Venus and Mars [Deluxe Edition]

by: Wings

Band on the Run was a commercial success, but even if it was billed as a Wings effort, it was primarily recorded by Paul, Linda, and Denny Laine. So, it was time to once again turn Wings into a genuine band, adding Joe English and Jimmy McCulloch to the lineup and even letting the latter contribute a song. This faux-democracy isn't what signals that this is a band effort -- it's the attitude, construction, and pacing, which McCartney acknowledges as such, opening with an acoustic title track that's a salute to arena rock, leading to a genuine arena rock anthem, "Rock Show." From there, it's pretty much rocking pop tunes, paced with a couple of ballads and a little whimsy, all graced with a little of the production flair that distinguished Band on the Run. But where that record was clearly a studio creation and consciously elaborate, this is a straightforward affair where the sonic details are simply window dressing. McCartney doesn't really try anything new, but the songs are a little more varied than the uniform, glossy production would suggest; he dips into soft-shoe music hall shuffle on "You Gave Me the Answer," gets a little psychedelic with "Spirits of Ancient Egypt," kicks out a '50s rock & roll groove with "Magento and Titanium Man," and unveils a typically sweet and lovely melody on "Listen to What the Man Said." These are slight shifts on an album that certainly feels like the overture for the arena rock tour that it was, which makes it one of McCartney's more consistent listens, even though it's possible to scan the song listing after several listens and not recognize any song outside of "Listen to What the Man Said" and the opening medley by title. [Compared to other Super Deluxe Editions in the Paul McCartney Archive series, Venus & Mars has a healthy amount of bonus material on its supplemental material, a fair indication of how Wings began its ascendency once guitarist Jimmy McCulloch joined Paul, Linda, and Laine after the release of Band on the Run. The band took about a year to gel, during which time they had a massive hit with "Junior's Farm," an irresistible Steve Miller knock-off that didn't make it to Venus & Mars, and Paul released the oddball, old-timey one-off Country Hams single "Walking in the Park with Eloise"/"Bridge on the River Suite." These singles -- including "Sally G," the amiably lazy country stroll on the flip of "Junior's Farm" -- are all on the 14-track bonus disc to the various 2014 expanded editions of Venus & Mars, and there are other songs that popped up on B-sides over the next decade: the instrumental mini-suite "Lunch Box/Odd Sox," which sounds like Paul never bothered to get around to writing a vocal melody, and "My Carnival," a genial interpolation of "Going to New Orleans" inspired by the city where V&M was completed. A version of "Going to New Orleans" is also here ("My Carnival" is added as a subtitle, just to make the connection clear) among the other odds and ends. Among the other highlights are a thrillingly dense "Soily" from One Hand Clapping; McCartney demos for "Let's Love" and "4th of July," tunes he gave to Peggy Lee and John Christie, respectively; an early version of "Rock Show" and a single edit of "Letting Go." With such a wide variety of source material, it's little wonder that this plays more like a clearing house rather than a cohesive album but its unkemptness is its appeal: by hearing Wings try so many different sounds, they truly do seem like a band with their own identity separate from McCartney, which was the whole point of Venus & Mars in the first place.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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