Thursday, February 8, 2024

Review: Wings' 'Band on the Run' 50th Anniversary Set

If there's a word that sums up Paul McCartney's work-approach with The Beatles, that word could be "perfectionism." That was certainly one of the things that drove his band-mates up a tree when he insisted on take after take of things like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", although the cutesiness of those songs surely rubbed John, George, and Ringo the wrong way too. So it was a shock when McCartney began his solo career by bucking that perfectionism, if not the cutesiness. McCartney was a homemade, one-man-band record full of non-songs and only intermittent flashes of his perfect song craft, "Maybe I'm Amazed" being the most obvious example. If RAM suggested that the perfect old Paul was back, then Macca continued to confound with an album of jams with a new band called Wings, which he then followed with a Whitman's sampler of nutrient-free confectionary experiments he titled Red Rose Speedway.

The critics were not kind, even when McCartney put out something as superb as RAM. John Lennon was even less so. But that old perfectionist was seemingly still there all along, even as McCartney chased his every whim now that he was freed from the band whose every move had been scrutinized, analyzed, and canonized for eight intense years. Band on the Run proved that.

The irony of McCartney's third and indisputably greatest album with Wings is that it is nearly as much of a one-man-band experiment as his first post-Beatles record was. McCartney supplies the bass, drums, and most of the guitars, keyboards, percussion, and vocals you hear on Band on the Run. Aside from the occasional session-man string or horn arrangement, the only others players along for the ride are Linda McCartney and the stalwart (and, sadly, recently departed) Denny Laine, who make their presences most felt with their velvety vocal reinforcements.

However, Band on the Run hardly sounds like the work of mostly one man. While McCartney had a very demo-like feel, especially when Paul was awkwardly jamming with himself on things like "Mama Miss America" and "Hot As Sun", by the time he did Band on the Run, he was seasoned enough to fashion a true band-vibe throughout the record. Most importantly, he supplied a solid run of songs, with a few downright classics. The smash title track, the super-charged "Jet", and the Lennon-olive branch "Let Me Roll It" can sit alongside his best work with The Beatles. If the record wasn't quite as wonderfully weird and colorful as RAM, it was proof that Paul still had it and could seemingly deploy it without breaking a sweat. Not that his support team didn't make crucial contributions. Denny even gets his first co-writing credit on a Wings record with the lovely and underrated "No Words".

The critics responded in kind. Even John did. So for its slightly belated 50th Anniversary, Band on the Run is getting slightly more special treatment than the half-speed mastered vinyl reissues of McCartney's previous albums. This one arrives as a double record set with a bonus LP of "underdubbed" mixes, which means they lack the proper album's string and horn arrangements, as well as certain guitar and vocal parts. Although hearing "Jet" stripped down to a simple hard-rock arrangement with prominent piano is kind of cool, the underdubbing mostly leaves the tracks just sounding a bit empty, particularly in the title track's transition out of the "If I ever get out of here"section; the end of "Mamunia", which is missing the proper mix's complex layers of counterpoint vocals; and the entirety of a totally lead vocal-free "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five". The tracks are in a different running order as well, still beginning with "Band on the Run" but ending with "Let Me Roll It" instead of "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five." All in all, the underdubbed LP is a bit novel but probably won't fall into heavy rotation since Band on the Run has never really been criticized as over-produced.

The half-speed remaster of the proper album has a little less punch than my 1973 Winchester pressing (or the underdubbed disc), but it is cleaner, and not just because my oldie is pretty beat up. Everything sounds crisp, although there is a touch of pleasing grunge around the electric guitars. Bass is full, and there are none of the inner groove distortion issues that marred the editions of Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway in this half-speed series. Between tracks you will hear silence and nothing but silence. The reproduction of the poster from the original release and an alternate version of that Polaroid-festooned poster included in the Underdubbed sleeve are nice bonuses too.

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