Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Wings [extended]

  • McCartney [Apple, 1970] B
  • Ram [Apple, 1971] C+
  • Wild Life [Apple, 1971] C-
  • Band on the Run [Apple, 1973] C+
  • Red Rose Speedway [Apple, 1973] D+
  • Venus and Mars [Capitol, 1975] B+
  • Wings at the Speed of Sound [Capitol, 1976] B-
  • London Town [Capitol, 1978] B
  • Wings Greatest [Capitol, 1978] B+
  • Back to the Egg [Columbia, 1979] C
  • McCartney II [Columbia, 1980] C
  • Tug of War [Columbia, 1982] B
  • Pipes of Peace [Columbia, 1983] B-
  • All the Best [Capitol, 1987] C+
  • Run Devil Run [Capitol, 1999] A-
  • Back in the U.S. [Capitol, 2002] D
  • Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard [Capitol, 2005] Dud
  • Memory Almost Full [Hear Music, 2007] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Paul McCartney: McCartney [Apple, 1970]
As self-indulgent as Two Virgins or Life With the Lions, yet marketed as pop, this struck me as a real cheat at first. But I find myself won over by its simulated offhandedness. Paul is so charming a melodist (and singer) that even though many of the songs are no more than snatches, fragments, ditties, they get across, like "Her Majesty" extended to two minutes. And though Paul's do-it-yourself instrumentals stumble now and then, the only one that winds up on its fundament is the percussion-based "Kreen-Akrore." Maybe Linda should take up the drums. She wouldn't be starting from any further back than hubby. B

Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram [Apple, 1971]
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is a major annoyance. I tolerated McCartney's crotchets with the Beatles because his mates balanced them out; I enjoyed them mildly on McCartney because their scale was so modest; I enjoy them actively on "Monkberry Moon Delight" because it rocks and on "Smile Away" because it's vulgar and funny. But though nothing else here approaches the willful rhythm shifts and above-it-all silliness of the single, most of the songs are so lightweight they float away even as Paulie layers them down with caprices. If you're going to be eccentric, for goodness sake don't be pretentious about it. C+

Wild Life [Apple, 1971]
McCartney is coming to terms with his own fluff--the overproduction sounds less cluttered this time--but it's still fluff, and not even goosedown. Maybe the thrill of leading his very own band has him distracted. (Yes, Linda is in it--that's the good part.) C-

Paul McCartney: Band on the Run [Apple, 1973]
I originally underrated what many consider McCartney's definitive post-Beatles statement, but not as much as its admirers overrate it. Pop masterpiece? This? Sure it's a relief after the vagaries of Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway, and most of side one passes tunefully enough--"Let Me Roll It" might be an answer to "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and "Jet" is indeed more "fun" than "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey." But beyond those two the high points are the title track, about the oppression of rock musicians by cannabis-crazed bureaucrats, and the Afro-soul intro to "Mamunia," appropriate from relatives of the Nigerian children who posed for the inner sleeve with Sah and helpmates. C+

Paul McCartney & Wings: Red Rose Speedway [Apple, 1973]
Having decided that rock and roll was fun, a good enough idea within reason, he then decided that fun wasn't so much sex and humor and high spirits as aimless whimsy, and here he finally achieves disaster with that idea. His new love ballad meanders hopelessly where "Yesterday" shifted enticingly, and his screaming Little Richard tribute now sounds like Dicky Do and the Don'ts. Quite possibly the worst album ever made by a rock and roller of the first rank--unless David Crosby counts. D+

Venus and Mars [Capitol, 1975]
Superficially, which counts for a lot with McCartney, his New Orleans venture is his most appealing post-Beatles album--straight rock and roll with a few pop detours and one excursion into "When I'm 64" nostalgia. So clear in its melodies, mix, and basic pulse that his whimsical juxtapositions--robots on Main Street, Rudy Vallee cheek by jowl with Allen Toussaint--sound like they might make some sense. Don't get me wrong--they probably don't, because McCartney's a convinced fool. But when the music is coherent it doesn't matter so much. B+

Wings at the Speed of Sound [Capitol, 1976]
The only substantial talent in this group is bassist-producer Paul McCartney, and he's at full strength only on the impassioned "Beware My Love," although "Let 'Em In" and "Silly Love Songs" are charming if lightweight singles, and "She's My Baby" sounds like an outtake from the "white" double-LP by McCartney's former group, the Beatles. In any case, the supporting cast is disgracefully third-rate. The vocals of guitarist Denny Laine are even lamer than those of McCartney's wife and keyboard player, Linda. B-

London Town [Capitol, 1978]
McCartney's lyricism is so capricious, so given to inanity and icky-poo, that only at its very best--"With a Little Luck" and the affectionate goof on "Famous Groupies"--does it come on strong. But from its slices of life to its romantic reassurances this is nowhere near as feckless as the Old Band on the Run claque claims--even on the one about the fairy who'll invite us to tea Linda adds a few harmonies that are as charming as they're meant to be. And at the very least you have to be impressed by how steadfastly Paul has resisted supersessions--he's been loyal to his group, which has now recorded longer than the Beatles. B

Wings Greatest [Capitol, 1978]
Twelve songs, five of them hits not on any previous Wings album, running 54:11 in all, replete with rhythm shifts and subthemes and counterplots and flights of fancy and forays into abject nonsense. In short, pop for potheads. All I could ask is a stylus-width scratch across "My Love." B+

Back to the Egg [Columbia, 1979]
Whew. Sixteen titles on an untimed LP that must run forty minutes if not fifty--or seventy-five. When he's on, Paulie's abundant tunefulness passes for generosity. Here he's just hoping something will stick. C

Paul McCartney: McCartney II [Columbia, 1980]
Paulie's 1970 DIY sounded homemade--its unfinished musings intimated an appealingly modest freedom. This one was recorded on a sixteen-track with an engineer in attendance. The instrumentals are doodles, the songs demos by a man who scores the occasional hit only to prove he's a genius. Which he isn't. C

Paul McCartney: Tug of War [Columbia, 1982]
Most rock-and-rollers look like simps or cynics by the time they hit thirty-five. Others retain the irrepressible exuberance of a Stevie Wonder, or grasp it again in magic moments the way Carl Perkins does on this album's most affecting cut. A few rare ones age gracefully into fresh-eyed wisdom, like Neil Young and John Lennon. But no matter how serious and sensible he gets, McCartney's perpetual boyishness conveys the perpetual callowness of a musical Troy Donahue. I don't think this is intentional--in his personal life he seems at least as adult as anyone I've named, and he's put his hard-earned craft to mature use on this LP. But it might almost be dumb love songs. B

Paul McCartney: Pipes of Peace [Columbia, 1983]
I've finally figured out what people mean when they call Paulie pop--they mean he's not rock. But to me pop implies a strict sense of received form whether crafted by the dB's or Billy Joel. McCartney's in his own world entirely, which is the charm of his music. And of course, a reliance on charm has always been his weakness. This is quite pleasant except when Britain's number-one earner preaches against violence as if self-interest wasn't an issue, which is also the only time it comes into firm contact with the great outside. B-

Paul McCartney: All the Best [Capitol, 1987]
Of the seven cuts this doesn't share with 1978's twelve-cut, fifty-four-minute Wings Greatest, only the lost 1972 B side "C Moon" and the 1983 M. Jackson duet "Say Say Say" (in its flimsy non-Jellybean mix) are worth anyone's trouble. And "My Love" is among the survivors. Somebody call . . . the Better Business Bureau? C+

Paul McCartney: Run Devil Run [Capitol, 1999]
I don't want to call McCartney the most complacent rock and roller in history. The competition's way too stiff, especially up around his age, and anyway, I'm not judging his inner life, only his musical surface. From womp-bom-a-loo-mom to monkberry moon delight, his rockin' soul and pop lyricism always evinced facility, not feeling, and his love songs were, as he so eloquently put it, silly. This piece of starting-over escapism isn't like that at all, as, robbed of the wife he loved with all his heart, McCartney returns to the great joy of his adolescence in a literally death-defying formal inversion. So light it's almost airborne, Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Baby" opens; so wild it's almost feral, Elvis Presley's "Party" closes. Some familiar titles are merely redone or recast, which beyond some Chuck Berry zydeco gets him nowhere. But arcana like Fats Domino's "Coquette" and Carl Perkins's "Movie Magg" could have been born yesterday, three originals dole out tastes of strange, and on two successive slow sad ones, the Vipers' hung-up obscurity "No Other Baby' and Ricky Nelson's lachrymose hit "Lonesome Town," the impossibility of the project becomes the point. Teenagers know in some recess of their self-involvement that their angst will have a next chapter, but McCartney's loneliness is permanent. Not incurable--the music is a kind of new life. But its fun is a spiritual achievement the man's never before approached. A-

Paul McCartney: Back in the U.S. [Capitol, 2002]
The broad arena-rock of expert nonentities robs the Beatle songs that jam this tour merch of all quirk and precision. Yet the Beatle songs still dwarf the proofs of his solo existence, which get lamer as he gets older. Either way his relentless smiley smile cloys on contact. And when he whips up some now-the-fellas now-the-ladies on "Hey Jude," it is to cringe with dismay at the survival of a generation. D

Paul McCartney: Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard [Capitol, 2005] Dud

Paul McCartney: Memory Almost Full [Hear Music, 2007]
"I hope it's not too late/Searching for time that has gone so fast" ("Ever Present Past," "Nod Your Head"). ***