Monday, 19 October 2015

Wings "Back To The Egg" (1979) (Revised Review)


Paul McCartney and Wings "Back To The Egg" (1979)

Reception/Getting Closer/We're Open Tonight/Spin It On/Again and Again and Again/Old Siam, Sir/Arrow Through Me//Rockestra Theme/To You/After The Ball-Million Miles/Winter Rose-Love Awake/The Broadcast/So Glad To See You Here/Baby's Request

'Brothers I was proud to know you, even if this last LP is one of the worst experiences we have ever experienced. I think we all sense this isn't one of our most esteemed situations, breathing in the atmosphere of a castle and playing youthful music for all our little posh  friends. I'm suddenly less inspired with less faith in musiciankind. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present to you a former saint whose halo has for too long had us transfixed. But things are changing and the music scene is heading back to egg, which only leaves the question 'why make a record like this one?' as well as the one that reads 'just what the hell did the opening voice do when he was made 'deputy mayor'?! And who keeps fiddling about with my flipping radio - shush, Wings are playing...

'Back To The Egg' is the reason that Paul McCartney should never, ever listen to a word we critics say, or possibly even his own family. 'London Town' was actually one of Wings' better albums, a cornucopia of all the things that had worked on previous LPs with a little bit of everything but that wasn't enough for some critics who complained that Wings were losing their touch with the punk and new wave acts the kids were listening to (had the reviewers heard that album's infamous outtake 'Boil Crisis' made in this actual style they might well have changed their mind!) Paul grinned and replied that he rather liked the idea of making more 'noise' the next time around and agreed he hadn't written a good rocker in ages (though 'Name and Address' and 'Cafe On The Left Bank' both sound more convincing than anything here...) The rise of these new rock and roll bands in the face of the increasingly toothless prog rock that had been around since the start of the 1970s was largely ignored by the AAA community, as we've often seen (although The Rolling Stones gave it a go with 'Some Girls' and The Who parodied it on their 'this is why it won't work when you're old' album 'Who Are You?') Paul took to jokingly calling himself part of the 'permanent wave', which was a touch audacious given how low his sales were falling and how many other contemporary acts were being robbed of recording contracts on the grounds that they were now fossilised dinsoaurs. However McCartney was in a better position to weather the storm than most; he'd always prided himself on at least being able to name the new hip young bands of the day (taking an interest in the likes of Elvis Costello and Ian Dury before most people over thirty knew who they were) and his own daughter Heather, now seventeen, was a big fan of the new wave scene (the first new wave song her dad ever made was actually backing her on 'SMA', an improvised snarky song about her parents having yet another baby - son James having been born in between the last album and this one - based around the ingredients in baby milk. It's only meant to be fun, but it may have inspired her dad more than we thought as he adds some highly energetic drumming and some random shouting behind Heather that actually resembles punk pretty nicely. Of course having your dad as part of your band is possibly the least punk thing to do, like, ever but then he is Paul McCartney...) He may have only been joking but when Paul was asked on the album's releaqse what music he was listening to he replied 'The Sex Pistols - and Fred Astaire' (which actually isn't a bad summation of the album!)

With sales for Wings dropping (even their 'Greatest' album didn't do that well and in tandem with 'Lodnon Town' got the worst reviews for a Wings product since 'Wildlife') Paul was keen to re-energise the band, not least because the band were two members short (Jimmy McCulloch left after rehearsals and a few early recordings for 'London Town' and Joe English not long after). Wanting to keep Wings a 'family' band and keenly aware that his choice of performers never quite seemed to work out, Paul left the role of band-maker to Denny Laine, who recruited two unknowns nearer their own age who'd never had the breaks they deserved: drummer Steve Holly happened to be playing the clubs in a little village down South (no one's quite sure where) that Denny Laine, on holiday happened to hear and stay in touch with; the fact that he'd just played on a session for Elton John album 'A Single Man' probably helped secure him the job too; guitarist Laurence Juber was a much older acquaintance of Denny's who might well have got the job in 1975 without Jimmy around, ther pair had both found themselves on the bill of The David Essex Show in the pre-Wings days and Denny had been mightily impressed with how his colleague was able to play in so many styles at the drop of a hat. Paul wasn't fussed, hiring Laurence sight unseen and agreeing to Steve after a three-song jam at his London office. Wings was re-born!

However there were more than a few problems involved with re-styling Wings to become a new wave act to compete with the kids which means that, for all it's good intentions, this final line-up of Wings never quite 'flew'. The two new members of the band were much older than the line-ups that had made 'Red Rose Speedway' or 'Venus and Mars' for a start without a sixteen-year-old whizkid like Jimmy in tow. Steve and Laurence had also been hired for the planned 'comeback' tour of 1979 and for their ability to reproduce the Wings hits on stage (which they did superbly, judging by bootlegs) - sounding ten years younger on a bunch of younger-sounding songs was not what they were hired for. Rule of thumb when wanting to record a punkish no-frills album #3: do not, repeat not, hire out a grand Scottish castle, which is what Wings did, recording most of the album at Lympne Castle in Kent (at least on the days when they weren't recording at Paul's 'replica' of Abbey Road Studios 2 back in London, an expense which cost more than the new members' salaries). Also do not, repeat not, thank your nice kind gentile elderly guests by allowing them to take part on the album reading out random bits of poetry and philosophy as happens not once but twice, on 'Reception' and 'The Broadcast', two of the worst and most pointless Wings 'songs' ever. Oh and another major no no if you want the youngsters to love you: don't organise a knees-up with all your big-name friends of yesteryear and try to sell it as a 'new wave' track - it just won't work! (See 'Rockestra', if you're feeling brave. And no I don't know why you haven't had any dinner, please stop asking). In fact it would be better to remove all attachments of prog rock from your album altogether - such as the poncy album title (the most high falluting way of saying 'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's Wings' ever) and the really poncy album cover (which hints that Wings have flown in from space. To be fair I can see where McCartney was going with this - he wanted to find a middle line between the music he'd always been making and what the kids were listening to, but his explanation to music buyers that the album was a 'loose concept album' about a band 'going back to basics and preparing to go out on tour, the 'ptotective shell' of touring being like the womb' as if it was a university thesis was a complete no-no to the people he was trying to sell this album to. Wings should have made another 'Band On The Run' and gone for energy rather than loudness, recording 'Back To The Egg' on a Birmingham estate or a New Orleans ghetto for that feel of hopelessness and wild fury that the songs demand. Alas too much of the album is posh people pretending that they know how to rock and 'Egg' ended up selling very badly indeed (with the worst sales of McCartney's career until 'Press To Play' in 1986), putting off old faithful fans who'd rather liked the 'London Town' style without gathering any real new ones. Wings had had their Wings clipped and - for a variety of reasons looked at during our review for 'Tug Of War' - never flew again.
Yes 'Back To The Egg' has apologists nowadays, fans who own all the Wings albums and are rather pleased to find one that stirs up the balance and tempo and formulas, or those who were born a generation after punk and new wave anyway so all this music is old-fashioned on a sense to them anyway. However, even as one of those youngsters myself there's always been something slightly off and desperate about 'Back To The Egg' that even the messed-up background doesn't quite explain. Most Wings albums sound full, even when they're empty (I haven't got a clue what's going on during large parts of 'Red Rose Speedway' for instance, but it usually sounds like it means something). 

However 'Back To The Egg' sounds depressingly empty. 'We're open tonight' runs what was originally intended to be the title track  - over and over again for three whole minutes. 'We're getting closer' intones one of the album's better ideas, a snazzy rocker that's musically urgent and desperate in all the right ways - what we're getting 'closer' to though is never explained. Two hackneyed medlies of unfinished tracks stapled together that would have been so much better in their own right (especially album highlight 'Winter Rose', a typically exquisite McCartney ballad which in keeping with this album's tone lasts for all of 90 seconds before being ruined by the stupidity of it's half-song 'Love Awake') sound like an even worse attaempt at repeating the long 'Abbey Road Medley' than the 'Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands Of Love/Power Cut' one from 'Speedway'. Whisper it softly so that the bad vibes don't come down your laptop/computer/tablet towards you but I even seriously think this album is cursed: it turned out to be the last Wings ever did and is an album that McCartney's momentum never quite recovered from ('Tug Of War' is the only album after this to match 'London Town' for sales) and strange things always seem to happen the few rare times I play this album, with countless breakdowns of mp3 players, CD players, record players and even once a whole car while liustening to this album. You have been warned...

You can blame as least part of that on the could infamous prison incident: six months after the release of this album the band fly to Japan for a tour promoting the record, only for Japanese customs officials to find some illegal marijuana plants in the McCartney’s luggage (planted by officials working for Yoko Ono according to one slanderous book I read!) and the ex-Beatle suddenly goes from hero to zero, kept in a prison cell for a full week and facing seven years in prison at one point. While Macca was released relatively easily without any further legal complications or backlash, the strain it put on the band was ridiculous: with money already dwindling and all income from the tour cancelled, Macca’s seven-year partner-in-crime Denny Laine heads for home in desperation for work, leaving Linda and the band in the lurch in an ‘act of betrayal’ that Macca never quite forgave (although, contrary to belief, the two do work again – Denny’s wonderful harmonies are all over Paul’s 1982 solo album Tug Of War and a little bit on Pipes Of Peace). Reluctant to get together a new band (which would have been the 5th major line-up change in seven years), the McCartneys decide to knock Wings on the head after this disappointing album. 'Back To The Egg', intended as a beginning and a re-birth, ended up being an unexpected ending with only the painful goodbye of 1979 festive single 'Wonderful Xmas Time' left to come after this.

Yet although the fracture and the prison sentence both came after this LP was released, you can tell something is on Macca’s mind – Back To The Egg is a lot more aggressive-sounding than normal; the riffs are more jagged, insistent and repetitive and, most revealingly of all, Macca’s usually clear and concise lyrics suddenly turn to gibberish (like Neil Young, the worse Paul’s personal life gets the less revealing his music gets – as if he is only comfortable revealing the darker sides of his personality when he knows he can present the ‘lighter’ side to the public at large as well). There have always been some songs like this around in Pauk's ouvre - 'Junior's Farm' is another song that would have been so much better with a 'proper' lyric attached to the great beat - but 'Back To The Egg' holds the record over even 'Chaos and Creation' for the most endlessly stupid lyrics in his canon. It's as if, unable to hear the words of the new wave records being made, Paul's simply assumed that the words don't matter - which is uncomfortably close to what parents were doing in 1963 when The Beatles came along. The words do matter and lines like 'say you don't love me, my salamander' and 'Took her rushes to show her mam, sir, met his dad at the wedding meal' you have to question how much actual work went into this album, with Paul seemingly stopping at the first creative thoughts that came into his brain.

What we get is a bit of a mish-mash, with some cracking tunes married to some decidedly weird words, a couple of instrumental/ spoken word/sound effects collages that are strong candidates for the worst tracks of Wings’ if not McCartney’s career and two half-hearted medleys of songs that couldn’t be less suited to running into one another. To show what I mean about this album in general, let’s focus on the album’s (flop) single Old Siam Sir – the only song from the album that anyone is even vaguely likely to know (and even that’s pushing it a bit, seeing as it peaked at no 70-odd in the charts). That opening walking bass riff, suddenly joined by a guitar and fiercely stomped on by a driving drum lick is a cracking opening and when it finally kicks in the tune doesn’t disappoint, with Wings making the most out of their new-found ‘live’ recording technique (in a neat mirror it sounds like the primitive first Wings album Wildlife. Only better). And the moment when the song finally drops its weight-of-the-world suffering for a cataclysmic break-out instrumental featuring no less than three guitarists playing the same riff is one of the cleverest moments of any McCartney song. But Macca’s wonderfully large vocal range is strained to breaking point, making him sound like Pinky and Perky on helium, and when you finally decipher the lyrics they make no sense at all (and not in a clumsy-but-cute way like C Moon either – although in truth that’s actually quite a clever symbolic song when you analyse it - but in a 'what the???' kind of a way that makes you despair of ever hearing a lyric like a descriptive and poetic lyric like the ones for 'Eleanor Rigby' or 'For No One' ever again). ‘She spin around in Walthamstow’ is about as comprehensible as the lyrics get and, as for that curious title, what rhymes with ‘old Siam, sir’? ‘Found a man, sir’ – not the greatest couplet of Macca’s career. 'Getting Closer' makes even less sense - why does Paul want to be a close to a salamander anyway? Like the album in a nutshell, it’s a seed of greatness that sadly grew into a crooked trunk, as Macca and friends too often bark up the wrong tree, as it were, although you can still see greatness in the roots.

Elsewhere we get surely the worst and most pointless rocker in McCartney’s back catalogue (Spin It On, which is basically one short chorus repeated ad infinitum), a truly toe-curling Temperance Seven-type spoof (at least I hope it’s a spoof) Baby’s Request which rates as easily the worst of Macca’s many ‘music my mother should know’ show-tunes (it may well be the worst McCartney song of all and that from an artist who brought us 'Beautiful Night' and 'Ebony and Ivory') and a bunch of static and snatches of tunes masquerading as somebody switching channels on a radio underneath an actually quite interesting bass riff. And I haven’t even come to the album’ most talked about mess yet: the sheer waste of the Rockestra all-star jam theme tune, one which gathers the leading stars of the day together (Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, David Gilmour, Jon Bonham, Hank Marvin, etc) and gets them to play a three-chord riff underneath a song which has the single throwaway line ‘Why Haven’t I Had Any Dinner?’ Unbelievably, the album sinks to even lower depths than this – as a favour to the owners of the Scottish castle Wings ‘borrowed’ for the recording sessions, they get to read out some really lame poetry while Macca tinkles out a riff on a synthesiser that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mills and Boon adaptation. So far so depressingly ordinary - at least Wildlife had heart and some very good ideas; one-third of the album is undercooked and raw - the other is overdone and burnt.
But all is not lost and the last third is an often tasty meal. The first ‘proper’ song Getting Closer is a promising beginning, leaping from inventive section to inventive section in true Macca-mid 60s mode, before turning in on itself for a surprisingly dark and paranoid chorus which sounds like the Hollies classic I Can’t Let Go on high adrenaline (even if the lyrics are a bit suspect). Other tracks like To You and Arrow Through Me are hardly among McCartney’s best, but even whilst sleepwalking there’s just so much finesse and style to Macca’s work that there’s enough to keep you admired – and both of these songs seem so obvious and perfect concoctions that you’re half surprised that they never existed before in all the 30-odd years of rock and roll we’d had up to that point, just as you are with most half-decent McCartney songs. Denny Laine too ends his fine run of Wings songs with one of his hardest-hitting rockers Again and Again and Again, another of his impressive songs that sounds half retro and half-contemporary, tied together with an irresistible chorus that seems to make repetition an art form. Best of all we get two unheralded 100% gold McCartney gems. Winter Rose is a heartbreaking ballad to rank with the best of them, with a monochrome production that simply sparkles from the speakers and fine vocal performances from Paul, Linda and Denny to match. The narrator’s been searching for his dream girl all his life – and now, finally, in the winter of his life he’s found her. Magic stuff. Of course, this being Back To The Egg we’re talking about here, even this song gets butchered, stuck together with a pretty but pretty inane ditty called Love  Awake which couldn’t be less like its predecessor in tone, tune or theme if it tried and it undoes much of the previous song’s good work. And, this being a medley, you can’t even programme your CD player to miss it out worst luck. The other classic track is the barnstorming rocker So Glad To See You Here – the ‘Rockestra’ theme took all of the publicity, but this second song featuring the all-star line-up is a much better vehicle for their talents, with the band truly sounding huge and powerful (rather than silly). Macca’s histrionic vocal is one of his rawest and best and the last of a handful of Wings vocal rounds (Paul, Linda and Denny swapping leads on three different phrases sung all at the same time) is exquisite and a classic note on which to (nearly) end Wings’ career. The band even seems to be cruising full steam ahead into another verse at the end but no – the whole thing just peters out and we get blooming Baby’s Request to end on instead. Fascinating but infuriating, moments of pure genius tucked between mistakes that beginners to the music business would think twice about, Back to the Egg is a scrambled concoction that misses the mark more than most Macca-related albums, but still comes up trumps enough times to cook up an appetite.

There's even a 'theme' which harks back to 'Sgt Peppers', the second Wings album to do after the general 'feel' of 'Band On The Run' and Picasso's Last Words' collage style. The original intention had been for Wings to find their groove back on stage for the first time in three years, re-discovering or discovering the road in some cases (both Laurence and Steve were studio veterans but hadn't played on the road much) in a themed TV special titled like the album 'We're Open Tonight' as Wings prove how they're back in business. Just as with Bruce McMouse (the intended 'mascot' of the first Wings tour in 1972) it never happened, which is a shame - McCartney Productions Limited had even hired a then-new playwright named Willy Russell to work on the linking narrative (Russell gets his own back by writing the stage play 'John Paul George Ringo...and Bert', a loose Rutles-style parody of The Beatles that Paul allegedly loathed). Interestingly there's another comparison to be made with The Beatles' 'Let It Be' as the project would have seen the band rehearsing throughout the film, with the pay-off being their own concert at the end. Instead when the idea fell apart 'Back To The Egg' became the soundtrack without a special, which is why there are so many 'in concert' references left intact (Macca seems to have been trying to write another 'Rock Show' but he's less specific than in 1975; the fact that the film of Wings live in 1976 had finally been released a few months before 'Back To The Egg' withthat very name hints that Paul was trying to recapture exactly that sort of a 'feel'). The result is an album that invites us to get close but doesn't say what for: we hear that the final prodyuct is 'getting closer' and that ’we’re open tonight’ and even features a reprise at the end that tells u the band are ‘so glad to see you here’ – but there’s nothing else to keep the half-concept going, no Billy Shears, no applause, no band announcement, no nothing. Instead the album ends with a request that surely no one in their right mind would ever make...

However unlike most Wings film ideas there was a special to go with this album: a watered down version of the intended documentary which effectively consisted of mimed music videos -a first for Wings in the sense that a planned tie-in special actually happened rather than being a 'nice idea' they never got around to filming. To be fair, it's still the best way to experience this ill-fated album is actually by watching it - This album is one of Macca’s more ‘visual’ LPs and while some of the videos are just plain daft, the music sounds much better accompanied by images, or as a ‘soundtrack’ album rather than a proper LP in its own right. On the one sense the 'Back To The Egg' special is as equally contemptuous of it's intended audience as the record, with no talking or explanations but lots of sumputous shots of the band at play in the castle grounds set to music and a posh-looking lot of horses as well as a wishy-washy opening where the band are aliens in a stately home for the day, or something like that. However on the other hand 'Back To The Egg' is a very visual album, full of fast-paced riffs and in-yer-face images that need to be seen as well as heard. 'Winter Rose' works particularly well, with a lucky snowfall during the sessions there (in September 1978 -  you think the weather in Britain is weird now...) adding a lovely touch to shots of Linda grandly riding a horse. I'm less sure why Wings are in a field for poppies for 'Again and Again and Again' (a coded drug reference?) but everything else makes part sense - even 'Baby's Request' which almost becomes a proper song courtesy of the 'war radio broadcast' theme. The TV show is also the aspect of the album package that really was ahead of its time, effectively a half-hour MTV playlist several years before the TV station was invented (and very naturally too: The Beatles, remember, effectively invented the music video in 1966 when they couldn't be bothered to keep re-miming 'Paperback Writer') and at least partly why there'a a 'folk memory' of this album around that's stronger than the one for higher-selling better received Wings LPs like 'Venus and Mars' and 'Speed Of Sound'. Had 'London Town' been filmed the same way (but with larking around on chartered yachts rather than in a fusty castle) that album might have had the love it deserves too. And it deserves to be remembered on fil m more than audio – back in the days before MTV and VH1 it wasn’t compulsory to make music videos even for singles and I think I’m right in saying that Wings were the first band ever to go whole-hog and string a whole collection of them together from one album (though they only manage to film about half the LP and two contemporary singles) Sadly unseen for some thirty-five years (though again the deluxe edition of 'Back To The Egg' is going to be great if this and the Kampuchea gig appear on the DVD!) you can however still view it on Youtube (have a look for Alan's Album Archives and you'll find it as part of our 'Paul McCartney Playlist' if you're stuck).

So there I’ve been for much of this week, unexpectedly enjoying what used to be the only McCartney album I never really got on with (till the likes of Flaming Pie and Chaos and Creation came along and stole its thunder - at least Back To The Egg has some good songs). On paper this Wings album should be great – it’s the album that came after London Town after all; it also follows one of the grewat unsung classics of the Wings singles canon in 'Goodnight Tonight' (by far this line-up's best moment); it features McCartney stepping outside of his comfort zone (which for me often results in his better ideas, like 'McCartney II' and 'Press To Play', classics both whatever the general world seems to think of them) and there's at least two career highs hidden away on this album that hardly anyone outside the major fan knows. Alas, too much of 'Back To The Egg' wastes what it has going for it in favour of the wrong line-up of a new band playing unsuited material intended for hungry young teens but recorded in the poshest, remotest way possible and an uneasy combination of both the setting and the source that never has a chance to gel. Wings aren't in truth anywhere near opening, not tonight not anytime soon, not until they get the fundamentals sorted: is this meant to be a band that changes with the ages or one that remains catering for a loyal and still-nosiy audience? McCartney doesn't know - and chickens out of finding out by pulling the plug on Wings and tinkering with a new synthesiser toy while he decides what to do next...

The Songs:

[117] 'Reception' is one of those 'songs' I always think can't possibly be as bad as I remember and there must be some hidden waiting message I haveb't got hold of yet - but if there is one then it's beyond me. The 'idea' is that we're listening to Wings on a radio set, about to make their big entrance onto the world stage in between all the other stations playing incessant chatter and a burst of opera. Somewhere along the way a major bass 'n' drum groove kicks up and over the top we get that very mid-70s Wings synth sound (shpowing its age a bit now, after being so hi-tech on 'Band On The Run'), a run of piano chords and synths, a few wind sound efgfects for no discernible reason (though it was windy in Lympne Castle apparently!) and the band's hosts Mr and Mrs Margery reading out extracts from their favourite books (fans have tracked these down to the poem 'The Poodle and The Pug' by A P Herbert; it also sounds like there's a Western film sampled directly from the TV with the album's memorbale but confusing opening lines being 'what did you do when you were made deputy sherriff? a la 'I Am The Walrus'). The whole piece sounds designed to be a vaguely intriguing over-the-credits opening for a TV special that's meant to draw you in before hitting you over the head with 'Getting Closer', but without the visuals just sounds like a fairly nice band jam that wasn't good enough to put on the album direct so got coated with lost of unsuitable extras. This isn't the first time McCartney will ruin what could have been an ok song by thinking too much and sadly it won't be the last. An earlier, rougher and much longer take of the song exists in the vaults - it's still not that great but is at least easier to follow than this one with a bass riff that keeps on coming.

[118] 'Getting Closer' is the closest Paul ever got to aping the band that daughter Heather was listening to (even if the song started life as a more usual type of rocker back in 1974, shortly after Wings had got back from making 'Band On The Run'). The song comes on with the opening menace of The Clash before settling down to a verse full ogf slashing chords more like The Jam and a poppy chorus straight out The Pretenders' songbook. It's the passage between the three parts that works the best, an exciting breathless rush down a song structure that's too busy moving to ever be predictable and the moment of menace when the song drops out before slowly gathering back steam for a zinging guitar solo and hoarse shrieks of 'closer closer!' is one of the most exciting Wings moments of the decades. Paul also screams himself hoarse on the vocxal, doing his best job on the record by far (though an early recording has him nervous of tackling a song so far outside his normal reign - he gives the main vocal over to Denny and provised the 'support' instead). All that menace and urgency should have resulted in a classic lyric to go with the music, full of drama excitement and pathos. Instead we get a grabled message about wanting to get closer to a loved one, jumbled up with the idea of a band about to hit the stage, jumbled up with a salamander mentioned for no reason other than it's a fun word to rhyme. The rhyme of 'watching my windscreen wipers' with the one 'better beware of snipers' is also the single biggest atrocity till the biker didn't like her like an icon in 1993. So close but it could have yet been closer closer closer! Released as a single in America (while Europe got 'Old Siam, Sir') the track peaked at #20 - bizarrely higher than the band had managed in years (even outperforming international #1 hit 'Mull Of Kintyre' in the States!)

[119] 'We're Open Tonight' is a muted McCartney ballad about being open for business ('so bring all your friends, come on!' he urges nervously, as if this sort of promotion is the only thing that's going to work anymore). It's clearly meant to go with the TV special that never was and an advert for Wings' comeback tour - but that's all it is. Two short verses containing a mere thirty-seven words is not actually that great an advert for Wings being back and inspired at all ('Her Majesty' from 'Abbey Road' has about seventy for comparison's sake). What's worse though is the tune - the song is al too obviously cribbed from 'I'm Carrying' from 'London Town' but instead of a humble love song dripping with regret and mourning the song simply stays put, refusing to be goaded into any display of emotion at all. The way Wings play the song through suggests this is actually meant to be a sad song, with a tinge of regret in McCartney's voice - which again flies in the face of what this song should be doing ('roll up roll up the Magical Mystery Tour is back in town again!') The track was recorded at Lympne's grand spiral staircase in order to get the right amount of echo, apparently.

[120] 'Spin It On' is the biggest divider on the album. To the album's fans 'this is it', proof that Wings can play as fast and furious and new wavey as any other band out there in the day. To its critics its evidence that Wings have no business being near a song like this, which is poorly played and just comes over as an over-noisy mess without any of Wings' usual saving graces (melody, lyric and production). All I can say is thank goodness for Holly and Juber, who weren't hired to play this sort of thing but acquit themselves well with both the funky Ringo-style laidback drum-beat and the piercing swirly lead guitar breaks over the top. It's Paul and Denny who can't keep up on this one, with a basic rhythm guitar part and a histrionic vocal that tries so hard it can never be as cool as it thinks its is. Oaul deliberately mangles the pronunciation too as well he might: in case you failed to guess the beginning of the second verse its 'Off to the flicks with the piddle in her mix to the fair with her hair in curlers'. I now respect young Heather McCartney all the more for not clocking her dad one for completely misinterpreting and denigrating her favourite music: this is truly atrocious, but the worst of it is Paul sounds as if he thinks he's 'got' it, that Wings now sound exactly like the young bands of the day! Never have Wings sounded more middle-aged...

[121] 'Again and Again and Again' is one of the album's better songs, if only because Denny uses his token cameo on the album (only one this year) to play the usual 'McCartney' role. 'Again' is a solid optomistic perfectly concocted pop single that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the album and the latest Wings line-up sound a whole lot more comfortable here on this cheery song than they do on the new wave stuff (especially Laurence's lovely guitar picking). Denny's lyric may be referring to the 'tiredness' he's feeling with Wings (he's had to make as many changes as McCartney so soon after the last lot of auditions and he's starting to to get bored with it all too, as he'll admit during the 1980/1981 post-Japan interviews), discussing an approaching 'winter-time' after a season in the sun and how bad aspects of his life are playing themselves out all over again (the early Moody Blues split up through a similar sense of boredom and repetitiveness, struggling to keep up with younger acts). However, perhaps stimulated by the album's direction, something seems to have changed in between writing and recording this song, with an up-beat up-tempo delivery by everyone but especially Denny making this sound like the happiest funniest song in the world. The dichotomy is quite typical for Denny who often did this with his songs and revealed later that this was two songs stuck together anyway, the second being 'Little Woman' - Paul apparently suggested the two might work quite well together and possibly provided the bridging section between them too (which has shades of 'Eight Days A Week' era Beatles), though uncredited on the song. Laine's always under-rated vocal is a delight, with McCartney's nagging harmony counterpart doing the good job that Lennon always used to do to him (his voice is clearly going too, suggesting this song came late in the sessions - 'Old Siam Sir' reveals a few cracks too). Denny actually recorded this one early one at McCartney's Scottish studio (the updated and renovated 'Rude Studios' now given the grand name 'The Spirit of Ranachan' after a nearby mainland hotspot in Ardnamurchan; funnily enough AAA band Lindisfarne will record here and name a song after the place too).

[122] 'Old Siam, Sir' is the album's peculiar near-hit single which is based around an insistent rock and roll beat and one of the best riffs of McCartney's career. Legend has it that Linda hit upon the beginning of the riff during a tour rehearsal and her husband turned it into a song for her but that seems unlikely to me - Linda doesn't get a credit for starters and Paul for all his faults liked giving his wife credits if not always his bandmates. Instead there's a demo that exists, circa 'Red Rose Speedway' time, of a very tinny demo recording made on what sounds like a children's toy piano - you can just imagine Paul on holiday, a million miles from his banks of equipment  desperately unwrapping one of his daughter's Christmas presents and desperately to record a song while inspiration struck without waking them up! The riff, then, is first class, running the gamut of emotions from weary battler to triumphant soldier to soaring freeflyer before crashng back to earth and picking itself up for another run. McCartney's vocal too is well suited - there's a layer of grit that sounds not unlike Lennon's on 'Twist and Shout' and a the recording is dotted with lost sof clever moments, especially the fade-out which goes out for an all-out charge and then tricks you, settling back into one last laidback groove. So why isn't this song better known? The lyric must be one of the worst Paul has ever written - though longer than 'We Open Tonight' it makes even less sense! Perhaps remembering one of his other great 'riff' songs 'Helen Wheels' and its touring-style mention of all the names the 1972 touring Wings passed on the Motorway, Macca may have been trying to come up with something similar. But the chorus is set in Siam, the verses in the far less exotic lands of Scarborough and Walthamstow (two of the worst towns he could have picked in terms of rhyming schemes and which makes for one of the weirdest of Wings choruses when they're reduced to 'Walthamstow and Scarborough') and nothing to link the two. Yes there's a Siam lady who 'lost her way' and came over 'to the old UK' but there's no reason for the setting and the intended sense of tragedy, of a young immigrant cut off from her folks, never comes over properly. It's not as if the song doesn't have space to flesh out the story either: the opening verse is repeated three times during the course of the song, which is untypically lazy for McCartney.

Much better and rather forgotten given the louder, more controversial songs on the album is [123] 'Arrow Through Me', the first song started at the album sessions but the last finished (which means that its the last Wings song ever,whatever the band credit on the McCartney-only 'Wonderful Xmas Time' single). A low key muted song that's based around a bubbling bass riff and a vocal dripping with hurt and regret and lots of orchestrated 'oohs', it's more like the songs to come on next album 'proper' 'Tug Of War' than anything else on the album, more successfully tapping into the period sound than any of the louder, aggressive songs. Written after a rare row with Linda, Paul admits his hurt (which couldn't have been worse 'if you'd have taken an arrow and run it right through me', a line which sounds hilarious in a Liverpudlian accent!) and unusually declares himself to be the passive loser, portraying himself a 'down hero'. However, more characteristically, Paul is in no mood for sulking and stretches out on a middle eight that admits to a fling that went wrong and a'come on, get up, chorus that tries to gee his narrator back up again. He even throws in a chilling brass part from Wings' usual horn section that's suitably mournful and yet bright and sassy, both sympathising and mocking with his mood. Had this song come on mostany other Wings album it would sound like the unloved unfinished song buried away near the end of the first side, but here in context it sounds all the better for being under-played and more laidback about it's approach to current music.

The final notes also make an excellent posing question hanging in the air at the end of the frst side, which is answered in a hurry by the opening crashing chords of  [124] 'Rockestra'. The mother of all-star jams, the song features Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, The Shadows' Hank Marvin, The Who's Pete Townshend, Led Zeppelin's Jon Bonham and John Paul Jones, The Small Faces' Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones, Procul Harum's Gary Brooker and Paul and George's old schoolfriend Tony Ashton (who last popped up on the 'Wonderwall' soundtrack back in 1968) as well as Wings and their full horn section (though Ringo is conspicuous by his absence). The result is clearly meant to sound big and loud, like some major meeting of the rock fraternity the new wave and punk acts aren't old enough to have yet, like an old bully going 'yeah look what we can do - see? Nyaaah! Stay out of my patch!' However the idea backfires because Pauk's clearly thought that simply having this many people together in one room will be enough. The instrumental composed for the sessions (well, it's nearly an instrumental - 'Why haven't I had any dinner?' is the song's only line and never can there have been a more middle aged complaint to make; these youngsters are hungry for anything, not bemoaning a lack of seconds) is clearly an afterthought, a boogieing instrumental made for guitar breaks and a sort of thunderous drumming approach that has no chance to show off the ad hoc band's subtlety or cleverness. There really is no point having your friends round to play if you can't give them better material to get their teeth into than that and even on an album full of missed opportunities 'Rockestra' seems like the worst in many ways, a rotten use of everyone's good natured time and energy. The band weren't even doingthis for charity - well not yet anyway (the Kampuchea benefit concert reunion came later). The event was filmed for posterity and can be seen in brief on the menu for the 'Paul McCartney Years' - hopefully the clip for this will turn up on the 'Back To The Egg' deluxe set one day too...

[125] 'To You' is the last Wings recording to feature Denny Laine after his faithful seven years of service and is one last great Wings ensemble piece, full of some lovely Wings harmonies (with Linda taking the bass and Denny the falsetto, unusually), another strong chruning guitar lick and lots of keyboard work. Macca still seems to be hurting from the sloiught on 'Arrow Through Me' and tries to turn the tables on his accuser, changing from victim to aggressor in a stroke. However there's something deeper going on in this song than a marital tiff - this song also seems to be addressing the new wave bands with first dismissive sniffs and then desperate pleading: 'Well keep it out of my nose!' Paul screams, 'What am I going to do?!' Ironcically it's this song, when Wings seem to have accepted their fate as leftovers from yesteryear, that comes closest to the style of the kids of the day: Paul's increasing emotion and a gloriously gonzo guitar solo (by either Paul or Laurence - or both) set against the detachment and indifference of the rest of the band is actually a pretty good representation of the sounds of 1978/1979 (when you still cared - unlike most of the 1980s - but didn't necessarily let on how much you cared; The Pretenders' sulkiness, Blondie's pouting and The Jam's raised sneer and carefully concealed outrage are all good examples of this and it makes sense that Paul, one of the most 60s writers in his way of thinking, gets to lose his cool screaming at them on their terms and on their territory). It's a fine last hurrah for Wings, even if the song does lack Macca's usual invention and is down a middle eight and an extra verse compared to normal.

Next up is [126] 'After The Ball', a sad and lonely Mccartney ballad dripping with loneliness and isolation, slow and e,mpty but punctuated by sudden rushes of aggression and adrenalin from a sea of David Gilmour-sounding guitars. The most 'Elton John' sounding of all McCartney songs, its a straighforward piano ballad that tries hard to build up steam but has nowhere to go - the party was 'full of strangers' so Paul fell asleep and when he was dozing it left and gone, so that now 'nowhere is there a friendly face to be found'. Paul is surely reflecting on his lowering sales here, imagining the music career he's been enjoying his whole adult life through coming to a sudden uncomfortable end with the same malaise Lennon felt on 'Mind Games' or Harrison on 'Somewhere In England', a combination of humble doubt and the spluttering 'but I'm a Beatle - you can't treat me like this!' However Paul is never one to admit defeat if he can help it and the song crossfades to the similarly low-key 'Million Miles', a harmonica-braced song about doing whatever it takes to get back on his feet again (which The Proclaimers surely nicked for 'I Would Walk 500 Miles'). The song sounds as if might have started life as a sequel to 'Mull Of Kintyre', with the same hootenany end-of-year-party feel although its played on a wheezy harmonica rather than wheezy bagpipes. McCartney 'knows' when he wakes up in the morning and when he looks up in the evening that he has a job to do and vows to do it, whatever the cost. The two songs go together surprisingly well despite their differences, although it's a bit of a cop-out still sticking them together as a medley rather than writing a 'proper' eding for either of them.

More confusing yet is the next medley. [127] 'Winter Rose' features one of the most beautiful melodies McCartney wrote that you might not know, a lovely Jethro Tull style 'Elizabethan' ballad strangely left unused despite being written for 'London Town' (where it would have slotted in well), a song that makes good use of the contrast betwene the traditional piano, the futuristic synth and the ancient sound of the harpsichord, as if we're hearing about a tale of love that could come from the past, present or future (perhaps all three). One last gorgeous shot of Wings harmonies are truly sublime, Denny and Linda showing off their special vocal bond in the background over Paul's nicely crooked falsetto. The lyrics aren't quite as strong but have their moments too: an ambiguous tale that could be a simple love song for Linda in a 'Maybe I'm Amazed' style, crediting her for keeping her upright during lean years or another attack on the show business that's seemingly left him behind. The narrator has 'wasted' a summer following his mysterious muse around and wishes he'd brought a rose to keep safe during the lean years of winter, to 'shine a light' to keep him safe. However he's not upset or desperate so much as besotted, tailing off almost mid-sentence for a moody run through the gorgeous tune that's punctuated by his ghostly bass-playing. Had Paul stayed here, or better still fleshed this song out to contain some extra verses and perhaps a middle eight, then this could have been the masterpiece of the record. Unfortunately instead of a proper ending the song simply fades away and we get 'Love Awake' , a low key inexpressive song from McCartney on auto-pilot that would normally seem ok, but here sounds awful because it lacks the melody, ideas or sophistiocation of its predecessor. To be fair, this song always sounds better heard without its partner and there's a lovely 'proper' version on bootleg that runs for twice as long (a full 6:30!) and sound like a 'proper' song, weith a proper burst of harmionies at the end and everything. It's still a lazy piece by Paul's standards though, a song that sounds 'borrowed' from The Kinks 'Ring The Bells' of 1965, desperate to tell the world by any means possible about a relationship. However the song is cryptic, with lines like 'We need it any time we can get it' without any mention of what 'it' is that undo the superior melody. The highlight is a sensitive brass acoompaniment, the first real use of this sort of coliery band sound (as opposed to the sax and trumpet parts by Howie Casey et al) since the 1960s, sounding like an outtake from 'The Family Way' soundtrack of 1966 (although actually its the Black Dyke Mills Band, for whom Paul had written the upbeat 'Thingumibob' in 1968, who perform it). Once again though, the song needs to stand on its own two feet and tacking it onto the earlier track is just lazily. Presumably Paul stuck these two together because of the 'snow falls in the Winter, Spring brings the rain' refrain, making this a song about seasons. Only it isn't: these songs aren't opposites or even contrasts but telling two different stories - one that memories of the summer will help survive the Winter; the other that Summer will always follow Spring. Once again, how frustrating that at least one and potentially two good ideas are thrown away like this; on any other record McCartney would have spent the time to craft these songs into something really great.

Wings had a chance but they didn't take it. They could have won but then they lost. They should have cut their losses and band on the runned for it. It wouldn't be the first time they've run. It wouldn't be the first time they'd been caught having a bad idea. However out of all the Wings catalogue it's the extremely confusing [128] 'The Broadcast' that takes the biscuit for hoary cliche and pointless sayings. A moody piano piece that might have been better saved for a film soundtrack (Paul was working on the second of three versions of 'Rupert The Bear' at the time), it originally existed without the weird conversation but Paul thought it needed an extra 'something'. He was right there -  the melody is a slow dirge by his standards, with an all-too-overhwleming string part that's the sort of thing his 1965 self was paranoid would hapen to 'Yesterday' when George Martin suggested adding strings to his song. Getting his host Mr Margarey to add a bit of input into the album by reading out a few bits of poetry and speeches is a typically McCartney warm-hearted gesture too. But the speech (a mixture of Ian Hay's 'The Sport Of Kings' and John Galsworthy's The Little Man') is confusing  - what are we meant to think? Is this collection of cliche and stiff-bottom-lip meant to be another random sample of what can be heard on the 'Reception' radio? Is it McCartrney's guilty nod of the hat to an older generation he helped knock aside (just as the new wave acts are doing to him?) Is it a reminder of a dying world, preserved forever in a 'back to the egg' version of The Kinks' 'Village Green Preservation Society'?! Or is it just McCartney desperately trying to reach back to what The Beatles used to do and embracing their 'randomness' that saw them add un-related lines from Shakespeare into 'I Am The Walrus' or come up with songs about weeping at random from dictionaries? Sadly Wings' luck is against them here and a bad song is made worse by all this messing around - 'The Broadcast' really is one of the most misguided misfires in Beatle history and sticking something this pompous and prog-rock old school on an album that's trying so hard to be down with the kids and youthful makes it a very bad move even if the results had been very good. McCartney could have done without the grief and should have taken this track off the final running order (it's not as if he didn't have any strong material in reserve - 'CAGE', one of the more charming Wings outtakes, was taped at these sessions as was the just-as-bonkers-but-better 'Robber's Ball', two of the last of the songs intended for the 'Cold Cuts' rarities album not yet released).

Thankfully the cobwebs from 'The Broadcast' get blown away by another forgotten gem in the Wings catalogue with [129] 'So Glad To See You Here', the second and by far the better of the two 'Rockestra' songs. The performance features a slightly stripped down version of the mammoth band (though it still features some twenty people) and the band have far more to get their teeth into, with a riff that manages to be sturdy rather than comical and genuinely bluesy rather than just a bit of fun. However it's the song structure that impresses most, as Paul tries to combines what he felt were the most successful Wings formulas into one song - we get the restless, ever-changing 'Rock Show' template full of screaming and shouting but with the claustrophobic sense of being chased by some dark shadow rather than just rocking out for the sake of it a la Rockestra and the gorgeous vocal rounds of 'Silly Love Songs'. This time the band are announcing how they're 'open tonight for fun', in a much superior reprise of the earlier track, with lyrics that sound in truth a little too unconfortably close to the 'Sgt Pepper's Reprise' from 1967 ('So glad you could come!' Macca grins, with relief). However there's nothing cosy or gentle or forced about this track, which is delivered in Macca's best this-matters rock and roll voice and pushes his voice past breaking point at times. The rock and roll worthy riff is an excellent underpinning to this track and Wings at last stop trying to sound like a new wave act and get the chance to sound like a great rock and roll one. If in truth the lyrics are a little bit silly ('Somneone's gonna hold tonight, someone's gonna roll tonight, someone's gotta wed, action will be red') the sheer pizazz of the performance and the rock and roll grit more than makes up for it. A vastly under-rated song whose main disappointment is that it fizzles out just at the point when its threatening to get going again - of all the songs on this album to cut short this is not the one...

Alas that leaves us with 'Baby's Request', another of the most-bizarre-things-to-put-on-a-record-about-getting-down-with-the-kids. I loathe this dreary song, which I haven't listened to in some twenty years because I hate it that much: a lazy spoof of the sort of inter-war music Paul's dad would have played around the house a lot when his song was growing up and  yet is somehow more irritating than similargoes at stuff like this ('Honey Pie' and 'You Gave Me The Answer') because there's no twinkle in the eye, no gallant nod of the hed of 'don't worry kids - this is one your mother should know and then we'll get back to the rock and roll you all know' (perhaps because it was deliberately written for The Mills Brothers rather than Wings, who refused it. Paul only recorded it because he said his children liked it - which again shows that you shouldn't listen to your family. And they were probably just being polite - no one out there truly loves this song do they? If they do play them 'Ram' quick and show them what they're missing!) Instead it trots out every cliche under the sun as if we're actually meant to be impressed with lines like 'When the moon lays his head on his pillow' . As for the tune, just because melodies come as naturally to McCartney as breathing that doesn't necessarily mean he should leave them as they are. Every batch of McCartney compositons tend to include something that's teeth-grindingly puerile and obvious - thankfully those are the ones that tend to end up on the cutting room floor although a few escape (B-side 'I'll Give You A Ring' and large parts of 'Pipes Of Peace' 'Flaming Pie' and 'Chaos and Creation' come to mind). However this melody is downright irritating: it's so overwhelmingly twee and much as I adore McCartney for bringing so much love and joy and music to the world for the three minutes this song is on it's all I can do from going round his house and slapping him with a wet fish (to be fair that's how I feel about The Spice Girls every time I hear them, not just on occasion). 'Baby's Request' is a horrifically empty song and the worst way possible for Wings to end their career (though let's face it 'Mambo and 'Bip Bop' wasn't the best way to start it back in 1972 either) without a single redeeming feature. Only Laurence Juber, a one-time member of the National Jazz Youth Orchestra, sounds anywhere close to comfortable. Oh the problems that go with being a McCartney fan. Horrid. Just horrid. And it's bound to go round my head all flipping day (what a waste when it could be filled with the likes of 'Winter Rose'). Take this request off the airwarves please. To think this track was a last minute replacement for the actually rather good rocker 'CAGE'...


Overall, then, 'Back To The Egg' is a complete mix, a recipe made up of some good ideas that are rather scrambled in the recipe and all of which tastes foul thanks to a few gone-off ingredients. Wings badly needed this album to restore their confidence as much as their sales and the problem of the record is not the fault of the new line-up either who are very hard done by (they're the star players on this album, as Paul drops the ball and Denny does one of his disappearing acts for half of it). Wings need to spin it on and how, but Macca has no idea how the kids spin anything these days and he ends up with a few awkward parodies of younger music, some horrendous throwbacks to a yeateryear that should remain in the past and only occasionally what Wings should be doing - the golden ballads and attacking rock they always did best. Paul has lost his bottle and learnt the hard way that to make a new omelette recipe he has to break some 'eggs' but rather than going back and consolidating what Wings always knew how to fo he messes with the formula so much that if this was Masterchef he'd have failed the 'invention' test despite the band having the talent and means to have done something good. Though some fans have tried to save it down the years and in context its welcome to hear a bit more aggressive rock thrown in to break up the formula, this is by far Wings' weakest record and one of Paul's worst too, leaving him with egg all over his face that for the rest of his career he's never quite been able to throw off...

Other McCartney and Wings related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:


'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/paul-mccartney-and-wings-at-speed-of.html

'London Town' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-71-paul-mccartney-and-wings.html

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-106-paul.html

'Tug Of War' (1982) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/news-views-and-music-issue-122-paul.html

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/paul-mccartney-pipes-of-peace-1983.html

'Press To Play' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/88-paul-mccartney-press-to-play-1986.html

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/news-views-and-music-issue-40-paul.html

'Off The Ground' (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/paul-mccartney-off-ground-1993.html

'Driving Rain' (2001) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/paul-mccartney-driving-rain-2001.html

'New' (2013) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/paul-mccartney-new-2013-album-review.html

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/the-best-unreleased-mccartney.html

No comments:

Post a Comment