When you have a recorded legacy as monumental as the one possessed by Paul McCartney, it’s difficult to make a dent in it, especially these days when new releases by even the most prestigious of artists suffer quickly deteriorating shelf lives. I would argue though that the three-album stretch begun with Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (I’m not counting the specialty album Kisses On The Bottom) is the finest such stretch of his post-Beatles career. And it all began with this with cumbersomely-titled 2005 album, on which producer Nigel Godrich coaxed Paul to dig deeper, bite harder, and edit more carefully, all while doing his one-man band thing for an album as intimate as the end of the evening and as bracing as the first cold light of day. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “At The Mercy”- The one song here where all of the instrumental passages, while lovely on their own, don’t quite cohere into something greater. It’s too bad, because it’s not often that you get Paul talking about darker emotions like “the fear inside.”
12. “Anyway”- I feel like this song, while pleasant enough, sends the album out on a bit of a recessive note, even with the off-kilter instrumental coda that lengthens its running time.
11. “Too Much Rain”- Essentially a rewrite of the old standard “Smile,” with maybe a little less of the obvious undercurrent of melancholy that the old song possessed. Not bad, but not earth-shaking either.
10. “Promise To Your Girl”- There’s more than a little bit of “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five” in this, the album’s lone true rocker. It has the same kind of shapeshifting quality, at times charging ahead recklessly, at times stopping to ponder its whereabouts with dreamy falsetto vocals. That it holds together is a credit to McCartney’s compositional acumen.
9. “English Tea”- For all of those critics who feel like McCartney can get overly precious at times, this song must grate to no end. I, on the other hand, kind of like the idea of Paul skidding into the curve with this one, owning up to his tweeness with a Victorian era melody and exaggeratedly proper diction. An album’s full of this stuff would be deadly, but one for fun is just fine.
8. “How Kind Of You”- This one takes some clever musical turns, making the gratitude expressed by Paul in the song sound almost desperate. There are many times on this album where the lyrics somehow deepen within their interesting musical surroundings, and this is one of them.
7. “A Certain Softness”- McCartney loves slipping these exotic little numbers onto each album, showing his preference for a mellow, almost jazzy mood now and again. Sounds a little like something Antonio Carlos Jobim might have concocted for Frank Sinatra, which is a good thing.
6. “Friends To Go”- Macca dedicated this one to George Harrison, but I don’t see the connection. If anything, the story of the lyrics slightly recalls The Beatles “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” in the way they detail a wallflower’s wish to remain undetected. One of many tracks on the album that come at us from a funky perspective, making the familiar sound strange and novel.
5. “Follow Me”- Like “My Love” many years before it, “Follow Me” overcomes lyrics that might be considered trite on the page thanks to the moving tug of the music. The verses arch upward hopefully, while the middle eight steps unto the breach, fearlessly bringing our narrator to a much-needed friend. The uplift comes without any forcing, so that can feel good about being gently manipulated into warm fuzzies by a master.
4. “This Never Happened Before”- Consider this one along the lines of “Only Love Remains.” It’s clearly in the vein of adult contemporary, tailor-made for a big-screen romance (and it was indeed used in the bizarre Keanu Reeves time-travel tale The Lake House.) And yet the craft McCartney possesses ensures that it’s quite stirring, as it saunters around in the first half before building to quite a momentous climax.
3. “Fine Line”- One of the odder opening tracks and lead singles in McCartney’s oeuvre, yet it’s compelling nonetheless. The off-kilter, almost dissonant piano riff is actually much more like Harrison than anything in “Friends To Go,” and it draws you in. Even though the lyrics don’t necessarily connect the dots, there are enough intriguing lines to keep you inspecting it. Plus it sets the tone for an album that, as a whole, comes at you from a slight different angle than the usual Macca release (and is the better for it.)
2. “Riding To Vanity Affair”- Since torment often breeds art, it can be argued that the relatively smooth sailing that Paul and Linda McCartney’s relationship enjoyed was not conducive to inspiration. Paul more than compensated over the years, but this moody, piercing track, perhaps aimed at Heather Mills, perhaps not, you be the judge, operates at a rather prickly frequency. And the thing is, Macca was always really good at these types of songs way, way back; I’m thinking of Beatles’ gems like “I’m Looking Through You” and “You Won’t See Me,” from the days when he and Jane Asher were undergoing a tumultuous romance. Kudos to Godrich for pushing him to improve the lyrics of this song; McCartney responded with a suitably stinging rebuke of fake friends.
1. “Jenny Wren”- Again, there’s a bit of a Beatle callback here. Once upon a time, McCartney mesmerized with a toe-tapping, acoustic, avian-inspired number called “Blackbird.” Here he captures that same kind of sound, albeit with an encroaching darkness surrounding it, emphasized by the strangely hypnotic solo from the duduk. My, this is a stunning melody. And Paul fills it with lyrics that dare us to interpret their fascinating suggestions. I’ve always read the song as a lament at how women are left to clean up the messes of antagonistic men. Jenny seems like a Cassandra character, seeing and speaking the truth but never heeded. Somehow both gorgeous and deeply sad. Gun to my head, I’d say it’s the finest song he’s done since Wings’ implosion.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available from the link below or at any online bookseller.)
Paul McCartney wasn’t really planning to reignite his solo career when he made a bunch of idiosyncratic, electronic-tinged recordings without any help from his Wingmates. But a confluence of events made McCartney II, released in 1980, the album to do just that. And it turned out to be unassuming way to shed the trappings of his former band, with a bunch of demo-like, editing-be-damned recordings that were light on import and heavy on quirk. The album wasn’t any kind of grand statement of purpose, which is a big part of its crazed charm. Even though it’s far from a classic, it at least anticipated the musical shift to synths and style that the MTV era was about to engender. Here is a song-by-song review:
11. “Frozen Jap”- I get that this album was recorded in less politically-correct times, but I’m sure McCartney would love a do-over for that title. And the plodding instrumental on which it’s hung isn’t worth the trouble.
10. “Nobody Knows”- This relatively unmemorable romper never quite conjures as much fun as was its intent.
9. “Front Parlour”- It’s not meant to be much more than a palette-cleanser, but it still sounds like a Casio demonstration caught on tape.
8. “Bogey Music”- Partially inspired by a kids’ book, it sort of tiptoes the line between eccentric and annoying a bit unsteadily for my liking. Too bad, because it wastes a pretty good boogie-rock drumbeat in the process.
7. “Dark Room”- McCartney II‘s biggest flaw is that a too-heavy percentage of the “songs” are barely fleshed-out grooves or ideas adorned with all kinds of studio ephemera. “Dark Room” possesses some exotic allure, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
6. “One Of These Days”- It has all the trappings of a classic McCartney acoustic ballad. The melody is tenderness exemplified and Paul sings with affecting earnestness. But the lyrics never really develop into anything profound, thus keeping it from reaching those levels.
5. “Temporary Secretary”- Maybe polarizing, but I think McCartney manages to turn this songwriting exercise into a fun oddball. In its way, it echoes stuff like Devo or Gary Numan from around that time, and, looking further down the road, would have fit in nicely on a They Might Be Giants album. And I consider all those things to be positive.
4. “Summer’s Day Song”- Very few rock composers can pull off a classically-tinged melody without it sounding more derivative than original. McCartney can; he shows off that ability quite nicely on this Mellotron-filled lullaby. Quite pretty.
3. “On The Way”- Let’s give some credit to McCartney’s ability to make homemade recordings like this one sound anything but homemade; it really sounds like some tight little blues band got together to dig into this sultry track. Paul’s reverb-heavy vocal is a good touch against the gritty music. Relatively unheralded but deserving of a listen for sure.
2. “Waterfalls”- As dreamy as the music might seem, there are some urgent sentiments being expressed here. McCartney needs love and love needs caution. His vocal, sweetly vulnerable, makes it abundantly clear that waterfalls, polar bears, and motor cars might seem like a good idea at the time, but really nothing good can come from them. Solid metaphorical writing, lovely, evocative music, and, hey, TLC must have been listening.
1. “Coming Up”- Put aside the recording’s odder elements, like Macca’s megaphone-like vocals and the kazoo-like horns, and you have an airtight pop gem that throws back to early Beatles’ hits penned by Paul like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “All My Loving.” He conjures an effortless groove out of the minimalist music, and that chorus ascends just like the lyrics promise. Nobody did joyful like The Beatles, and this Beatle proves here that the knack for such things never leaves you.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, the first link below will let you preorder my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March of 2017. The second link below is to my Amazon page, where you can find all my Counting Down books and e-books.)
Wings’ unexpected swan song, 1979’s Back To The Egg doesn’t quite deserve the critical lashing it often receives. To some it was dispiriting to see Paul McCartney trailing the blaze of New Wave and punk rock, although the other way to look at it is that at least he had his ear tuned to modern sounds. It is true that the album’s second half is unfocused and the songwriting on the whole is below Macca’s standards, but he throws himself into the thing with abandon, and the last version of Wings is at least an energetic bunch. Here is a song-by-song review:
14, “Reception”- The album’s abbreviated, discofied, instrumental intro seems to make the promise of a concept album that never actually materializes.
13. “We’re Open Tonight”- This meditative acoustic song is another example of an incomplete track that McCartney kind of wedges into the proceedings, albeit without the grace that he once managed on projects like Abbey Road of Band On The Run.
12. “Winter Rose/Love Awake”- These two songs aren’t much on their own and don’t really fit too well when assembled. Back To The Egg has its faults, but it generally isn’t boring. This is an exception.
11. “So Glad To See You Here”- The “Rockestra” band hangs around for this full-throttle track, but the sound and fury turns out to be an empty shell.
10. “Again And Again And Again”- Denny Laine’s lead vocal on the album suffers from weak lyrics, which is too bad, because the thing is halfway-catchy and benefits from some good harmonies.
9. “After The Ball/Million Miles”- McCartney as a gospel emoter hadn’t been heard from too much since his two formidable ballads from Let It Be. These two tidbits of song are nowhere near that category, and the repetitiveness of the thing can be wearying, but it’s an interesting curve ball.
8. “The Broadcast”- It sounds like it wandered in from some forgotten Pink Floyd album. But that stiff-upper-lip voice is strangely compelling, even if it’s completely out of sorts with the rest of the album.
7. “To You”- A serviceable rocker played and sang with gusto. As is the case with much of Back To The Egg, the performance outstrips the songwriting.
6. “Spin It On”- Maybe this was meant to be an answer to punk, but it honestly comes off more like adrenalized rockabilly. Nice guitar work throughout by Lawrence Juber in his Wings debut, and it packs an unfussy punch.
5. “Rockestra Theme”- I’ve always thought it was the height of indulgence to gather a rock supergroup in the service of a pretty basic instrumental (why no solos?). If nothing else though, it showed that Paul’s Rolodex was impeccable, and the melody he composes works nicely in the bombastic setting.
4. “Baby’s Request”- Bing Crosby meets Sam the piano player at Rick’s in this standard-esque closer. Paul has proven time and again he can do this kind of thing; one wonders if he would have been a Cole Porter-type had he been born about a half-century earlier.
3. “Getting Closer”- If McCartney was regurgitating sounds he may have heard from newbies like Cheap Trick or Squeeze, well, turnabout is fair play. “Getting Closer” is taut and freewheeling all at once, a nice single that probably deserved a better radio fate than it actually enjoyed. The escalating, unresolved finish scores it points as well.
2. “Old Siam, Sir”- This song attempts to construct a narrative of sorts and ends up making “Jet” sound like great literature. That said, McCartney’s screaming melody and the muscular, dramatic rock arrangement makes for an engaging, even powerful track. In that way, it resembles a distant, slightly lesser cousin of “Beware My Love” from Wings At The Speed Of Sound.
1. “Arrow Through Me”- McCartney is back in the same kind of quiet storm mode as he inhabited on “Girlfriend” from London Town. The Stevie Wonder vibe is strong with this one, but, hey, in the 70’s, there was no better pop artist to emulate, right? The horns are great, and one of Paul’s more underrated couplets is here: “Ooh, baby, you wouldn’t have found a more down hero/If you’d started with nothing and counted to zero.”
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out the link below to pre-order my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March of 2017. And to check out all of the books and e-books in my Counting Down series, the link below that leads to my Amazon page.)
As a general rule, when Paul McCartney was forced to take most of the burden on himself the create a Wings record, the resulting record turned out to be better than the group’s more democratic efforts. Much like Band On The Run, 1978’s London Town was essentially carried by McCartney, wife Linda, and Denny Laine when other band members headed for the hills at the last minute. And while it doesn’t quite reach the masterpiece status of Band On The Run, London Town, until it peters out at the very end, abounds with such effortless geniality and tunefulness that it makes a strong case to be included among the Top 10 McCartney post-Beatles albums.
14. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”- It gets lost somewhere between traditional folk and prog, and McCartney doesn’t really try hard enough with the lyrics here. Really the only time this album seems ponderous.
13. “Morse Moose And The Grey Goose”- Bizarre right down to the core, this track sounds like McCartney started trying to make some grand statement that got away with him. It’s too bad the last two songs on the disc are the weakest; sequencing (or maybe lack of editing is the better term) mars an otherwise excellent album.
12. “Backward Traveller”- It’s barely over a minute long, but it’s urgently engaging enough to make us wish that it were fleshed out to a full length.
11. “Deliver Your Children”- The minor-key whoosh, the finger-picked acoustic guitar a la “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” the solid harmonies from McCartney and Denny Laine, the refrains: All are fine. The lyrics start well but spin out of focus by the third verse, which keeps this one from quite meeting its potential.
10. “Name And Address”- Not much going on here beyond some rockabilly grooves and McCartney trying out his Elvis impression, which turns out to be not half-bad. The Stray Cats were listening.
9. “Cuff Link”- The light-saber synths are a nice contrast to the ominously funky rhythmic thrum, which, of course, is McCartney on bass and drums, which, of course, turns out to be all you need.
8. “I’ve Had Enough”- It has a very Wings-y feel to it, right? The fact that the song was recorded before Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English skedaddled probably accounts for that, but McCartney is still driving the bus with his feisty vocal.
7. “Cafe On The Left Bank”- The lyrics could have come off as twee, but McCartney’s decision to marry them to some of the toughest music on the disc erases any concerns. Some excellent lead guitar and clopping percussion keep this one vibrant and entertaining throughout.
6. “Famous Groupies”- Maybe not as sweetly appreciative as George Harrison’s “Apple Scruffs,” McCartney’s ode to rock hangers-on is still suitably awed at these sirens’ surprising powers over the musicians they enchant. Winking fun and, you guessed it, catchy.
5. “Children Children”- For my money, this is Denny Laine’s finest moment in Wings. He co-wrote the song with Macca, and you’d have to think Paul had a big hand in the song’s melodic charms, which are hopeful with a slight undertow of melancholy. Nonetheless Laine plays an engaging Pied Piper. Sweet without being cloying.
4. “Girlfriend”- McCartney’s efforts to craft a song for Michael Jackson led him to inadvertently test out his falsetto stylings, which turned out to be quite seductive in their own right; you can kind of understand why the titular character would be stepping out with this guy on the side. McCartney also adds the high-drama instrumental break (omitted by Jackson in his own take), which deepens what could have been just a fun but lightweight ditty.
3. “With A Little Luck”- One of the things critics of McCartney’s lyrics fail to recognize is just how adept he was at matching the words he chose to the the music he crafted. So while “With A Little Luck” might not seem like much on paper, the tentative optimism of the tune is perfectly captured by Paul’s simple declarations. Even the little-engine-that-could backing vocals at the end are right on point. What starts out as a humble tune, barely willing to poke its head out of the ground, becomes quite decisive and stirring.
2. “London Town”- The obviously antecedent here is “Penny Lane,” right down to the colorful characters and dignified brass. That the title track wakes up the echoes of such a formidable number is to its everlasting credit. It also sets a relaxed, benign tone for the rest of the album that turns out to be its calling card. Also, it seems redundant at this point in this particular Retro Review series to say that McCartney writes an enchanting melody, but, really, it’s a beauty. And the brief, rocking break shows there’s some spunk in the old city after all.
1.”I’m Carrying”- I have no idea what the narrator is carrying, nor do I know the occasion of this meeting with him and the girl in her room. But I do know that it is mesmerizingly romantic, thanks to the music behind the tale and the melody with which it is told. The delicately-picked guitar and the carefully-arranged strings form the airborne foundation, and the tune soars even above that with avian grace. In the final repeat of the refrain, you can hear McCartney start to let loose with some wordless “ooo-ooh” vocals, for even he is caught up in the sheer beauty of his creation. Who wouldn’t be?
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Macca’s “other” group, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March 2017. Below that is a link to my Amazon page, where you can check out all my Counting Down books and e-books.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)
Wings’ 1973 album Red Rose Speedway doesn’t deserve the clunker reputation that generally hangs about it. The first side is actually pretty good, with a classic ballad surrounded by a decent collection of songs rendered imaginatively. That second side certainly seems like Paul McCartney had run dry on ideas, however. Certainly better things were just around the bend for McCartney and friends, but this one, while not even in the ballpark of a classic, aims to please and hits the mark at least until halfway through. Here is a song-by-song through
9. “(Loup) First Indian On The Moon”- Pink Floyd need not have fretted; Wings’ entry into the spaced-out instrumental genre stays stubbornly earthbound.
8. “Hold Me Tight”/”Lazy Dynamite”/”Hands Of Love”/”Power Cut”- For a guy who pioneered the art of smushing bits of songs into wholes so much greater than the sum of their parts, he took a huge header with this one. There’s little musical invention here, just a lot of refrains and, most surprising of all, plodding melodies. I sat through eleven minutes of this so you shouldn’t have to.
7. “Single Pigeon”- In another life, McCartney had to have been an ornithologist, such is his songwriting interest in using birds as metaphor. Alas, this ain’t no “Blackbird” or “Bluebird” or “Jenny Wren,” for that matter. It’s not objectionable, but it’s not memorable either.
6. “When The Night”- McCartney’s always solid Fats Domino impersonation (he even lets out an “Oh Darling”) is somewhat undercut here by lyrics that make “Blueberry Hill” seem like James Joyce. And still it’s catchy, effortlessly so, so you can’t be too mad at it in the end.
5. “Big Barn Bed”- Slightly funky music and nice harmony vocals attached to some lyrics that hint at paranoia when they hint at anything at all. It works itself up into a decent lather by the end, just enough to make it worthwhile as an energetic opener.
4. “One More Kiss”- I guess after all these years he still has to follow the sun, so, in this song anyway, he leaves behind a saddened paramour. It’s genial enough, even if it doesn’t change the world.
3. “Little Lamb Dragonfly”- Call me a Beatles obsessive (I’ll own it), but I hear the lyrics in this one as a message to John Lennon, full of regret and yet still holding out hope for some kind of rapprochement. If that were true, the good intentions might be cancelled out by the subtle condescension. In any case, it’s an effectively atmospheric ballad, even if it’s not quite the epic that it seems like it was intended to be.
2. “Get On The Right Thing”- Left over from the Ram sessions, it has that kind of one-man band feel to it. McCartney’s hyperactive but fun drumming calls to mind his work on “Dear Prudence,” and the melody takes so many twists and turns that it keeps you on your toes. The backing vocals are a tad overbearing for my taste, keeping it from four-star territory.
1. “My Love”- Maybe the most polarizing song of McCartney’s solo career, and this ranking should tell you what pole I’m straddling. People get after the lyrics, but my take is that complicated words would only have distracted here. The point here is to keep the sentiment as simple as possible and let the music do the talking, and boy, does it ever. This is one of those Macca melodies that hits all the emotional peaks and valleys, rising to intense moments and then relaxing again to luxuriate in it all. And Henry McCullough’s guitar solo is one for the ages, as it somehow lives inside the lush walls of the song and explodes into the ether all at once. Be cynical if you want, but I’m slow dancing with the missus to this one at every opportunity.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on McCartney’s “other” group, check out the link to pre-order my upcoming book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March of 2017.)
The idea of an off-the-cuff, no-frills album first enchanted Paul McCartney in the late-60’s, which led to The Beatles bickering their way through Let It Be. Perhaps reviving that ethos for the first album by his post-Beatles band, which included drummer Denny Seiwell, guitarist Denny Laine, and wife Linda, before it had established itself wasn’t the best idea. In retrospect however, it wasn’t so much the idea of Wild Life, Wings’ 1971 debut, that was its downfall, nor the execution of the idea; it was Macca’s punchless material, which, for the most part, no amount of improvisational jamming could enliven. Here is a song-by-song review:
10. “I Am Your Singer”- When the best thing you can say about a song is, “Hey, that’s a nice recorder solo,” well, it’s probably two-star material, folks.
9. “Mumbo Link”- The instrumental belching that ends the album. McCartney always liked to take the pomp out of grand closing statements (see “Her Majesty”), so instead of ending with the high drama of “Dear Friend,” Wild Life bows out in appropriately anticlimactic fashion.
8. “Bip Bop”- One fun little throwaway on an album is fine, but having the first two songs be made up on the spot is testing everybody’s patience. This one doesn’t compensate for the nonsensical lyrics with anything memorable in the music.
7. “Bip Bop Link”- Short, acoustic guitar interlude that’s just all right.
6. “Wild Life”- The groove is ominous enough if a tad monotonous, while the message is honorable if a bit muddled. My main problem is that McCartney oversings the song to the point where it almost seems like a parody, thereby undercutting whatever points he might have wished to make.
5. “Mumbo”- Could it have been improved with intelligible lyrics? I say yes. But it’s a fiery jam, if nothing else, which seems to be all that McCartney was after. So I can give this one a pass.
4. “Tomorrow”- Nothing spectacular here, but the piano-based melody is ingratiating as are the backing vocals, which McCartney had a knack for arranging quite sumptuously in this era.
3. “Love Is Strange”- That ain’t a bad little reggae groove that McCartney, Seiwell and Laine conjure; certainly as creditable as The Stones of “Cherry Baby” and others of its ilk. And it’s a good song choice for the genre, kind of wise in a simple way.
2. “Some People Never Know”- It’s an interesting concept for a love song, as you have a narrator deep in a blissful relationship still poking his head out to worry about those who would denigrate the positives of love. The melody in the verses is a bit sleepy, but the bridge is a real beauty. Nice acoustic arrangement as well, but there’s another long, jammy outro that doesn’t add much (bongos, anyone?) Such were the times, I guess.
1.”Dear Friend”- Lovely and sad, this quiet piano meditation was apparently an olive branch to John Lennon after he and Paul had been sniping back and forth in the press and in song following The Beatles demise. McCartney doesn’t back down from embracing his new life, but he wonders if there’s a way forward for the friendship in the new reality of their lives. Those vocals are so piercing they’re spooky in parts, and finally here’s a track where the extra instrumental flourishes add to the desired effect. The one song on the album where the creative spark is not only apparent, it’s vibrant.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” group, check out the link below to pre-order my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs.)