Thursday, 18 February 2016

"Venus And Mars" by WINGS [feat Paul and Linda McCartney] (2014 MPL Communications/Hear Music 2CD Edition Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Love In Song..." 

Paul McCartney's third No.1 solo album has had a murky history on CD – first turning up in 1993 with three bonus tracks on a disc that had only OK audio. Then DCC Compact Classics in the USA put out "Venus And Mars" on an Audiophile version in 1994 - followed years later by a 'DTS Entertainment' Digital Multichannel Surround Sound version that showed Stateside in 2001 – both of which improved matters. But for most ordinary chappies like you and I - this is 'the' most accessible upgrade since 1993 without having to pawn the silver.

There are several versions of this November 2014 'Paul McCartney Archive Collection' reissue - a single disc, this double and a Super Deluxe (super pricey) Multi-Disc Box Set. For my money many of the tracks on Disc 2 warrant this 2CD edition a 'best version to buy' badge over the single issue. And although it oddly refuses to state in the liner notes exactly 'who' at Abbey Road did the superb new remaster (for fear of military reprisal no doubt) – this 2014 audio overhaul is undeniably the best version to my ears so far. Disc 1 is massively improved. Murky rock tracks like "Letting Go" have more muscle and punch while the truly lovely melody of "Treat Her Gently – Lonely Old People" sounds gorgeous – piano, drums, that swirling Guitar, the voices and strings - all full and warm in your speakers (bit of a lost classic this). But the packaging is good without unfortunately being great thereby losing a lot of the original album's beautiful visual impact. So let's align the stars up tonight and rightly slap those snooker balls into their musical pocket...time for details...

UK released 3 November 2014 – "Venus And Mars" by WINGS [featuring Paul and Linda McCartney] on MPL Communications/Hear Music HRM-35650-02 (Barcode 888072356504) is the 2CD Edition and part of the 'Paul McCartney Archive Collection'. It plays out as follows:

Disc 1 – Remastered Album (43:06 minutes):
1. Venus And More
2. Rock Show
3. Love In Song
4. You Gave Me The Answer
5. Magneto And Titanium Man
6. Letting Go
7. Venus And Mars – Reprise [Side 2]
8. Spirits Of Ancient Egypt
9. Medicine Jar
10. Call Me Back Again
11. Listen To What The Man Said
12. Treat Me Gently – Lonely Old People
13. Crossroads (Theme)
Tracks 1 to 13 are the album "Venus And Mars" by WINGS – released 30 May 1975 in the UK on Apple/Parlophone PCTC 254 and in the USA on Capitol SMAS-11419. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote all tracks except "Medicine Jar" which is by Jimmy McCulloch and British session drummer Colin Allen - and "Crossroads" - a cover version of a Tony Hatch theme song to a popular ITV sitcom in the 70’s.

Disc 2 – Bonus Audio (50:36 minutes):
1. Junior's Farm
2. Sally G
Tracks 1 and 2 are the non-album A&B-sides of a 7" single – October 1974 on Apple R 5999 in the UK and Apple 1875 in the USA – peaked at No. 16 in the UK and No. 3 in the USA
3. Walking In The Park With Eloise by THE COUNTRY HAMS
4. Bridge On The River Suite by THE COUNTRY HAMS
Tracks 3 and 4 are the non-album A&B-sides of a 7" single by THE COUNTRY HAMS – Paul and Linda McCartney and his brother Mike McGear under pseudonyms. It was released October 1974 on EMI Records EMI 2220 in the UK and on EMI Records 3977 in the USA. Both are instrumentals - the A is a James McCartney song (Mike McGear) while the B is a Paul & Linda McCartney composition.
5. My Carnival (recorded at the "Venus And Mars" sessions in 1975, it was eventually released in 1985 as the B-side to the "Spies Like Us" 45 - theme to the Movie of the same name - first appearance as a bonus track on the 1993 CD reissue)
6. Going To New Orleans (My Carnival) - Previously Unreleased
7. Hey Diddle [Ernie Winfrey Mix] - Previously Unreleased
8. Let's Love - Previously Unreleased
9. Soily [From One Hand Clapping]
10. Baby Face [From One Hand Clapping]
11. Lunch Box/Odd Sox (B-side of April 1980 UK 7" single "Coming Up" on Parlophone R 6035 - first appearance as a bonus track on the 1993 CD reissue)
12. 4th Of July - Previously Unreleased
13. Rock Show [Old Version] - Previously Unreleased
14. Letting Go [Single Edit] (September 1975 USA 7" single on capitol 4145, A-side. Reissued November 2014 as part of Record Store day in a picture sleeve with its original B-side "You Gave Me The Answer" on MPL/Communications/Hear Music HRM-36608-01)
NOTES: Tracks 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED - the others have been on various CD compilations across the years.

WINGS was: Paul and Linda McCartney (Lead Vocals, Keyboards and Bass), Denny Laine (ex Moody Blues, Ginger Baker’s Air Force) plays Guitars, Jimmy McCulloch (ex Small Faces, Thunderclap Newman and Stone The Crows) on Guitars and Joe English on Drums. Other Musicians included Dave Mason (of Traffic) and Tom Scott playing Guitar and Saxophone on the pop single "Listen To What The Man Said" - while New Orleans keyboardist and ace songwriter Allen Toussaint tinkles the ivories on "Rock Show". Geoff Britton plays Drums on "Love In Song", "Letting Go" and "Medicine Jar" (Joe English plays on all the others).

The elaborate Hipgnosis artwork of the original 1975 vinyl LP (Gatefold Sleeve, Inner Sleeve, Two Posters and Two Stickers) is mostly intact in the 'Paul McCartney Archive Collection' card digipak – albeit in a higgledy-piggledy way. In fact apart from lyrics that are spread across several pages (wasting space mostly) and photos that reproduce the posters and inner sleeve (where are the stickers boys?) – I’d have to say that is pretty crappy stuff for a prestigious release like this. There's no liner notes - no history of where the album fits into the Wings catalogue – the huge success of "Venus And Mars" - No. 1 on both sides of the pond and pretty much the same everywhere else. There's no interviews or recollections – hell there isn't even repros of the 45 Pic Sleeves from around the world. Had a real reissue label like say Ace, Bear Family or even Cherry Red been given this project by an ex Beatle - they would have gone to absolute town on it. And the two naffly coloured CDs scuff easily as you take them in and out of their die-cut card slots while the 3-flap card digipak is in itself prone to crushing. And don't get me started on the extortionate pricing of the Super Deluxe Box Set - another rich Rock Star who doesn't need the money fleecing lifetime fans. Frankly despite looking pretty in some ways - for a supposed 'Special Edition' it all feels a tad ordinary in my book. But then you clap your cauliflower lugs on the Audio...and things improve big time...

While the opening steel-string acoustic strums of "Venus And Mars" with its high production values was always going to impress – the awkward peaks and dips in the rambling "Rock Show" was going to be the test of this Remaster – and whomever at Abbey Road has done a great job. Suddenly there's kick in those layered guitars and that riff bit is fantastic. I always thought that "Love In Song" should have been a lead off A-side single (relegated to the B-side of "Listen To What The Man Said" in May 1975) – it's one of the albums great tracks – an undeniably sweet Macca melody. The audio remaster is beautiful – that synth break and those strummed guitars – it's all so clear. The vaudevillian "You Gave Me The Answer" with its old-world treated vocal is so Beatles whimsy that it couldn’t fail to make bodies smile or wretch in equal measure. Whatever your poison (shall we dance – this is fun) – the audio is fabulous on it – so well balanced too. Even though "Magnito And Titanium Man" was a hit – I always hated its nonsensical nature and Macca's attitude that any old crap will do for lyrics. That said – there's no denying that it’s the best sounding track on this remaster – huge and alive like never before. But my crave is the Side 1 finisher – the fantastic Rock riffage of "Letting Go". It's much more powerful than before especially when those big brass fills come lurching in half way through. This album cut runs to 4:32 minutes while Disc 2 has the rarely heard 7" single edit at 3:36 minutes which I would swear is a different mix too.

Side 2 of the album opens with the pretty Reprise of "Venus And Mars" – those swirling synths and vocal pyrotechnics as it fades out are a lot clearer. It then segues into the moody and slick "Spirits Of Ancient Egypt" – a chugging guitar tune that with McCartney's backing vocals – actually feels like a 'Wings' song rather than the solo work of The Beatles' Bass Player. "Medicine Jar" is punchy enough but that terrible McCulloch lead vocal still jars - a problem that would all but ruin most of the "Wings At The Speed Of Sound" album in 1976 with substandard songs and even worse lead singers. Back to business and the album's other hidden nugget "Call Me Back Again" – now this baby sounds good – a wow even. The 'really good to see you down in New Orleans' DJ vocal on the irrepressible "Listen To What The Man Said" still sounds like fun and the track leaps out of your speakers with truly great clarity (you've forgotten how good that string break at the end is with Tom Scott soloing away). It ends on another forgotten McCartney gem "Treat Her Kind – Lonely Old People" – as poignant a song as he's even written – and sounding like a seriously undiscovered classic here. The less said about the pointless cover of Tony Hatch's "Crossroads" theme (an ITV TV show) – the better. Wish he'd put a studio version of the rocking "Soily" on here...

As you can imagine the 'Bonus Audio' of Disc 2 is a mishmash of brilliance and utter tosh. "Junior's Farm" is a typically great non-album Apple single but far more interesting is the B-side of the rare COUNTRY HAMS 45 – "Bridge On The River Suite". It's a trippy instrumental and I've put it on 70ts Fest CD-Rs only to have people ask me who the 'New Age' track is by? It's so un-McCartney it’s shocking and paved the way for "Thrillington" and his orchestral pieces to come. The cod Fats Domino/Professor Longhair R&B roll of "My Carnival" might have been fun to make but it's a pain to listen to now. A lot better is the new "Hey Diddle..." track – a pretty acoustic ditty that would have made an album-track or B-side (Linda shares vocals with Paul and it really works). For many one of the real prizes will be the simple "Let's Love" which is two minutes of McCartney at a piano getting close to a melody almost as lovely as "Blackbird" or "Mother Nature's Son". There's something great here trying to get out (but alas) and it makes for a real dip into his melodic genius. The other unreleased is the acoustic "4th Of July" – a roughly recorded demo that again feels softer and warmer that some of the tunes that made it onto the LP. Another song he's trying to work out – shame he didn't do a finished version of both.

His cover of you've got the cutest "Baby Face" is insufferable and the instrumental "Lunch Box/Odd Sox" the kind of mindless amble that gives Bonus Tracks a bad name. Better is the truly brilliant "Soily" – a fantastic riffing rocker from the 'One Hand Clapping' film. It sounds like the more snotty bastard brother of "Live And Let Die" in sheer attitude – the kind of riff that Guns N' Roses would kill a close relative to acquire. McCartney knew it worked and used it to end Wings gigs on a blaster. It's live-in-the-studio, rough around the edges and has massive punch/cool because of it. The other nugget on Disc 2 is the 7:09 minute version of "Rock Show" – an early version that is just straight rocking throughout – and for my money actually betters the more-showy finished cut. And the single edit of "Letting Go" is a genuine Bonus for fans after all these years...

To sum up - the 2014 'Paul McCartney Archive Collection' 2CD Version of 1975's "Venus And Mars" sounds great - even if the visuals let the side down a tad (docked a star for lack of effort). Buy and enjoy. Happiness in the homeland...

This review is part of my SOUNDS GOOD Music Book Series. One of those titles is CLASSIC 1970s ROCK - an E-Book with over 250 entries and 2100 e-Pages - purchase on Amazon and search any artist or song (click the link below). Huge amounts of info taken directly from the discs (no cut and paste crap). 

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