Top critical review
Band On The Run (Paul McCartney & Wings 1973)
on April 25, 2003
1973 was a pretty decent year if you were an ex-Beatle or a Beatles fan still reeling from their break up in 1970. All 4 enjoyed success in this year (though Harrison had had a 3 year running success story since All Things Must Pass) and McCartney fans saw Paul finally put forth an album that could possibly equal his prolific output in The Beatles heyday. Band On The Run I can only recommend to a person who likes what McCartney did in his former band, and wants to see something similar from him.
McCartney, Linda McCartney and Denny Laine packed up and went to Africa (Lagos) to record the follow up to Red Rose Speedway, having lost two members of the original Wings line-up. Much has been made by McCartney himself about the recordings in Africa, but I myself cannot hear any influence whatsoever, apart from on the chorus of Mamunia, that says the region had any influence at all on his songs. What Band On The Run offers is McCartney returning to what he does best, pleasant songs with catchy hooks and melodies. I find most of the songs suffer a little from McCartney's unwillingness to take risks in his music. Often is the case where he finds something to hook on to, and rarely does he let go, which makes his music after repeated listenings take on an uninteresting dynamic. After a while, nothing jumps out at you because of his 'safe'arrangements. 1973's 'Live & Let Die' broke this mold with an exciting string arrangement, but that is sorely lacking on Band On The Run.
Geoff Emerick who was The Beatles engineer, makes this album sound well recorded, but makes some strange choices or was instructed to make them. The main problem with Band... are the drums. McCartney plays them primarily, and I find this makes the album a bit weaker than wanted. These songs, in the hands of a musician confident on his/her chosen instrument, would have a bit more life to them in the rhythm department. McCartney's approach on drums has always been that he can keep a beat, can play fills, and does enough to get through the song, but overall it sounds like a person not exactly comfortable behind the instrument. Some of these songs need excitement, and on the two 'rockers' Jet and Helen Wheels, the drums are mixed so far back, that they sound thin when the song needs power to propel it. This trend continues on Venus & Mars (1975). Another odd mixing choice is on 'Let Me Roll It', with its signature guitar hook. As the song opens up, this guitar part is loud and centred in the stereofield, but when the vocal comes in, it drops back in volume. I've never heard an album released to the public do this, and it's odd seeing this in 1973, when recording options went far beyond the simple 4 track machines had in the 60's. That nothing occupies the right side of the field until the organ on the chorus, where there is no guitar hook seems a strange choice. The guitar part is the main hook of the song, and to let it be compromised quite a bit in volume seems strange to me.
The album opens up pretty strongly with the title track, showing off McCartney's ability to meld three different pieces of music into one. Subject matter is relatively unimportant, and does not present a 'conceptual' theme throughout the rest of the album, part of McCartney's problem as a lyricist. 'Jet' continues the strong opening, but I find 'Bluebird' a little annoying. I think it's the lounge atmosphere it has, with not much happening in the song that makes it somewhat repetitive. 'Mrs.Vanderbilt' is an odd little song, probably not one of his better known tracks, but the individual he cites was certainly more deserving of a better tribute. Born in 1844, she was a benefactor who lived in Hyde Park. Vanderbilt donated much of her energies & time towards charity, sufferers of Tuberculosis were sent to hospital with Vanderbilt covering all of their medical expenses. McCartney's lyric is surely lacking any point describing why Mrs.Vanderbilt should leave him alone.
What would be side 2 opens with Mamunia. Those who own the White Album should recognise its similarity musically with McCartney's Mother Nature's Son, and Rocky Raccoon. No Words is interesting to a degree, which then runs into Helen Wheels. Wheels is very reminiscent of the time, glam rock in full swing and its Suzi Quatro quality does not escape my ears. We then have another 'tribute'. This one fails even more than Vanderbilt. Dustin Hoffman asked McCartney if he could write a song from any subject, on the spot. McCartney did so, with Pablo Picasso's death being the nearest reading material at hand. The song's lyric sounds like it was on the spot, and pays little respect to the 20th century's most famous artist, and THEN goes into a tribute to Band On The Run, the album. An opportunity to celebrate another 'artist' is totally wasted, and where McCartney has made point to say HE was the avant-garde, art appreciator of The Beatles, he does nothing to prove it by this song. That he celebrates his own creations in a tribute to a dead man says enough. The album closes with probably the only song I really enjoy, 1985. I think it's one of the best songs he has done in his catalogue, but it's not the lyric that I enjoy. Some I think have misinterpreted it to be an Armageddon song, when it's only saying no one still around 12 years from 1973 will be good enough for the song's narrator.
The best McCartney could do after leaving The Beatles is this album.