Paul McCartney | Tug Of War & Pipes Of Peace (2015 Reissues) – CD Review

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For Paul McCartney, the 80s were a mix of highs and lows. It certainly didn’t start off well when on January 16, 1980, the former Beatle was summarily busted in Tokyo for trying to bring a half-pound of marijuana into the country. He spent nine days in jail and the Wings tour was cancelled. Once he got back to the UK, he stayed home and recorded his second solo album, McCartney II. Reception to the largely experimental album was lukewarm before another incident disrupted McCartney’s life: The tragic death of John Lennon. Wings disbanded the next year, partly because McCartney was, for obvious reasons, hesitant to tour — and would remain so for most of the decade. Another year passed before the singer finally returned to the frontlines with new music as a solo artist — first with 1982’s Tug Of War, followed by 1983’s Pipes Of Peace. Over 30 years later, MPL and the Concord Music Group have added the albums to the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. Both have been remixed and reissued in various formats, along with loads of previously unreleased tracks and rare video.

Tug Of War was a big step for McCartney in so many ways — his first since the break-up of Wings and his first since Lennon’s passing. To bring out his best qualities as a songwriter, singer and musician, McCartney called on an old friend to produce the record: George Martin. The two hadn’t been in a recording studio together since making “Live And Let Die” in 1973. Other friends were also invited to participate, including Stevie Wonder, Carl Perkins, Ringo Starr, 10cc guitarist Eric Stewart and Wings guitarist Denny Laine. Upon its release, Tug Of War received mostly positive reviews, hit the top of the album charts all over the world, including the US and UK, and nested the Top 10 singles “Ebony and Ivory” (with Stevie Wonder) and “Take It Away.” More profoundly, “Here Today,” a song McCartney wrote specifically for his dearly departed friend John Lennon, is also one the track list.

Martin’s pristine production of Tug Of War aligned with today’s technological advances in sound has facilitated a superior 2015 remix, which McCartney and Steve Orchard put together. The album’s title track, dramatically fades up with heavy breathing, but then the warmth of an acoustic guitar and that distinctive, rich tone of McCartney’s voice break through, and at once, the song builds on a theme of a common struggles — the “pushing and pulling” of life. Other highlights of pure, efficient songcraft and production come out of “Take It Away” and “Wanderlust.” Of course, the two duets with Wonder — the emblematic “Ebony and Ivory” and the funky “What’s That You’re Doing” — left a lot of longtime fans wondering if McCartney was going soft, but it was a natural progression. At the dawn of the 80s, Paul McCartney was a reigning institution whose continued validity relied heavily of catering to the pop tastes of the day. In 2015, that hasn’t changed very much.

Expanded sets of Tug Of War include rough and tumble demos of many of the album’s songs, along with previously unreleased tracks like the succinct R&B-flavored toe-tapper “Stop, You Don’t Know Where She Came” and “Something That Didn’t Happen” (which was later folded into “The Pound Is Sinking”), plus the B-sides for “Ebony And Ivory” and “Take It Away” — a beatific, folksy rumination called “Rainclouds” and a playful, coyish “I’ll Give You A Ring.” There’s also a DVD with the music videos for “Tug of War,” Take It Away” and “Ebony And Ivory,” as well as a Behind The Scenes film on “Take It Away.” There’s an edition with a 112-page essay book and 64-page scrapbook, while a limited run of Super Deluxe sets features five hand numbered prints of images from the Linda McCartney Archive.

A few extra songs from the Tug Of War sessions ended up on Pipes Of Peace, but there was a selection of newly recorded tracks as well, notably two songs McCartney did with Michael Jackson. With the future King Of Pop at the top of his game, the album’s commercial appeal was apparent, although it didn’t do quite as well as Tug Of War. Fans and critics were somewhat divided as Pipes Of Peace takes McCartney into a more easy listening direction. The album’s title track, a B-side to the “So Bad” single, is a mishmash of melodies and singalongs, a tapestry with an anti-war message and an elaborate video in which the former Beatle played the roles of both a British and German soldier, who eventually meet at the frontline.

“Say Say Say” was the album’s Number One, and despite an overt pop formula slickness, it’s a catchy song that paired two of the most famous music personalities of the 20th century. Watching the video directed by Bob Giraldi, the mutual admiration between McCartney and Jackson is light and fun. It’s a bit sad to realize the latter is no longer around. The second song they did together, “The Man,” is so sugary sweet, you’ll liable to get a cavity after the first verse. It makes “This Girl Is Mine,” a song the two recorded a year later for Jackson’s Thriller album, sound heavy. “So Bad,” the second single from Pipes Of Peace, is another mellow love song that rings true with classic McCartney-like turnarounds at the verses.

Digging in deeper, there are some definite winners that could easily get overlooked. “Keep Under Cover” lilts along nicely, supported by a superb string arrangement by Martin. “Sweetest Little Show” is a bouncy number touched up with enough acoustic goodness to make you spin it repeatedly. You’ll likely keep “Average Person” going with McCartney’s vocal and piano work in full swing. And then there’s the odd instrumental “Hey Hey” that McCartney put together with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke. It’s left curves like this that keep you wondering and coming back, even in light of McCartney’s questionable pop maneuverings. Which goes to show that even “Tug Of Peace,” virtually “Tug Of War” with a danceable beat, or the grand finale “Through Our Love,” could be construed as McCartney’s anything-goes-as-long-as-it-pops ethos in full bloom.

Extras to expanded reissued editions of Pipes Of Peace include more demos of some of the album’s songs, and more previously unreleased songs. “It’s Not On” is unconventionally experimental, something Lennon might have done, while “Simple As That” is a raw, echoey vamp that falls short of its potential. “Ode To A Koala Bear,” the B-side of “Say Say Say,” sways with a doo-wopping grin, despite its hokey title. “Twice In A Lifetime” is a slinky and lush track with a sexy sax that was used in a film by the same name. If nothing else, “Christian Bop,” another underdeveloped instrumental brimming with promise, should keep your faith in Paul McCartney’s compositional skills. A DVD is filled with music videos for “Pipes Of Peace,” “So Bad” and “Say Say Say” with candid footage from Montserrat with “Hey Hey” as the soundtrack. Seeing George Martin rock out and Ringo Starr running around are worth the price of admission. More Behind The Scenes film at AIR Studios mixes random studio shots and “The Man” features Michael Jackson on horseback with the McCartney family accompanied by a few words about how the collaboration came to be.

Tug Of War and Pipes Of Peace were clearly pivotal in where Paul McCartney wanted to take his music in the 80s. They were the last records he would have Denny Laine appear on, meaning the last connected to Wings was severed and never revisited. They were also the last of his solo albums to go platinum in the United States. Certainly a case can be made that he’s made better records since, even if the sales figures aren’t quite what they were. As part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, they go a long way in reintroducing a sumptuous piece of the pie from a dramatically transitional period in the career of the world’s most successful musician.

~ Shawn Perry


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