Monday, 18 August 2014
Paul McCartney "Pipes Of Peace" (1983)
Paul McCartney "Pipes Of Peace" (1983)
Pipes of Peace/Say Say Say/The Other Me/Keep Under Cover/So Bad//The Man/Sweetest Little Show In Town/Average Person/Hey Hey/Tug Of Peace/Through Our Love
Considering that this album is predominantly about peace, people have spent an awful lot of time down the years talking about how much they hate it and what violent things they might do to the people who created it. 'Pipes Of Peace' is not a well loved album but unlike other unloved McCartney albums down the years ('Wildlife' and 'Back To The Egg') this isn't even an album a small minority of fans will confess to having as a 'favourite'. It's become a buzzword for empty and bland amongst McCartney fans who wonder how that many talented people can have gone into a single project with so many wrong ideas: in 'war' and 'peace' terms it's right up there with Archduke Ferdinand forgetting to take his bodyguard with him, America thinking that fighting in Vietnam on the Viet Cong's own neighbourhood their way was a good idea, the Allies assuming that being horrendously cruel to a beaten Germany public who had all been sold out by their politicians wouldn't have any implications or see the rise of any charismatic leaders with a grudge to bear, the guy who bullied Napoleon at school for being too short and any foreign policy decision ever made by Tony Blair and George Bush separately or together. Many fans started to wave a white flag of surrender somewhere around track two (Michael Jackson duet 'Say Say Say') and never quite reach a truce until somewhere near the end of the record. For once I'm not going to fly in the face of general conceived McCartney fan wisdom: 'Pipes Of Peace' is indeed a poor record and rather than simply an album ahead of its time and actually rather good if people would just give it a chance (like follow-up 'Press To Play') it would have sounded 'wrong' in any age. But - and here's the really annoying thing - almost all of the record ever so nearly gets it right. For a start the album is bookended by two of the most gorgeous ballads in the McCartney kingdom (the title track and the neglected 'Through Our Love') and everything else is made by the same cast of characters who made this album's twin sister 'Tug Of War' so appealing (give or take 'Ebony and Ivory'). Unlike, say, 'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (a travesty from the first note to the last) 'Pipes of Peace' follows a formula that has already worked once and there is no reason why it couldn't have worked again; everyone has a game plan and everyone has done this sort of thing before. But sometimes in war you get the occasional battle that for all your plans and hard effort is never destined to work and everyone on this album from the commander-in-chief down is just that little bit tired and uninspired and when you take that on board collectively throughout three-quarters of the album that's inevitably going to show.
As ever with lesser AAA albums we can wheel on all sorts of mitigating factors. McCartney was still distracted more than he ever let on after John Lennon's death. While the positive re-action to 'Tug Of War' was pleasing, he must have still wondered if he was right to be working solo without Wings after so long and perhaps a little guilty for the way the band ended (a combination of McCartney's jail sentence in Tokyo in 1980 and George Martin's sniffy re-action to their third line-up's musical abilities). For all the strong record sales Macca was still aghast to see the title track become his first ever single to miss the charts (after 'nearlies' across 1978-79 with 'I've Had Enough' 'London Town' 'Spin It On' 'Arrow Through Me' and 'Baby's Request'; well I can't think of any good reason for buying the last one, can you?!) The press, until so recently on Macca's side once again, had a field day. As ever, though, with the really bad McCartney albums there's something on the horizon distracting Paul and preventing him from giving the album his full attention: this time around its the prospect of doing a film. Whilst the blazing-pickaxes-at-dawn reviews for 'Give My Regards To Broad Street' make the ones for 'Pipes Of Peace' look self-controlled and carefully thought out, I seem to prefer that project to most Macca fans: you can at least see where Paul was going (a musical recapturing the feel of 'A Hard Day's Night' in middle age, with cameos from more rock stars than even his all-star 'Rockestra' project) even if one very major thing let the film down, the lack of tension (the whole crux of the film turns on the fact that - shock horror - a full month's recording sessions have got lost out of a career already stretching back 22 years, McCartney might not make his next billion pounds and some fatcats with more money than sense might close a recording studio no one seems that fussed about anyway; well boo hoo hoo!) Being rock music's archetypal Gemini Macca's always working on at least three projects at once ('Rupert and the Frog Song' was the other idea being worked on at the time) and like most Geminis the 'first' project suffers when a more exciting and daring one comes along a little later; why bother putting so much energy and enthusiasm into 'just another album' when you've got a while movie to write, star in and direct! (Yes, Macca isn't actually credited as the film's director but stories from the set reveal he had very clear ideas on how it should be made!) To quote a song from the sister album 'it's like somebody taking the wheels off your car when you had somewhere to go' - a whole series of obstacles and pressures McCartney had anticipated before 'Tug Of War' the album came out in 1982 but wasn't expecting in 1983.
On paper 'Pipes Of Peace' should have been the easiest of albums to make. Heck, half of it had already been made in 1982, with a massive six of the 11 songs having been recorded during the making of 'Tug Of War' ('Say Say Say' 'Keep Under Cover' 'The Man' 'Average Person' 'Sweetest Little Show In Town' and 'Hey Hey'). Not the strongest set of songs maybe, but a good backbone for a second record. What's interesting given this list is what Macca chose not to put out on 'Tug Of War'; Michael Jackson spent longer at the 'Tug Of War' sessions than either of that album's 'guest stars' Carl Perkins and Stevie Wonder and I reckon he must have been very miffed when Paul decided to 'hang on' to the tracks for later (as it turned out commercially this was a smart move, with 'Thriller' having been released a single month after 'Tug Of War' and still very much in people's minds (and record collections) when 'Pipes Of Peace' came out. 'Keep Under Cover' is another interesting choice: there's a fascinating demo tape from 1980-82 doing the rounds on bootleg with almost all the 'Tug Of War'/the above six songs doing the rounds and apart from a storming 'Take It Away' (which sounds much better as a simple fiesty demo rather than an overdubbed emotionless mess) the other highlight of the whole tape is a rocky 'Keep Under Cover'. Macca's having a ball with the vocal, the words still sounds fresh from the act of invention and Paul must have had a half-a-thought that this was going to be the hit single from his latest batch of songs (by contrast 'Ebony and Ivory' sounds limp and strained, even more so than when Little Stevie got involved with it). Sadly the momentum got lost on the oddly lifeless recording but the curious fact is that Macca didn't re-record the song as he would have done in years gone by - he simply shrugged his shoulders and ploughed on (the one song of these six he did modify in a major way was 'Sweetest Little Show', which for a time was a coda to another song entirely and one sadly still unreleased).
The five 'new' songs written and recorded for the project across 1983 are clearly much better ('The Other Me' 'Through Our Love' 'So Bad' 'Tug Of Peace' and the title track), even though technically speaking they should have sounded a lot more rushed (plans for 'Give My Regards' were already underway). Rather than hire a completely new set of producers, musicians and studios, however (the Gemini way remember!) Macca chose to keep on the same cast of characters who'd made 'Tug Of War' with him. The word 'cast' is used for a reason by the way: after seven years of trying to urge Wings on with the sentence 'play this bit like...would play it' Paul realised he could now get particularly people in to play on his songs and in 1983 legends were still queuing up to work with a Beatle. As a result there's a lot of famous names from the session world on this album (along with 'Tug' the only McCartney album that really does this): Steve Gadd, Dave Mattacks, Gavin Wright, Andy MacKay: even if the whole of your music collection is solo Beatles albums you should recognise all of those names from the inner sleeves and CD booklets. George Martin in particular pressed for this idea: he's always been impressed at how Paul had handled himself around other non-Beatles musicians (conducting the orchestra on 'A Day In The Life', coaching the trumpet player on 'Penny Lane', etc) and had John Lennon not been in the band The Beatles might have done a lot more of that sort of thing under Martin's tutelage and his big fat musicians phonebook. Interestingly Macca will never ever do this again (bar the 'alien band' on the 'Broad Street' version of 'Silly Love Songs') suggesting that, for all the hoo-hah about it in interviews (generally the ones he did with his producer) he was never all that comfortable with the idea. From here-on in he'll either play solo ('Flaming Pie'), use 'special guests' ('Flaming Pie' again), bow to other people's favoured friends (Eric Stewart's on 'Press To Play') or create a brand new 'band' ('Flowers In The Dirt' 'Off The Ground' 'Driving Rain' et sequence). Paul clearly feels at his most comfortable in a 'band of brothers' situation, of musicians who might not share his past but can still share his present with all the highs and lows of touring and making albums. In short, he needs Wings, or a band like Wings, musicians he can share things with. That's intriguing because that's not necessarily how everyone thinks of Paul: for better or for worse he's seen as the 'orchestrator' of The Beatles (at least the second half of their career) and someone whose at home telling other people beneath him what to do. A few early Plastic Ono Band gigs aside (even the name implies the band line-up is going to be malleable) John's only band were 'Elephant's Memory' for a single concert and album, George's 'The Travelling Wilburys' (a kind of anti-Wings in the sense that everyone knew all the members before they'd made a single note) and Ringo's 'The All-Starr Band' (again the anti-thesis of Wings, even if I've had to research quite a few of the names down the years to find out who on earth they were!)
Another point about that whole 'casting' business': there's no obvious difference between 'War' and 'Peace': Paul's 'heavy' friends include Ringo (who played on 'So Bad'), 10cc's Eric Stewart (who sings harmonies on quite a few songs from the album and plays a storming guitar solo on 'The Man'), legendary jazz bassist Stanley Clarke (who co-writes the hapless 'Hey Hey') and Denny Laine, still clearly hoping that his old friend will go back to Wings once he gets this album out of his system (Indeed, while the 'Juber/Holly' era Wings was clearly finished Paul and Denny might still be working together now had producer George Martin not been so rude about his contributions; an interview with a local paper soon after this album's release which found Denny in a rather hurt mood finally saw him shunned from Macca's inner circle). Already Paul's gone back on the chance to 're-cast' the album for whoever needs it, preferring to stick with the people he knows.
As a result 'Pipes Of Peace' 'sounds' much the same as 'Tug Of War' even if the themes of the album are actually quite different. 'Tug Of War' is an inward looking album, Macca sighing over the past and all the things unsaid which he wished could be better ('though I know I mustn't grumble it's a tug of war' is the record's key line, with backward glances to the ballrooms of his teenage years, early influence Carl Perkins, the holiday Wings took onboard HMS 'Wanderlust' in 1978 and John Lennon on 'Here Today'. 'Things used to be so much better, the record says, but now life is a struggle). 'Pipes Of Peace' is more of an 'outer' album than that, more often than not addressed in the third person just as on 'She Loves You' ('You got the sweetest little show in town' 'say say say what you mean' 'we can go through our love' 'this is the man' 'look at the average person' etc). Clearly Macca is still using his feelings in his songs just as he's always done (on the two extremes, the romantic 'So Bad' and the guilty 'The Other Me') but this is less pronounced somehow. The general consensus amongst McCartney fans is that despite his image as a 'hack' writer who comes up with instant melodies at the drop of a hat there needs to be 'some' real emotion in his songs for them to work, even if it's only a memory ('Yesterday' 'Eleanor Rigby' 'Hey Jude' 'Maybe I'm Amazed' etc). 'The Average Person' in particular is Paul back to writing about 'boring people living boring lives' as John Lennon once put it: Macca trying to get in touch with his audience by writing about what he thinks they're like instead of either finding out for himself or writing about his own thoughts and feelings and letting us make the connections to those ourselves (the dreaded 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' is a more famous version of this faux pas).
The one exception to this rule in terms of commercial success and pure fiction seems to be James Bond theme 'Live and Let Die' - written purely as fiction after reading the Ian Fleming novel - and guess which was the last song McCartney and Martin worked on together? Clearly Martin was hoping for more of the same from Paul - a series of great pop songs rather than a confessional - but if that's true than it's a shame that this meant McCartney got pushed towards his weaker songwriting style; after so many years together George really should have known his old friend better. To be fair, though, the dynamic of this album must have been so different without Lennon around to counterbalance the amount of 'realism' on display; something McCartney was no doubt used to by now but would have been new for George. Macca, too, after being so malleable in his 20s, was less used to being told what to do after being de facto producer for seven straight albums in a row (The Moody Blues' Tony Clarke's less than happy stint on 'Wildlife' is the only real exception). Macca allegedly got really shirty with Nigel Godridge on 'Chaos and Creation' after being told his early songs weren't good enough (actually they were, given that most of them turned up on the superior 'Memory Almost Full') - it could be that the diplomatic George was simply willing to leave his 'star' in control and made do with playing a bit of piano and doing the string arrangements. As a result, if there's a single problem with 'Pipes Of Peace' is that both artist and producer assumed that each other was going to whittle the songs down to size and skill and simply got on with their day jobs without taking care of the 'bigger picture'. 'Tug Of War' got away with it because the songs really were the cream of the crop (mostly) and the experience of recording this way was still 'new'; however 'Pipes Of Peace' sounds like an album made by committee, with too many people afraid of telling one another what they think ('Back To The Egg' is another album with similar problems).
Talking of people who famously couldn't be told what to do, this album's big star guest is Michael Jackson. When these songs were recorded in 1982 Wacko Jacko was hot property following 'Off The Wall' and all those years as the cute yet talented one in the Jackson Five; however by the time of this album's release 'Thriller' was out and his career had gone nuclear, outselling every single McCartney album so far, Beatles included (not until the compilation '1' in the year 2000 is this situation reversed). As a result, 'Pipes of Peace' is the 'last' place where you can hear Michael 'normally', without all that ego going to his head (Macca recalls Jacko being quite humble, eager to please and nervous about his chances for success without his usual producer Quincy Jones breathing down his neck). 'The Girl Is Mine' was the first time the public learnt about the pair's growing friendship and this irritatingly twee duet (written mainly by Jacko) is generally regarded as the single worst song on 'Thriller' (actually all the album is wretched and was so successful simply because of a big advertising budget and a music video that went on for longer than most films; you're better off with 'Off The Wall'). However that song actually came third, after Jacko had been invited to duet on 'Say Say Say' and hung around long enough to help out with writing and recording 'The Man' ( a half-finished song Macca was working up for the next day). 'Say Say Say' is, like many a McCartney 'duet' song, curiously cast: just as you can imagine him thinking up 'Ebony and Ivory's lines about racial equality and leafing through his phone book to the first black singer he could find, so 'Say Say Say' is simply an attempt to 'compete' with any contemporary pop singer. The song shares little of Jackson's own style other than a slight dance beat (already done better than this on 'Goodnight Tonight' in 1979), although this actually inspires Michael to one of his few really good vocals throughout this career - less self-aware and gauche than usual. Much more successful is 'The Man', a song which in true 'Pipes Of Peace' form meets nicely halfway between the collaborator's styles: for Macca it's simply a variation on 'Listen To What The Man Said', the idea that someone somewhere has a clue why this messed up universe is the way it is; the deeply religious Jackson treats the song as more of a reverential Christian pop hymn. Had the pair spent more time working together instead of apart (as per the other two songs they did together) then history might have remembered their collaboration with more fondness. Like many of Jackson's friendships, the relationship went sour when on Paul's advice he invested money from his new-found success in music publishing; stealing the 'Northern Songs' Lennon/McCartney catalogue from under the latter's nose and refusing to budge o the stingy royalty rates still intact since the 1960s (practically anyone else would have at least offered Paul and Yoko a rise per song, but for Jackson it was a naughty coup that allowed him to prove to himself that he was bigger than The Beatles - to be fair to him it does seem odd that Paul wasn't prepared to pay more out of his vast fortune for them and keep his babies 'safe' and Jacko gave him plenty of chances to change his mind, albeit at a much higher price than he had at first expected to pay).
So, overall then, we have a bunch of outtakes not thought good enough for release on 'Tug Of War', a distracted star pursuing too many ideas at once, an old friend in the producer's chair letting him get on with it, a guest appearance by a singer whose style is intrinsically opposed to Paul's own and a bunch of session musicians he only met the year before. It doesn't sound like much does it? Certainly songs like the torpid 'Hey Hey' (a noisy bass jam with ten words in the entire recording) and 'Tug Of Peace' (a nice idea meant to 'sample' the themes of two albums into one new song, which is rap a decade early but twice as pointless) represent the worst McCartney 'songs' released so far (and used to represent McCartney's nadir until 'Flaming Pie' came along 14 years later). Other songs are merely bad: 'Keep Under Cover' is a failed pop song, 'The Average Person' an attempt to write in a whole new style without any understanding of how that style works and 'Sweetest Little Show' a pretty riff in search of a proper song that never quite arrives. 'Say Say Say' is relatively catchy and nominally inventive, but not half as catchy and inventive as it needs to be to endure that many endless repeats on radio playlists, music video shows, compilations, etc. The rest of the album is much better, however and too often gets overlooked: 'The Other Me' is a neat song about (what else?) Macca's split Geminian personality and although it gets quickly covered up by a catchy tune and poppy chorus the regretful sentiments in it sound honest and respectable; 'So Bad' is the epitome of a McCartney ballad: it may be slow and it may be simple but a melody like that stirs something in our subconscious because so perfect and rounded and obvious does it sound it must surely have been around since the dawn of time, not just 1983; 'The Man' is a deeply unusual McCartney song that represents the one true experiment on the album and pulls it off - a sweet country-rocker about pre-determination; 'Through Our Love' is a gorgeous song and the one track where George Martin's lush production makes sense - a big budget ending to the album that sends it out soaring; and finally, best of all, that title track - a re-write of 'All You Need Is Love' much rubbished by naysayers but a song that I actually find more memorable and convincing; a plea for peace from someone whose survived the war. That little lot isn't enough to make 'Pipes Of Peace' a neglected classic (the way that 'Press To Play' is) and it certainly wasn't enough to make this a 'hit' album (the way that predecessor 'Tug Of War' had been). But that might be enough to call a truce: to stop all the reviews and online statements calling this the worst McCartney album ever; this album isn't misguided or facile enough for that - it just happens to be distracted and unenthusiastic, a sequel to an album that didn't need one and an easy way out when Macca's busy work schedule was getting to much even for him to tackle.
'Pipes Of Peace' has had an awfully mixed time for such a sweet and peace-loving song. At the time it came out as a single the British public and most of Europe fell in love with it, making it McCartney's only post-Beatles and Wings number one (to put that in context it 'beat' 'Ebony and Ivory' 'Say Say Say' and 'Coming Up' and anything from the supposedly multi-successful 'Flaming Pie'). In America, however, Capitol (the sister company who have first say so on British EMI releases) didn't think it would sell and promoted B-side 'So Bad' instead (even the American version of 1987 compilation 'All The Best' was changed to reflect this). However the song has undergone such a reversal of fortune today that few people actually remember it and if they do their reaction is usually of the 'flipping heck that music video was a bit wrong wasn't it?' However I've always had a soft spot for this song, which sounds to me like McCartney picking up the mantle of his old colleague Lennon and using a song to promote peace. This being McCartney the song is both prettier and tamer than, say, 'Give Peace A Chance' and less straightforward but is none the worse for that: the way the melody of this song swells into a sudden explosion of celebration and joy in the chorus is lovely and the production touches (military drumming, contemporary synths handled better than last time on 'Wonderful Christmas Time' and particularly inviting on the opening where, mingled with brass, they really do sound like a battle raging in the distance, the first 'tabla' part on a solo McCartney song that subliminally feels like a joining of East and West and a children's choir that somehow doesn't sound yukky) show more taste and discretion than any other McCartney project of the 1980s. Even that much maligned music video is a classic, Macca going the extra mile to re-create the 'Christmas truce' of World War One and going the extra mile: giving 'English' and 'German' versions of himself screen time and getting the period details right (his researchers spent a long time working out what medals the pair might have and Macca even had his hair cut short for the shoot). The lyrics are weakest link, as they are for most of the album ('All around the world little children being born to the world...' 'Songs of joy instead of burn baby burn'), but unlike some charity singles I could name even they have their heart in the right place and are actually no sillier than 'All You Need Is Love' (a song this track closely resembles, right down to the walking pace tempo). However even they go to some interesting and unexpected places (the way the hushed background voices sing 'is it the only one?' after Macca cries 'someone save this planet we're playing on, suddenly turning a song of planet unity into a song about us humanity being a small speck in a vast universe). Listening to this song you can't doubt that McCartney believes every word he's singing and while not perfect it's a lot better than similar attempts by other composers in the 1980s to 'heal the world' (just look at how this album's 'second star' Michael Jackson messed up 'Black Or White'). It seems odd to say that a UK number one is an 'under-rated song', but 'Pipes of Peace' is - a typically McCartney mix of the melodic, the charming, the heartfelt and a glossy production that stands out - both on this album and against pretty much everything else out in 1983. In other years a song like this might not have fared so well, but in the context of the cold war hotting up and Reagan and Krushchev beating their chests at each other (Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' is from the same period) this soothing melodic balm couldn't help but be a hit. This time it's the Americans who got it wrong and the British who got it right.
'Say Say Say' is the album's other best known moment - the best known of the three duets between 'Mac and Jack' (as the pair are called in the promo video). While very much written by McCartney before getting in contact with Jackson, this is clearly removed from his usual style (with the exception of 'Goodnight Tonight'): this is a glossy, funky, strutting song that seems to have dancing its main aim; had McCartney been born a little later and missed the 1960s chances are most of his songs would have sounded like this, with punchy bits of aggression and hooks piled high on top of a song that's too slight to sustain them. However 'Say Say Say' doesn't sound much like Jackson and his producer Quincy Jones' usual work either, making you wonder whether the song or the idea of the collaboration came first (after the success of 'Ebony and Ivory' - well somebody must have bought it for it to reach US #1 and UK #1! - Macca may have been touting around for similar ideas). As a result 'Say Say Say' is a real jolt when it turns up on compilations by either Macca or Michael (not that I go out of my way to listen to Jackson, you understand, but sometimes its unavoidable - especially in UK shopping malls the year after he died). The song itself sounds more like a Lennon song though: a plea for straight talking without any 'games' (following 'Pipes Of Peace' on the album it's as if McCartney is trying to do his old partner's job for him now he isn't there). In other settings it might have worked quite well, but the desire to dress it up and make it catchy (all those rhymes with and repetitions of 'say') takes away from the emotional appeal of the track, which only really comes alive for a sudden unexpected switch to the minor key on the middle eight (ironically just as McCartney sings the line 'you never ever worry...'). The melody does a good job at matching the song's sense of urgency and mild frustration, with a heavy beat behind it sounding like a nagging finger, but there's no real sense of progression here other than a 'new bit to dance to' - it's as if the song is going in the narrator's head but he never has the courage to blurt it out to his partner and get the response he craves, be it 'ok' or 'get lost'. An experiment in doing something new, 'Say Say Say' is not quite as successful as 'Goodnight Tonight' had been even though this time McCartney has a group of players used to coming up with this sort of thing (unlike Wings). He's also too generous in giving Jackson all the best lines (perhaps he was stung by the backlash that says he kept all the best lines on 'Ebony and Ivory' to himself). The result is a song that veers dangerously close to parody, with McCartney unknowingly turning himself into the 'straight dad' to Jacko's 'wayward son'. The song probably wasn't supposed to come out that way: more likely is that Macca was trying to take Jacko on at his 'own game' and lost (the falsetto tag 'baby' - the only truly Michael Jackson like part of the record - is actually sung by Paul).
'The Other Me' is another example of a good and honest song buried under a commercial veneer that doesn't suit it. At its heart this is a humble and likeable song: Macca's narrator is feeling guilty over something he's said or done and is horrified by it; by now he's disassociated himself from that 'other' him that comes along to the point where it seems like another person talking. This McCartney equivalent of 'Jealous Guy' (again, how Lennon-ish is this album?) doesn't quite have that song's heartfelt apologies but is clearly heartfelt - the melody makes the singer sound as if he's bowing his head while he sings (unusual for McCartney, whose melody lines tend to go up at the end) and by McCartney standards the lyrics are quite open and honest ('The other me would rather be than that one, the other me would rather play the fool', 'It's not ewasy living by yourself so imagine how I feel'). However the difference is that Libran Lennon meant every word he said at the time - he just changed his mind with the wind. As we've mentioned a few times already in this review McCartney is a Gemini - there is no 'other me' but lots of 'me's (the pop McCartney, the rock McCartney, the ballad McCartney, the classical music McCartney, the dance McCartney, the painter McCartney, the children's animator McCartney...') and all thes other 'me's are balls being juggled in the air. As a result 'The Other Me' was never going to be as moving as 'Jealous Guy' and, perhaps sensing this, Macca chickens out of going head to head with Lennon, covering the song with an annoying shuffle backbeat, some 'nur nur nur chht' s (that sound like a wink to the audience about the narrator secretly enjoying his playboy periods whatever he says) and some 'Ferris Bueller' style heavy breathing into the microphone that was on practically every record in the mid 1980s somewhere. This means that the listener 'hears' the least impressive bits of the lyric ('I acted like a dustbin lid' is often picked out as an example of how bad the lyrics are across this album), rather than the core part of this song which is actually heartfelt ('I want to be the kind of me that doesn't let you down' Macca screams, in full Lennon mode). The result is an unconvincing and unlikeable recording of what's actually a rather convincing and likeable song.
'Keep Under Cover' is another fairly strong song ruined by trying to make the result upbeat and commercial. As heard on a 1980 demo tape this is a thrilling edge-of-your-seat wild ride through some choppy chords and some clever fast-snapping couplets reeled off like a Gilbert-and-Sullivan patter song. A third song in a row quite unlike anything else McCartney had written up to that point, you can hear the excitement of invention in his voice (the fact that this song shares a similar feel and humour to Lennon song 'I'm Steppin' Out' and lyrically seems like it's written as a complete polar opposite, despite being written before that song came out, either suggests that Macca heard John singing it during his house-husband phase and liked it or points towards just how similar the two friends were). However by the time of recording he seems to be having second thoughts: we don't know how many takes the musicians on this song went through but I'm willing to bet it was a lot: this is the memory of a good idea, not the experience of one. The violins are no match for those piano chords, the rhythm section doesn't swing and Macca simply doesn't find this song funny any more by the time he made the record, hopelessly trying to gee up the song near the end with his 'heavy' voice reserved for true rockers like 'Helter Skelter' or 'Nothing Too Much Just Outta Site' : this simple and good humoured little song is almost overpowered by it. That's a shame because this song is genuinely funny at times: 'What good is butter if you haven't got bread? What good is art when it hurts your head?' (*insert joke about the 'McCartney Paintings' book right here*). Intriguingly this song seems to hark back to both Macca's own 'depressed' phase and possibly his old friends (and fellow Gemini) Brian Wilson: 'Might as well be in bed' Macca recounts, the song using a weak pun on the idea of 'keeping out of cover' (of fire) by keeping under his bed covers. This sentiment is then turned on its head by a strident McCartney vocal promising instead to 'pick you up' and 'take you out' (it's this section that most closely mirrors the tune to 'Steppin' Out') which flies in the face of everything else heard so far; was this song written as a duet with someone else intended to sing this part? (And if no one was available then why not just use Linda the way he always had? She gets very little to do on this album although her rocking harmony on this track is about the best thing on it). As if to underline that this was a 'joke' song that fell flat, Macca invents a whole new 'comedy ending' for it, sounding not unlike the Looney Tunes theme tune before being whacked on the head by a stinging guitar part.
'So Bad' is another song that divides McCartney fans. For those who love McCartney's dreamy ballad phase this is more evidence of his sheer musicality and ability to reduce words down to their barest minimum. To his detractors this song is too slow, too treacly and too obvious. Me, I'm in the middle: 'So Bad' is about as bland and obvious as McCartney ever got, but without the tricks of the other songs on the album his talents (melodies and glossy arrangements) shine through like never before. This song is significant in being the most obviously McCartney-esque on the whole of an album which is an experiment in styles (at least it is if you don't count the out of character falsetto vocal, only tried once before on 'London Town's 'Girlfriend' and more than a little reminiscent of Michael Jackson: was this song intended as the 'other' collaboration before 'The Man' came along?) Macca inevitably started writing this song for Linda, but somewhere along the way he ended up writing this song for his children: there's a 'girl I love you so bad' for each of the four 'girls' in his life back then (Linda, Heather, Mary and Stella') and, not wanting son James (then aged six) to feel left out, the 'girl' replies to him 'boy I love you so bad' (McCartney senior: 'That line would make him go all shy and it would be lovely!') A rare moment of peace on what's actually not that peaceful an album, this is a lovely testament to heart and home and while we'd normally wish that Macca would leave these sort of songs to a minimum and push himself, on this album 'So Bad' stands out on this album because it's one song that doesn't try too hard. Like much of the album, though, the production does its best to scupper the song: what should be kept simple and light becomes ever more treacly and sugary, with only a typically restless McCartney bass line adding any tension to the song; the simpler, rawer re-recording of this track from 'Give My Regards To Broad Street' is arguably the better, despite Ringo gurning his way through the drum part whenever he gets a close-up.
McCartney/Michael collaboration 'The Man' gets side two off to a shiny start, thanks to a pop song that cuts a shade deeper than most songs on the album. Jackson, naturally, assumed that Paul was writing about God when he heard him writing the first draft of this song during 'rest periods' from 'Say Say Say'; Macca however is typically vague in his part of the song: like the 'Mother Mary' on 'Let It Be' and 'Listen To What The Man Said' he leaves it up to the listener to think what they want to think (is 'The Man' a deity or simply clever? The fact that he's called a 'man' might be a clue or a red herring). The lyrics even hint that this song is a mutual admiration society: a 'man who plays the game of life so well'. However does this cool calm and collected individual really sound like Jackson? (Macca may have marvelled at how 'normal' Jackson was in the flesh in 1983 after being a child star for so long, but even back then his friends considered him a little bit 'weird'. In as much as this song is about anyone, perhaps it's about Lennon again, that rose-tinted glow we've already heard on 'Here Today' and Macca's wonder at the outpouring of grief and demands for peace inspired by his passing ('It's just the way he thought it would be'). If so then this is a lovely send-off, Macca imagining a peaceful send-off where 'the time has come for him to be free' before adding a reminder to self about his need to carry on that legacy ('I'm alive and I'm here forever!') Hmm, well, perhaps not - but someone seems to have inspired 'The Man', which features notably more enthusiasm and heartfelt vocals from both singers than anything else on the album. A much happier meeting of minds than the other songs, 'The Man' isn't trying to cover anyone's territory: instead it unites the infectious enthusiasm both performers were famous for back then and ends up sounding like something neither performer is renowned for. However neither McCartney nor Jackson is the biggest star on this track: instead it's Eric Stewart, who adds a typically scorching guitar part to the song, on the edge of control; this cuts through the song like a knife and makes it sound closer to rock than pop - had the pair done this more on their next 'proper' album (the more or less 50: 50 collaboration 'Press To Play') then the public might have been a lot happier. The result is the album's quiet highlight and a forgotten gem from both men's back catalogue.
'Sweetest Little Show In Town' is a less successful experiment. Apparently this song was a small part of another song entirely that was cut during 'Tug Of War' which wasn't working. Unsure quite what to do with it Macca and George Martin decided to turn it into a quasi-Sgt Peppers' or 'Abbey Road Medley', stringing a few bits and pieces together and surrounding them with audience applause and sound effects. However that rather misses the point: 'Sgt Peppers' worked because of the album cover and the reprise near the end of the record; 'the 'Long Medley' was a lucky guess that unlike most fans I actually consider weaker than the sum of its parts. In truth 'Sweetest Show' turned out close to the 'Red Rose Speedway Medley' (you know the one 'Falling into a tight hand of love while a power cut is restored by dynamite, or something): a load of bits in search of a song. To take the positives, that central hook is a good one, the phrase 'sweetest little show' is common and seductive enough to have been turned into a song by someone and the guitar playing finale shows what a fine player McCartney was when not restricted to bass or piano (that's a point actually: you'd have thought with all this talk of 'casting' that Macca would have finally given in to the drive that had made him overdub guitar parts over the two Beatle guitarists as far back as 'Revolver' now that Wings aren't around to be 'told' what to do - instead chances are it's his only guitar part on either this or the two albums alongside it, barring his and Eric's equal strumming on 'Footprints'). However the production touches ('Bahhh Bah Dah!') make this piece sound like a bad musical (ie a Lloyd Webber one) and the lyrics are borderline stupid ('They can treat you like a brother, they can treat you like a clown, but if they treat you like a lover you got the sweetest little show in town!') The end result is odd even for this album: a sexy song about a lover showing off her stuff turns into a 'show' for guitar pyrotechnics instead; Macca might have done better to have kept this bit of the song, re-written some new lyrics to it and then kept it simply as a middle eight (the same thing he did with 'Hear Me, Lover' when it ended up as part of ;The Pound Is Sinking' on 'Tug Of War').
'The Average Person' is another real 'what-the?' moment. A barrel-house piano part suggests a 'Get Back' style singalong but Macca has run out of things to say to his audience. Instead he looks to them for inspiration - and rather misses the point. The idea of this song is 'missed opportunities': we meet an engine driver who'd rather have been a lion tamer (the irony being that almost all small boys in Britain, Macca included, had 'engine driver' at the top of their list of professions); a waitress who had a 'Hollywood audition' but lost out to someone younger - despite being on the verge of being a child herself; then a great boxer who everyone admires but admits, in a humble aside to the narrator, that 'he could have used a little extra height'. 'The theme of this song seems to be that 'none of us are perfect' then - but we knew that anyway; the narrator seems rather shocked by the revelation. This song would make more sense if the narrator then revealed his own desires ('I wanted to be a teacher but instead I ran away with a rock and roll group and now spend my life watching the characters who walk past me in the street and imaging their lives!') - or better yet if he came to a conclusion that there is no such thing as the 'average person' (something only The Queen and David Cameron believes): after all how many champion boxers and Hollywood auditionees do you know? The result is a song that's hard to like even though a lot of the pieces in this jigsaw fit: for once the elaborate production enhances rather than detracts from the song (the ringing bells, audience noises, steam engine sound effects etc) and out of all the great melodies sprinkled across this album its 'Average Person' that will get stuck in your head for days on end. The players sound as if they really 'get' this song; listen out for Denny Laine's harmonies high on this song by the way: the last time you'll hear the pair's voices together after a full 11 years of recordings; it's a shame it had to end like this. There's also another terrific Eric Stewart guitar part which seems to exist 'outside' the song and even gets its own section in the middle, when a very 10cc choir suddenly arrive out of nowhere and start singing in funny vocodery voices ('One day I know I'm gonna be a super- One day for sure I'll be a -'). The one thing that rings false about this recording is McCartney's vocal: perhaps he's just realised how patronising it all is. 'The Average Person' sounded really odd at the time (is there anything else from this era that sounds like this mix of 1950s piano rock, elaborate period sheen and big messages in jokey surroundings? Well yes actually, but 'Ballroom Dancing' went out on the last LP): but it sounds less odd now; perhaps the 'X Factor' factor, which means that everyone now dreams of being a celebrity apart from celebrities (who dream of the normal life they used to have) has had something to do with that.
'Hey Hey' sounds odd in any age though. Co-writer Stanley Clarke was famous for both his own 1970s albums and his collaborations with bands like 'The Police'; generally regarded as the leading black jazz bassist of his generation, it's inevitable he'd get together with McCartney sooner or later. It's inevitable too that the song would sound like this: like two bassists playing scales and letting each other shine in turn, rather than the stag-fight or top deer that might have been more interesting. The result is surprisingly modern sounding (along with the predominantly Stevie Wonder-ed 'What's That You're Doing?' from the last LP about the most contemporary McCartney ever got) which is interesting both in the sense that it showed how far Macca was prepared to go to accommodate his 'guest stars' and in how dated the track now sounds compared to his own, more timeless material. The riff from this song is also not a million miles away from 'Beef Jerky', the Lennon instrumental from 'Walls and Bridges' which served a similar purpose in trying to make its maker look young and trendy again, but only for the next couple of years after release before it made them look out of touch and hopeless. Such is changing fashion, a problem the 'Pipes Of Peace' album suffers from more than any other McCartney album. This song really should have been saved for a B-side (perhaps being swapped with the sweet and very McCartney-esque period flip 'Ode To A Koala' would have been a good idea?)
'Tug Of Peace' is the album's last minute addition: an attempt by McCartney and Martin to 'connect' this record to the last in more ways than just the sound. Again modern ears are probably kinder to this song than in the days when it came out: we're used to sampling now and loads of ideas from several songs being placed on top of each other randomly (the difference being that, in 1983, even the 'old' bits from 'old' songs were re-recorded for ease of use). As a result we get the 'Tug Of War' hookline' sung by the chorus of backing singers while Macca intones 'no no your troubles cease when you play the pipes of peace!' There's another nice atmospheric opening (which recalls the start to the title tracks of both albums) and a fun bass riff that's catchier than the one on 'Hey Hey' but that's about all: this is a fourth straight song in a row badly in need of some purpose, of some statement to make and a bunch of electronic effects, however good, are no substitute for a message (I take it back - the second side of this album is very un-Lennon like). Also, why back out of using one of the greatest and most obvious song titles ever? 'War' and 'Peace'?!
Thankfully it all comes right at the end with 'Through Our Love', one of the loveliest and unfairly neglected McCartney songs of them all. Another of those gifted melodies that raises to the heavens and keep getting bigger and bolder with every verse, it's accompanied by some sensitive lyrics about how any relationship, however difficult, is never over till it's over. Another McCartney song about the power of love to heal and transcend all, the world looks different to both halves of the couple when they're in love and because only two can share that vision it makes it special, transcending any gripes they might have about each other (the second verse hints that she never has any 'time', the narrator wishing he could roll what little time they do have 'into a ball' and make it last longer). Each chorus then actively feels as if it's a journey: that the listener really is going 'through' our love', with each verse and middle eight growing in size until this humble little song turns into an epic and feels like it really van go everywhere. Whilst still possibly a bit lush, George Martin at last has a song he knows what to do with and sets to it, building up the drama notch by notch. This lot coaxes the single best McCartney vocal on the album, dignified and confident, allowing him to show off all sorts of sides to his voice the one-dimensional songs on the rest of the album haven't allowed him to use. Against all the odds this confused album ends with the perfect unification of the 'old' and 'new Macca (the contemporary surface shine matched with a message Paul's been singing about since 'Please Please Me') and sounds like it know exactly where it's going. The pity is that, having finally caught up with where 'Tug Of War' left off Macca didn't simply cal everyone back in and cut another half a dozen songs, leaving the rest to fester on 'Cold Cuts Version seventeen' or whatever we were on by 1983. 'Through Our Love' is the best of McCartney in one place and deeply under-valued by fans - which is about where we came in.
Overall, though, 'Pipes Of Peace' is a rather uncertain album with a few sparks of inspiration but not enough to see through a whole album. George Martin was on record at the time this record came out as saying that it was 'funkier' and 'harder' whilst being more contemporary; 'more what I wanted from 'Tug Of War'. If that's true (and not just something said to plug an album) then the question really is not 'why did 'Pipes Of Peace' turn out so bad but why did 'Tug Of War' turn out so well? On paper there's very little to choose between them - and yet in terms of quality there's a chasm which only the first and last (and maybe one song right in the middle) can fill. As a result, even the good bits on 'Pipes Of Peace' have been re-examined by fans to the point where nearly every other review talks about hos this album is awful the whole way through. As we've seen that's not strictly true (and that wasn't necessarily the way fans thought about it at the time); like the Van Gogh painting of a chair holding a panpipe on the inside sleeve though I have hopes that one day the best from this record will be recognised for the fine work of art they are; even if it takes longer than the artist's lifetime for this to happen (it's also worth pointing out that nobody considers this one of Van Gogh's greatest works either!)