Friday, February 20, 2009

Paul McCartney 13: Tug Of War

This album had a long birth. While Wings was basically done, Paul kept working with Denny Laine throughout 1980, and reunited with George Martin and Ringo for this and the two albums following. Then John died. George, Ringo and even Yoko made musical statements in 1981, but we’d have to wait another year to hear the next chapter in Paul’s musical autobiography.
It was worth the wait. Right from the start Tug Of War was his best album in years. The title track is sneaky, an instant classic for those who heard it. The plaintive little melody takes its time to make its point, with just a hint of strings. The middle section is breathtaking. The tossed-off “Take It Away” was a moderate video-driven hit, and another one of Paul’s portraits of a working musician. The end section shows off the layered vocal stylings of new collaborator Eric Stewart, formerly of 10cc. “Somebody Who Cares” was inspired by the aftermath of John’s murder, and is quite empathetic without being condescending. “What’s That You’re Doing” is the lesser collaboration with Stevie Wonder (more on that later) and doesn’t work after the first playing. “Here Today” is overtly about John, and gets one misty to this day. This is exactly the type of tribute one would expect from Paul’s capabilities.
“Ballroom Dancing” is a great production, even with all the horns, with that pounding piano driving the train. “The Pound Is Sinking” doesn’t seem to be about much, though its two bits are soldered together okay. “Wanderlust” also has two melodies spiraling together but much more successfully, and is quite evocative of the sea. Paul’s old hero Carl Perkins helps with “Get It”. It’s not the best idea for a duet, but the laughter at the end is infectious. The “Be What You See” link doesn’t need a separate listing, but “Dress Me Up As A Robber” has its moments amidst all the disco rhythms. “Ebony And Ivory” was the big single, the call for racial harmony with Stevie Wonder. It’s something of an anticlimax after all the great music that’s come before, and its sentiments, while genuine, have turned to self-parody over time.
Tug Of War wasn’t really an all-star album, but having such big guns as Carl, Stevie and other old friends was good luck. It got raves at the time, and would have even without all the help. The songs stand up and the production didn’t get in the way. That didn’t stop him from remixing the album for its 2015 reissue; the 1982 mix was still available to those who bought the pricey deluxe box. Along with several solo demos, three contemporary B-side made their overdue appearance: the Celtic-flavored strum “Rainclouds”, “I’ll Give You A Ring”, and a mix of “Ebony And Ivory” sung by Paul alone. These don’t detract at all from Tug Of War being his best album in years. Back in the day, we simply hoped he could keep up the pace.

Paul McCartney Tug Of War (1982)—
2015 Archive Collection: same as 1982, plus 11 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds another 12 extra tracks and DVD)

1 comment:

  1. If the vinyl hadn’t crash-landed into my collection from my brother’s, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. I was pleasantly surprised. This was indeed Paul’s best studio album since “Band on the Run”, but it doesn’t reach that level. However, ditching Wings (permanently), electronics (temporarily) and bringing back George Martin (for a while) brought out the best in Paul. There’s a lot more attention paid to both lyrics and music here.
    My initial negative impression was based on the two singles, both of which I don’t like. “Ebony and Ivory” – I’m afraid a well-intentioned song isn’t the same as a good song. This is the only place where George wasn’t able to rein in Paul’s tendency to be sappy. As for “Take it Away” – this is going to sound like a real nitpick, but it always bugged me that the song fades out when it does, instead of coming back to the chorus one more time!
    I like everything else. “Get It” is a “Ram”-ish piece of flak, but you can tell they’re having fun. I really disagree about “What’s That You’re Doing”? It sounds like it belongs on a Wonder album rather than a McCartney album. Despite being out of place, it’s a cool, funky track. Except for “E&I”, the ballads have real resonance, and the upbeat tunes are catchy and overcome what lyrical shortcomings (and there aren’t all that many, especially for a Paul album) they have. I also have the 45rpm of “Rainclouds”, and I think that it’s tons better than the A-side, but I suppose it’s folky sound didn’t fit in with the rest of the tracks.
    The album wasn’t quite enough to pull me back into Paul fandom, but it’s better than I thought at the time. However, I really don’t get that you rated this the same as “Band on the Run”. I’d deduct a half point for the two singles. But I’d also give “BotR” a 5. Then again, I’m a product of THOSE times…