Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vintage Venus and Mars review

This past month Paul re-released two classic Wings albums:  Venus and Mars and Speed of Sound.   I was extremely lucky for once in my life and I won both of these album through a contest at the Fab 4 Free For All.   I really got into Wings in the past 10 years and I never owned these albums, although I have been familiar with all of the songs on them.    I just had never heard them packed as an album.    I have been enjoying them, but I especially like Venus and Mars.     I found this review from a fanzine written in 1975, when Venus and Mars was first released and I thought it was really interesting to read.   The perspective in 1975 was quite different than today and I thought it was worth a read.

McCartney’s Interplanetary Nonsequitur:  Venus & Mars
By Jim Bollinger
The New Beatles Fan club
Vol II #6

Paul McCartney has spent the last year or so reforming his band which ran out on him, and has also been doing some running of his own, all over the US of A.  During this time, he rode the waves of the success caused by his platinum LP, Band on the Run, and only turned out one new bit of music in all of 1974, and that was only a two-sided single. 

Although “Junior’s Farm” did moderately well on the record chart, it was generally overlooked, and overshadowed by hits from two of Paul’s former partners.  I personally felt “Sally G,” the single’s B-side, held out some promise for Paul and his clipped Wings; the lyrics held together well and the Country & Western format showcased wife Linda’s whining voice rather well.
Anyway, that single seemed to indicate that Paul’s latest musical bent was more toward Roy Clark than the Beatles.  This is mainly what I expected from Venus and Mars.  What I got, however, is an entirely different mater.

Venus and Mars is a slick package of music which shows that Paul did more in New Orleans than clown in the Mardi Gras and watch the Super Bowl.  In fact, and surprisingly so, this entire album is thick withi the New Orleans jazz-rock.  And the performance of the reborn Wings is perhaps the most delightful aspect of this new LP.

Venus and Mars is perhaps the prettiest sounding album by any of the one-time Fab Four since Side Two of Abbey Road.  Of course, this hasn’t the impact or sterling quality to come really close to Abbey Road, but the comparison may still be considered valid. 

McCartney, in an attempt to duplicate the successful semi-concept of his last LP, appears to be kicking a dead horse in trying to conjure a concept out of nothingness; the result is the poorest song on the album, the title cut.  And then Paul has the temerity to compound this crime by inserting a reprise of this filler on Side Two (where it does, however, sound a little better).  

The second song on the album kicks off what seems like a string of very subtle McCartney-style (remember RAM?) references to his ex-partners and their various relationships.  “Rock Show” contains some glaringly obvious references to George Harrison (“Come on, get your wig on straight; we can’t be late”;  “he looks a lot like a guy I knew way back when” “with the Philly (as opposed to L.A. perhaps) band,”  etc.), with a few possible remarks about David Bowie, too.  It is, however, a pretty fair rocker with a section that sounds lifted from Lennon’s old “Hey Bulldog.”

“Magneto and Titanium Man” may be a cleverly-disguised retort to accusations that Linda has ruined his music:  “and then it occurred to me/You couldn’t be bad…/You were the law.”  IN any case, it’s too self-consciously silly to be serious about its silliness.  Completing this string of ambiguous songs is the albums concluding medley “Treat her Gently/Lonely Old People”  Note the first two verse:  “Treat her gently/Treat her kind/She doesn’t even know her own mind/Treat her simply/Take it slow/Make it easy/And let her know/You’ll never find another way.”  That’s Paul McCartney advice to the lovelorn if I ever heard any.  But who’s the lovelorn?  John Lennon? Since the song was most likely written before the Lennons’ reunion, anything is possible.  Then examine the second part of the song”  “Here we sit/ Out of breath/ and nobody asked us to play.”  This may be construed by some as referring to Paul and John and the fate of the Beatles, due largely to the nebulous lyrics and the presence of a guitar complete with that teardrop sound straight off Lennon’s #9 Dream.

In other songs, the aforementioned New Orleans influence is unmistakable.  “Letting Go” is fine and funky, with one shortcoming – Linda’s background vocals come through a little too clearly.  Paul and Wings’ latest hit single, the slick “Listen to what the man said,” is a song with which even Rolling Stone could find no fault.  Other New Orleans-influenced songs with a nice sound are:  “Medicine Jar,” my personal favorite, penned by the cut’s lead singer, new Wings guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch.  It’s a refreshing song; spunky and well-played, with lyrics that can stand well with most McCartney compositions.  Then there’s “Spirits of Ancient Egypt,” which starts out well, dripped with Jim Stafford-type swamp mystery before its effect is destroyed by that silly bridge about Egypt and Rome.

Other influences evident on the album are historical.  On “You Gave me the Answer,”  McCartney hails back to his White Album days in a cut very reminiscent of “Honey Pie,” with traces of “When I’m 64” thrown in for good measure.  Another is “Call me Back Again,” a fine take-off of Rhythm & Blues which sounds hauntingly like Lennon’s “Yer Blues.”

McCartney is not yet, however, quite up to par he set with the Beatles, especially lyrically.  The words accompanying the ofttimes splendid music are usually anything but intelligent, and a few may be considered among the worst Paul has yet produced.  Some of them are so close to the “moon-June-spoon” school of writing (of which McCartney is Crown Prince) that it borders on absurdity:  “Any time, any day/ You can hear the people say/ That love is blind, well, I don’t know/ but I say love is kind.”  Really!

And there’s Paul’s subject matter: who is this man we are or are not supposed to listen to?  What do Venus & Mars have to do with a sports arena or a cathedral?   Why would Lucifer shine, looking like snow in a Broadway show?  And how do Egyptian and roman spirits get into a love song about now?  Those are but a few of the many unanswered questions the alert listeners poses after monitoring Venus and Mars.

With Venus and Mars, Paul McCartney’s music is finally beginning to assume direction and dimension.  At last, he seems to have settled into a sonance he likes enough to cultivate.  (Wings is given full credit for its work on the album, and shine through on Denny Laine’s guitar-work, with fine performance by the rest, too).  Of course, with this new turn of events, McCartney may alienate some of his accustomed audience, but at least he has enough guts to try, anyway.

Venus and Mars is a nice album –even a good album.  It’s narrower in scope than Band on the run, and in several other ways doesn’t measure up to that coup; but it is slicker and glossier than its predecessor and succeeds in an entirely different manner.   McCartney has followed up the greatest solo success reasonably well with this album.  His weaknesses still glare through the glossiness, but it has gotten to the point where one simply allows for them and enjoys the music.  Besides, it’s possible that the “Crossroads” with Paul ends the album may have more significance than its muzak-filler appearance would indicate.

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