Sunday, November 2, 2014

Paul McCartney & Wings- "Venus & Mars" and "Wings At the Speed of Sound" reissue review

            Following last year’s reissue of Wings Over America, MPL and Hear Music/Concord have released the next two entries in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. The albums, Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound, were albums released during the peak of Wings’ career. As with the previous entries, the albums are newly remastered and each come with a second disc of bonus tracks. In terms of sound, the remastering on both albums is top notch and should make any McCartney fan happy.

  Wings - Venus and Mars
Venus and Mars
Album Rating: ****
Bonus Disc: ****

            Released in 1975, Venus and Mars was Wings’ follow up to the critically acclaimed Band on the Run. At this point in time, Paul McCartney had expanded the line-up of Wings. Along with McCartney was his wife Linda on keyboards and guitarist/singer Denny Laine. Guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell had both left before Band on the Run was recorded, leaving Wings as a trio for that album. In 1974, 21-year-old Scottish guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Geoff Britton were added to the group. This line-up did not last for very long. After only a few recording sessions, Britton left the group. He would be replaced by American drummer Joe English. With McCulloch and English in the group, the band were about to embark on what would be the band’s most successful time in their career.

            Venus and Mars has always been a personal favorite of mine. As a follow-up to Band on the Run, I think it’s a very strong album. Compared to the band’s previous work, Venus and Mars does sort of have a hard rock edge to it. The album opens with the brilliant two-parter of the title track and “Rock Show.” The latter is a fun track to listen to, as the lyrics make references to different venues and rock music in general at that time. While the big hit single from is album is “Listen to What the Man Says,” there are plenty of great song on this album. There’s the rocking “Magento and Titanium Man,” the funk riddled “Letting Go,” and Laine’s spacey “Spirits of Ancient Egypt.” Being a fan of McCulloch’s work in and out of Wings, his anti-drug rocker “Medicine Jar” is another favorite of mine.

In terms of remastering, the sound quality is quite impressive. My older copy of Venus and Mars is the 1987 CD issue. Compared to that, the new remaster sounds rich and better (I am aware that the last time most of McCartney’s albums were reissued was in 1993 as part of the Paul McCartney Collection). Some things do stand out more, such as the keyboard work.

            The bonus disc is certainly an improvement over the last few ones, as it clocks in at 50 minutes. However, six of the fourteen tracks- such as the hit single “Junior’s Farm” and “My Carnival”- have all been released before as bonus tracks (though “Sally G,” “Walking in the Park  With Eloise” and “Bridge On the River Suite” were all bonus tracks on older versions of Speed of Sound). The eight new unreleased tracks are quite good. There’s a great rendition of “Soily” on here from the One Hand Clapping documentary and new songs in “Let’s Love” and “4th of July.” While it can be boring at times listening to the bonus disc, completists should be happy nevertheless.

 Wings - Wings at the Speed of Sound
Wings at the Speed of Sound
Album Rating: *** ½
Bonus Disc: ***

            Wings at the Speed of Sound was quite a big seller when it was released in 1976. The reviews for the album, however, did not match with the sales: reviews were mixed, most feeling that the album was weak. For me, At the Speed of Sound is a strange album. There are some great songs on here but compared to Venus and Mars, it feels like the band went soft on this one. Still, At the Speed of Sound is not a bad album at all.

            Speed of Sound features two of the band’s biggest hits- “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs.” While there are some people who don’t like these songs (especially the latter), I have a soft spot for them. There are other great songs on here with some of them sounding better when performed live. For example, Laine’s “Time to Hide” and the heavy “Beware My Love” are great songs but have more of a punch to them when they were performed live. Speed of Sound also holds the distinction of being the only Wings album to feature all of the members singing at least one song. Laine gets two sing two songs- the aforementioned “Time to Hide”  and his sorrowful “The Note You Never Wrote” (the latter of which has a killer guitar solo).  Being a fan of McCulloch, I do enjoy the guitar-driven “Wino Junko,” which is another rocker about the dangers of drugs (unfortunately for McCulloch, he would die from a drug overdose three years after the release of this album). Joe English even gets to sing a song- the McCartney-penned “Must Do Something About It,” which is a really great deep track on here. English’s voice is sensational on here and I wish he had leant his vocals on more Wings tracks (After English left Wings, he had a career as a Christian Rock artist). While Linda McCartney is sorely missed by all of us, I have to admit that “Cook of the House” was not one of her best moments.

As for the remastering, it’s quite strong. My previous copy of Speed of Sound was a CD issue released 1989. Compared to that, this new remaster is way better. I’ve said before that Speed of Sound has been a strange album for me, but I think the new remaster makes me appreciate it a little more. For me, the bass is ridiculously good. It stands out remarkable. Just listen to “Silly Love Songs” and you’ll see (or rather hear) what I’m talking about.

            The bonus disc for Speed of Sound is quite disappointing, as it consists of only 21 minutes of material. Still, none of the seven tracks on here have been released. There is an interesting take of “Beware My Love” featuring John Bonham of Led Zeppelin pounding away at the drums. The demos for “Silly Love Songs” and “Let ‘Em In” are interesting, as you get to hear Paul harmonize with Linda and Denny respectively.

            Overall, I’ve enjoyed both reissues of Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound. Both albums sound great and for me, are better than any other versions of the album I’ve owned before. For those of you who own the 1993 remasters, it’s completely up to you. If you were happy with the previous reissues in this series, I’d say go for it and buy them.

It should also noted that with these two reissues, all of the albums on the small paper ad that came with the Band on the Run reissue have been released: McCartney, McCartney II, Ram, Wings Over America and now Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound. The Paul McCartney Archive Collection will now continue with the reissues of Tug of War and Pipes of Peace

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