History: Wings recruited Laurence Juber and Steve Holley to join them for what would end up being their last album. The album was a light concept album, with the story of a band that has returned to touring once again. Nearly all the songs were written by Paul this time around, with just one exception. This was also their debut on Columbia Records in the US. The album was not commercially successful and would lead to Paul once more returning to solo efforts not long after its release.
My own personal history: So, if you don’t follow me on social media, you may have noticed that there’s been a long gap since my last post. Work became rather demanding of most of my time and prevented me from writing. I listened to this album weeks ago originally, but apparently didn’t even bother to write down a prediction first. I gave this another listen this week to refresh my memory and start again. None of these songs are ones I had heard before now.
Review: So I had no idea that this album was supposed to be a concept album before today, and I have to admit I don’t really see it. Of course Sgt. Pepper’s is also barely a concept album, so Paul clearly likes to play really loose with the term. But what I did find an interesting surprise about it is just how 80s it sounds. There are some definite new wave vibes running through this one. There is still some 70s rock in there as well, and a bit of jazz and synth and disco besides, but overall I found this one to be a great improvement over London Town.
The various high energy songs are really what appeal to me the most. “Getting Closer,” “Spin It On,” and “Old Siam, Sir” were among my favorites, but there isn’t a bad song on the album, unless you count those two weird non-songs that supposedly make this a concept. “To You” was probably my least favorite thanks to how repetitive it was but I still liked it musically. “Again and again and again” is a strong song for Denny as well, and I found it interesting that at least in one line he almost sounds like George Harrison. It makes me wonder if Denny didn’t have as many ideas this time around or if Paul just had a lot of songs he wanted to get out. Surely Denny could have had a complete song that could have replaced one of the pairs of pieced together demos Paul stuck on here. At this point I’m just a broken record complaining about Paul’s tendency to do this, but “After the Ball/Million Miles” sounds particularly incomplete.
They also made a TV special to go along with this album. Unlike Ringo’s recent offering, there doesn’t seem to be a story here. There’s an intro of the band appearing in the space of the album cover, slowly unrolling a rug and then opening a hatch to peer down at the earth, and then we cut to a string of back to back music videos. There are eight in total, including “Goodnight Tonight” which is not on the album but was the single that preceded it.
The videos range from stage performances to more artistic interpretations. The strangest thing about the “live” performances was their choice to have them miming along to the recorded tracks, and then sticking in crowd sounds randomly to make it feel live. The way the crowd cheers when someone performs a solo or riff makes it all feel like a forced laugh track on a sitcom. There is no crowd visible, in fact for “Spin It On” we watch the camera start outside the aircraft hangar and into the empty space where they are performing, so it all just seems awkward and unnecessary.
The other more artistic sections fair a little better by comparison. The fun throwback song “Baby’s Request” has them all in boy scout looking uniforms with Paul walking around what I think is supposed to be a military base in the desert while the rest of them play the song. “Winter Rose/Love Awake” is shot at the gorgeous Lympne Castle in Kent, with snow covering the grounds while Paul and Linda walk with a horse, before retreating to the castle interior to play with the rest of the band. The final video is also a bit of fun, with the band changing between old time slicked back hairstyles and tuxes to more modern late 70s fashions as they play on an old stage. The outro is largely the intro in reverse, as they close the hatch, roll back the rug, and then stand in front of the mantle before disappearing. It’s all decent, but I’m honestly a little shocked that there wasn’t any attempt at narration or a story to move from one video to the next, especially since this was theoretically a concept album.
Overall, I have to say I found this album to be a pretty pleasant surprise. I’m not sure how much more new wave Paul will explore in the future, but I’m definitely interested to hear what that may be. And it’s nice for Wings to go out this way rather than with say, London Town, which was so disjointed.
Singles released around this time:
“Goodnight Tonight” – This was the song featured in that final video of the special, and it’s got a really fun bass groove to it. It feels a little disco and a little jazz at the same time. The words are a bit repetitive but it’s a fun dance number, even if it’s a little long for a single.
“Daytime Nighttime Suffering” – Another disco beat here but it’s combined with a more bouncy pop feel. That title is a bit of a weird mouthful to say but I like the way the song sort of flows between a lot of different moods.
“Wonderful Christmastime” – This single is technically a Paul single, not Wings, but was released in late 1979 and considering when I’m posting this review, it felt right. The members of Wings do also appear in the music video. Apparently some people really hate this song? I think it’s such a part of my childhood that I can’t be bothered by its repetitiveness. That synth is so iconic, you know the song the moment you hear it. The words are simple but do a good job of reflecting the mood of Christmas without being too cloyingly sweet. I like it.
“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reggae” – this was the B side to “Wonderful Christmastime.” I had no idea it existed before now. It’s an instrumental version of Rudolph, though not exactly what I would call reggae? I guess it’s because of the beat running through it, but honestly with it’s so generic sounding that I had to check two different YouTube clips because I thought it might not necessarily be Paul’s real version. The thumping drum is kind of misery to listen to on earbuds.
Next Time: Paul heads back into his home studio to record McCartney II.