Jagger actually was building a nice melody there with some interesting lyrics about a family man’s inner malaise, which, details aside, sound striking similar to the existential concerns of family men through the ages. Instead it segues into a somewhat forgettable up-tempo theatrics that dull the impact somewhat.

5. “The Lantern”- Again, you’ve got a song that’s too fussy by half and Jagger’s lyrics refuse to let you grasp on and hold, which admittedly isn’t a dealbreaker. Still, there are musical moments on this song as pretty as anything else on the record, so it doesn’t wear out its welcome like some of the other stuff. They’d get a lot better at these dreamy songs that suggest a lot more than they say; see “Moonlight Mile” a few years down the road for a good example.

4. “Citadel”- There’s a pretty good rocker that’s desperate to escape the haze of the production; you can hear it whenever Keith Richards’ ominous riff comes to the fore. Same with Jagger’s lyrics, which get a bit lost in the clamor. Still, a little more of this darker approach would have gone a long way.

3. “Sing This All Together”- The start was promising enough, a percussive, genial sing-along featuring Beatle buddies John Lennon and Paul McCartney on backing vocals. The lyrics in the refrain capture the questing nature of the time pretty well.

FOUR STARS

2. “2000 Light Years From Home”- Well before Major Tom got lost in space, The Stones were already musing on the eerier aspects of exploring the outer reaches of the galaxy. Jagger allegedly wrote it during his one-night prison stay, and his hollowed-out vocal of his icy poetics still haunts. Richards makes his presence felt here more than anywhere else on the album, both with his slightly sinister opening notes and his bludgeoning riffs late in the song. This is Brian Jones’ time to shine, making that Mellotron sound wondrous and terrifying all at once. Stanley Kubrick was already well into making 2001 at the time this song was released; otherwise you would swear he took some inspiration from it.

1.”She’s A Rainbow”- Nicky Hopkins brilliant piano work alone is enough to carry this one a long way. Add in John Paul Jones’ tender string arrangements and Brian Jones bringing the brass on the Mellotron and you have lusciousness galore. These elements are melded together in ingenious ways around Jagger’s tale of a girl who’s literally colorful. Sometimes they’re all in there together being prodded forth by Charlie Watts pummeling drums, and sometimes they step out on their own for charming interludes. The end result is a song packed with dynamic surprises.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com of follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, check out my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs, which you can preorder via the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467