Since this is one of my favorite albums - period - might as well do a little review.
It's 1981, John Lennon is gone, and Paul had grown bored with Wings and ended it just like he ended the Beatles. Ahem. Well, what's a big pop star to do? Wait for Michael Jackson to call. Well .... Michael hasn't called yet. Anyway, he goes back to his roots, big time, and gets his Beatles producer, Beatles drummer, wife Linda, and just about everyone else from the extended Paul universe and brings it all home in a family affair.
This album is all about continuity with his legacy while making a clean break with his immediate past. I think he accomplishes this awkward task brilliantly.
"Tug of War"
- Right away, we get a lush orchestration, the stamp of George Martin. Starts off peacefully with an acoustic guitar, but after that, the electric Guitars are way in the background, a welcome break from the late Wings "Van Halen imitators" days. Linda is a major presence to continue the essential Wings sound (and she makes a real contribution here, sorry, Linda haters). The video makes clear this is about, um, tugs of war - hey, did you know that used to be an Olympic sport that Great Britain excelled at? - but Paul nicely brings in some very subtle environmental concerns, another nice segue from the past. He aims high on this one, sort of saying that progress is a constant struggle with successes and failures, and pretty much hits his target. Overall, a nice start to the album, not one of my favorites but I recognize it as great. On the downside, Paul adopts that earnest, pleading tone that, well, I wish he would use less often. But still a very nice record that grows on me with time, to the point that I sometimes listen to it for purposes other than reviewing it.
I might add that the video ending - with Linda in the control room, and then next to Paul, and then disappearing and leaving him alone, followed by his disappearance - is quite affecting now.
"Take it Away"
- in runner-up position, we have perhaps Paul's best song of the album and, to be truthful, the decade. Ringo is around on the video to ham things up - that was his real value to the early Beatles, of course - and George Martin actually has a nice gig in the (1950s-vibe) video. I also like that Linda is shown handling the business affairs, which is my understanding of how things actually worked in the '70s at least. Nice horn (synthesizer) work, nice transitions, drumming is right up there (thank you Mr. Gadd, too), Paul is in excellent voice, and the lyrics add something that make this darn near autobiographical. Linda contributes some nice "woo-woos," and you can't overestimate the value of a feminine touch here and there. Paul does his well-worn path of a mellow start, then ramp up to the main tempo, and then a few breaks in the action later, reminds me of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" in that regard. One of the tunes on the album that I enjoy pulling up now and then, Paul should be proud of this one."Somebody who Cares"
- After two show-stoppers, time for a "little" song, and that's exactly what we get. A few nice instrumentals (thank you, George), and Paul is in fine voice (yes, I'm going to keep saying that on this album), but the lyrics, well, let's just say that I like the melody and leave it at that. Transitions are a bit awkward, and the repetition that is a constant Paul theme is a bit much, and then it just sort of ... ends. OK, it's "a beautiful song." The acoustic guitar work saves it for me, but it's in the bottom half of this very tight album."What's that you're Doing?"
- We get a nice funk sound right up front, which I find refreshing. Stevie Wonder is in the house! Sort of a late-disco vibe to it, which is OK, since the whole album isn't like that and it would get old quick. Unlike just about everyone else, I think this is a worthy addition to the album that gives it a contemporary feel. I also like hearing Paul sharing with and harmonizing with another singer, and not just another "so what voice is Paul going to use on THIS song." A little variety is the spice, baby. Goes on a little too long, but Stevie, he needs maneuvering room, dig? He probably could have gone on for another twenty minutes. I think people dislike this one because it's ... different ... for a Paul album, but a good tune and still a pleasure. Paul brought Stevie back 30 years later on his "My Valentine" cd, so he must have liked the results."Here Today"
- Paul dials it back - can't let that funk get out of hand! - and gives one of his (patented) soulful, emotional ballads with that (thank you George Martin) "Eleanor Rigby-esque" string backup. I am VERY MUCH alone in thinking this is perhaps the weakest song on the album, when some others think it is one of his best ever, but I don't mark up song grades based on whether they are tributes to John Lennon or not, sorry. Yes, I am cold as ice about music, John was worth more than any tribute song. At least it is relatively quick, again in the "Eleanor Rigby" vein, but, sir, I knew Eleanor Rigby, and....
Side 2"Ballroom Dancing"
- for my money (and I bought the "Tug of War" cassette when it came out and still have it), the second best song on the album, which is probably why it leads off side 2. Great lyrics, great melody, nice transition. I love the concept of a 1950s dance competition, again Paul is going back to his real roots in a different way, and with (thank you George Martin) nice clarinet and horn work. Sounds very, very, very similar (to my ears) to the Kinks "Come Dancing" hit of the same year on the same theme, which is a classic, and this isn't quite in the same league as that song, but it is right up there. Perhaps goes on a bit too long, but still a top track."The Pound is Sinking"
- so many people love this song that I hate to say that I find the lyrics are Paul at his weakest and most trite, the melody is weak, and it has an experimental feel that would have worked better on McCartney II or even "London Town," when it was written. Some people like the repetition thing, me, not so much, I'm a Philistine who didn't like "Picasso's Last Words," either. It passes the time and isn't downright irritating, so not a bad album filler."Wanderlust"
- this has the feel of a song that came out of a cathedral, with precise notes and a slightly ponderous - make that suitably majestic lol - feel. Paul is in absolutely superb voice and his soaring vocals almost make you forget that this is a song about a boat he used to charter in the Carribbean. Perhaps soaring vocals deserve a soaring theme? I would put this as one of Paul's best album tracks ever, right up there with "1985" and "Mrs. Vanderbilt" and a few others, but not a truly great song."Get It"
- the forgotten song from the album, a duet with Carl Perkins that has a country feel. Just as with the Stevie Wonder song, this helps give the album a rounded feel, which can be difficult to do. Has an "Act Naturally" feel to it, and that is pretty fast company, sort of like Johnny Cash guesting on a U2 album (now where might they have gotten that idea...), with nice results. Pretty classy for an album filler, and Carl lightens things up with his marvelous laugh. If you (I know you're reading this) don't like a British man attempting country, just skip this one."Be What You See"
- Paul goes for a choir sound, some would say "ghostly," and it works if you like that sort of thing. Again, a nice change of pace, Paul's best albums are ones on which you can't pin him down. Could have been extended and fleshed out a bit more, Paul has a habit of throwing some of his best ideas out there unfinished, as if to say, "hey, that's good enough for the likes of you" or maybe "I'm not sure if I really like this one so haven't rounded it out, get back to me on that, would you?""Dress Me Up as a Robber"
- Unfortunately, this always reminds me of a theme song to some 1970s action show like "SWAT" or maybe something starring George Kennedy or Roger Moore. Anyway, it has a very good '70s vibe to it that again shows Paul adapting yet another musical style to his own needs. The lyrics aren't much, but Paul is in good voice (again!) and there is some more good acoustic guitar work (thanks again, George!), so there are many redeeming qualities to this album filler."Ebony and Ivory"
- OK, here we go. This is the smash hit that everyone hates. It is a nice duet with Stevie Wonder that says some very nice things. I'll always remember the criticism when it came out, that there isn't TRUE equality between the white and black keys on a piano, so THE SONG IS FLAWED. Like, oh my God, how deep do we have to dig to rag on a simple song? Anyway, it has a very 1980s hit vibe to it, which drives some people loopy and drives others to say it is one of the best songs in history. Well, it is neither, but it IS a very nice record, and Paul is in nice voice (again!). Perversely, the weakest link on the song is probably Stevie's synthesizer playing, which is usually his strength, but that doesn't destroy the song or anything.
The main problem with this song imho is that it does not fit any of the standard categories for a Paul song. Here, he is reaching out with a completely different sound in order to draw in new fans. I think that worked - brilliantly, and, as such, is one of the greatest successes of his entire career (yes, entire career). Paul's appearance on "Thriller" gets similar hacks from Jackson fans, that "The Girl is Mine" is the worst song on the album and so on and so forth. Hogwash. Music is a business, and both songs broadened Paul's (and the associated artists') fan base. That it isn't yet another knockoff of "Eleanor Rigby" or "Blackbird" or "Yesterday" and thus "doesn't sound right" to big Macca fans is just such a shame - and means nothing about the true quality of this excellent song/performance.
The video is very formal, showing that this is a Serious Topic. It's like a summit meeting between two heads of state, perhaps Paul trying to fill a gap in his musical resume, and it works.