Thursday, October 1, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL MCCARTNEY - TUG OF WAR, PIPES OF PEACE REISSUES
The latest two deluxe and super-deluxe reissues from McCartney's past focus on his early 80's albums, a pair done post-Wings, and marking a major shift in his career. A couple of major events had happened: The drug bust in Japan was a big downer, and put an end to his touring days for the time being, and the murder of John Lennon was an even worse blow. He was feeling unloved and unappreciated, and that pushed him both creatively and competitively.
The first move was teaming up with George Martin again. This was risky on the p.r. front, as it invited Beatles comparisons. But it also meant the old habits would return, with the pair sparking each other with ideas. McCartney could go for pop hits again, a place he wanted to be, on top of the charts.
Tug Of War had a checklist of McCartney menu items. There were the fun hits (Ebony and Ivory, Take It Away), the serious songs (Here Today, Tug Of War), the quirky pieces that could have been part of the Abbey Road medley (Be What You See/Dress Me Up As A Robber). At times he hit pure excellence, such as the beautiful Wanderlust. For the most part though, everything was good, not great. The highlights were found in the less-calculated numbers such as Ballroom Dancing and The Pound is Sinking, when his playfulness came out. Ebony and Ivory and Take It Away got tiresome with repetition.
Pipes Of Peace was the quick follow-up in 1983, and continued the formula with some modest changes. Michael Jackson replaced Stevie Wonder as the guest star, perfect timing for both, with the inevitable hit Say Say Say hitting the top of the charts near the end of the Thriller run. The title cut was on the same theme as Tug Of War, another heartfelt but bland number. So Bad was a good little single, quite lovely but hardly a rocker, and didn't do enough to push the album along The hits ended there, and really, McCartney hasn't been a pop star since. He's made better albums in the 30 years after, but nothing that has captured his former gigantic fan club, other than his live concerts.
For the deluxe editions, there are several formats. The two-disc versions contain an extra set of bonus tracks for each. Both include several demos of album tracks, as well as period B-sides. There are also demos for cuts that didn't make the album, unreleased until now. There's nothing exciting among those cuts, but he made good demos, so it's fun to hear the embryonic versions. Best is a Pipes Of Peace out-take called It's Not On, one of those slightly odd tracks that certainly would have improved the final album. There's a totally useless, brand-new remix of Say Say Say that follows the remixer's dictum that if you want to make it different, speed up the original. The thing is, nobody wanted this remix in the first place.
If you shell out for the deluxe versions with the big hardbound book and photos, you'll also get a DVD with lots of content. There are the official videos for the singles off each album, plus there's behind-the-scenes footage that has been freshly edited into new packages. Best is a making-off piece on Take It Away, which has interview bits with Paul and Linda, actor John Hurt, and Ringo and George Martin clowning around. Worst is five minutes of Michael Jackson riding around on horseback with the McCartney children.
As usual with this archive series, the deluxe versions are the nicest, the large book a visual treat that would be cool to have for any fan. But then you have to justify the $63 current price tag, for decent but not deluxe music. The regular, 2-CD versions at $16 are the better bargain.