Monday, December 22, 2014

Music Reviews: Sir Paul's Latest Re-issues; Jimmy Page's History Book

Wings—Venus and Mars
Wings—Wings at the Speed of Sound
(Hear Music/Concord)

The Paul McCartney Archive Collection has been taking its sweet time covering Paul's amazing post-Beatles career—two releases per year seems to be the norm—and the latest are Wings' mid-70s number-one albums, Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound.

1975's Venus and Mars, which followed closely on the heels of Paul's critical and commercial post-Beatles breakthrough, Band on the Run (still flying high on the charts when this came out), consolidated Wings' commercial success, even though it sounded like a slight comedown after the exhilarating songs on Band.

But the usual variety of musical styles is on display throughout Venus and Mars, from the opening "Venus and Mars/Rockshow"—which would be the concert opener during 1976's Wings Over America tour and at Paul's 2010 shows—to the closing cover of the British TV soap opera Crossroads theme song. In between are the bright-sounding "Magneto and Titanium Man," which showed Paul's interest in Marvel superheroes long before they became movie staples; "You Gave Me the Answer," another of Paul's delightful music-hall pastiches; "Call Me Back Again," housing one of Paul's most agile vocal performances; the smash "Listen to What the Man Said," showing off Paul's genius for arresting arrangements; and "Letting Go," a downbeat number that's actually one of Paul's most personal songs for wife Linda.

Released the following year, Speed of Sound gave the band new songs to play on tour (Paul was playing his first American concerts since the Beatles last performed in 1966) and provided a democratic way of presenting the group as more than simply Paul's backing band by having each member—even Linda, on the facile "Cook of the House"—take a crack at a lead vocal. Guitarist Denny Laine's rocker "Time to Hide" has the strongest musical legs, although Jimmy McCullough's somber "Wino Junko" attained tragic relevance following the 26-year-old guitarist's 1979 death from a heroin overdose.

Speed of Sound's Paul quotient consists of two huge singles—"Silly Love Songs," with its irresistibly melodic bass line, and the guilty-pleasure sing-along "Let Em In"—and fun if inessential romps through various genres like the funky "She's My Baby," bouncy "San Ferry Anne" and romantic "Warm and Beautiful." Best of all is the surging rocker, "Beware My Love," which became a live highlight on the 1976 tour. (Too bad he's never seen fit to resurrect it for any of his recent concerts.)

Along with an impressive remastering job of both albums, these re-issues come with an extra disc of added material, comprising B-sides, demos, alternate cuts, etc. Disc 2 of Venus includes the chugging hit single "Junior's Farm," the great, unheralded stomper "Soily"—never officially released, although Paul felt highly enough of it to make it the group's final encore during the '76 tour—and an early version of "Rock Show," which has a few interesting changes. Sound's second disc contains piano demos of "Let 'Em In" and "Silly Love Songs" (both of which are intricately structured even at this early stage), Paul singing "Must Do Something About It" (which drummer Joe English sings on the record) and an alternate version of "Beware My Love" with Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, which gives it extra oomph.

Next up in the Archive Collection are one of Paul's best albums, 1982's Tug of War, and one of his less compelling efforts, the 1983 follow-up Pipes of Peace. I'm still waiting for 1979's underrated Back to the Egg, but I don't think even Paul likes it very much, so I'm not holding my breath.

Jimmy Page 

Not content with simply knocking out superb new re-issues of Led Zeppelin's studio albums—Led Zeppelin I, II, III, Zoso (IV) and Houses of the Holy are available, with Physical Graffiti, Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda presumably on the way next year—Jimmy Page has also put together a massive photographic autobiography, simply entitled Jimmy Page.

This gorgeous cover-table tome (512 pages and 6-plus pounds' worth) is essential for any Page fan, from his teenage days to the Yardbirds, Zep, The Firm, his '90s reunion with Robert Plant, and beyond: this elegant volume is crammed with hundreds of photos of Page and his cohorts onstage, offstage, backstage and in the studio, complemented by captions and an occasional explanation, along with lists upon lists of what I assume is every concert tour Page has been on.

Unlike Plant, Page desperately wants to embark on one last megatour as you know what; since that most likely won't happen, he's contented himself with bolstering his legacy as Led Zep's founder and premier musical architect. This book, along with those reissues, goes a long way toward cementing his legendary status as one of rock's greatest instrumentalists and composers. 

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