Paul McCartney’s “Back To The Egg” Reviewed
There are simple rules of thumb to life and first and foremost is that the more certain Rolling Stone is of something musical, the less likely is it to be accurate. So when even the estimable Timothy White, who wrote the definitive Bob Marley biography “Catch A Fire” writes for them, the curse continues. Reviewing McCartney’s twelfth solo, seventh and final Wings, album, 1979’s Back To The Egg, White claimed “McCartney’s gross indulgence is matched only by his shameless indolence, and Back to the Egg represents the public disintegration of a consistently disappointing talent.” This is nonsense on the face of it, though faced with one of the great years in rock and roll history, we sort of understand the overreach. White was probably listening to Unknown Pleasures and following it with London Calling, The Metal Box, Rust Never Sleeps and Repeat When Necessary, Risque, Survival, on and on, and then as the piece de resistance, the new Wings album, and couldn’t believe his ears, let alone his eggs. Back To The Egg can’t stand up to the comparison, it sounds RELATIVELY weak. But 35 years later, it isn’t the nadir it is painted as.
Cracked in two, side one (“Sunny Side Up”) is a “B+”, and Side Two (“Over Easy”) is a “C-“. If McCartney had added “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” and “Goodnight Tonight” to side two, while removing the scary “After The Ball/Million Miles” and “Winter Rose/Love Awakes”, it would have stood up quite nicely.
Another rock opera, nominally about Wings going back on tour, it barely survives the concept, but makes it through at first. Produced by New Wave go to guy Chris Thomas, it has an energetic punch that is only weakened in comparison to the world around it. The first track is a mix of spoken word and aural jerking, before the album settles down with the best song on the album, “Getting Closer” -a nice little rocker which has us all wondering forever why the hell he is calling some poor woman a salamander, and also whether he was being a wiseass with that “play me a song with a point” line. Still, the coda is just magical, and the song is a lost great one.”We’re Open Tonight” is an invitation to the show nowhere near as excitable as “Rock Show”. It is a slow dreamy holding in of the breath before the all out rocker “Spin It Out”, the melodious synthed up “Again And Again And Again”, the near perfect “Old Siam, Sir” with its clickety clack piano motif, and Sir Paul singing at the top of his range, so he rasps against the lyric. The first side concludes with “Arrow Through Me” featuring Paul’s fabulous bass notes that underscore the funky track. Maybe he wanted MJ to cover him again. So Side One is really not bad at all. It certainly isn’t indolent. The first album for his huge Columbia Records contract, Paul was too much the businessman to phone in such a hugely important record. When it “only” went platinum, he immediately returned to the lab and recorded McCartney II.
Perhaps the importance of the enterprise caused him to underdeliver on the second side. “Rockestra” won a grammy for rock instrumental of 1979, and it is a cool blast of energy featuring (long breath) James Honeyman-Scott, Hank Marvin, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, and Bruce Thomas. After that the album capsizes. “To You” includes a great guitar solo but that is all, everything else, especially to the two medleys, are deadly. The final song “Baby’s Request” is a 1920s style dancehall track, you know, like “When We’re 64”. Only not very good at all.
And that was it for Wings: they left the building leaving behind them “12 top 10 singles (including one number 1) in the UK and 14 top 10 singles (including six number 1’s) in the US. All 23 singles released by Wings reached the US top 40, and one double-sided single, “Junior’s Farm”/”Sally G”, reached the top 40 with each side. Of the nine albums released by Wings, all went top 10 in either the UK or the US, with five consecutive albums topping the US charts. I firmly believe that in a consumer society nothing matters as much as consumption and so having said that, Wings were a huge band, while they weren’t as big as the Beatles, they were a titanic hit making machine for McCartney. The numbers are staggering and going back and listening to them again, Wings were better than I thought, and I thought they were great. Few bands come close to that sort of run, they were a titanic band right through the 1970s and even punk rock couldn’t stop em.