Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Paul McCartney 6: Venus And Mars

His confidence restored (and Capitol’s too, as they re-signed him with a pile of cash they didn’t offer the Other Three after Apple folded), Paul picked up a lead guitarist with a similar name to the last one and two drummers in rapid succession. Venus And Mars is more of a rock album, and had a little more input from the new members. (He also reverted the band name to just Wings and racked up a pile of 45-only tracks that would be welcome in an album context.)
The proceedings start like his concerts would, with the almost pastoral title track colliding into the stomping “Rock Show”. Can you name any other song that mentions Jimmy Page? The “oi” section, silly as it is, still brings a smile and the piano part at the end almost makes up for the voiceover. “Love In Song” sneaks up on you, and it’s achingly gorgeous. It’s one of those underrated classics that he manages to put on every album. “You Gave Me The Answer” fits in with his music hall tunes from ‘67 and ‘68, and is real sweet. From there we go to the Marvel Comics world of “Magneto And Titanium Man”, and one of his best album sides ends with the FM rock of “Letting Go” (there’s that Rickenbacker bass).
Side two isn’t nearly as strong. “Venus And Mars (Reprise)” puts us in space with the “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt”. Denny Laine sings this one, and it makes absolutely no sense, but it was designed to Rock so that will have to do. Jimmy McCulloch sings his own “Medicine Jar” (more on that topic later), a very heavy tune. “Call Me Back Again” tries in vain to recapture the “Oh! Darling” sound; the production makes up for it. If he wrote it just to play it on stage, that makes sense, since he was doing all he could to avoid the Beatles songs as much as he could. After an interminable fadeout, what sounds like a Wolfman Jack impression but probably isn’t goes from speaker to speaker right into “Listen To What The Man Said”. This is another classic McCartney song, though to this day we still don’t know who the man is or what he’s telling us. The saxophone is a lot of fun, and coming from someone who hates saxophones and Tom Scott as a rule, that means something. The panoramic ending takes us right into “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”, yet another example of Paul fitting two unrelated songs together because he can. The joke at the end of this album is the theme to the British soap opera “Crossroads”, which sounds like it might as well be a McCartney melody. “And that’s basically it.”
Venus And Mars set out to Rock, so it succeeds on that score. Putting all the pieces together it makes mathematical sense, but doesn’t seem to inspire many listens these days. Paul now had enough tunes and a heavy-hitting band to take on the road for the sole purpose of ruling the coliseums for the next 18 months. Also, following the lead of Band On The Run, this one upped the ante with two posters, stickers, gatefold and lyrics; the CD didn’t have those but added some later B-sides recorded around the same time.
The Archive Collection filled in a lot of the extra work and music that led up to the eventual album, starting with the excellent “Junior’s Farm”/“Sally G” single. Both had been recorded in Nashville, along with an instrumental single released under the moniker The Country Hams. Other B-sides and single mixes are mingled with demos of “Let’s Love” and “4th Of July”, both given away to other singers, and a rocking take of “Soily”.

Wings Venus And Mars (1975)—
1988 CD reissue: same as 1975, plus 3 extra tracks
2014 Archive Collection: same as 1975, plus 13 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds DVD)

1 comment:

  1. Agree on pretty much your entire review / analysis. I will say V & M remains a favorite with me. I recognize now that yes the best is on side one and Listen is the best of side 2. I never understood wth Spirits is about (and all that moaning an hand wringing then made it all the more confusing). I find the guitar work on Medicine Jar exciting and it's sad at that since it's so obvious how good Jimmy was and how far he might have gone still.