As you may recall, the last time we came upon Paul McCartney, pilot of Wings, he’d fashioned a thirteen-song offering called London Town, whose mildly tuneful title track was the epitome of the now-familiar, latter-day McCartney style of songwriting.
People pass by me on my imaginary street
Ordinary people it’s impossible to meet
Holding conversations that are always incomplete
Well, I don’t know….
Gliding along on the wheels of a catchy little melody, we were scarcely into his pale narrative when McCartney began laying out the limitations of the tale he was to tell. Still, the melody was infectious and the possibilities sufficiently promising, so we went along for the ride on the odd chance of meeting one of those ordinary folks he was crooning about. And, at length, we did — sort of.
Out of work again the actor entertains his wife
With the same old stories of his ordinary life
Maybe be exaggerates the trouble and the strife
Well, I don’t know….
Thus unfolded another thoroughly unsatisfying Paul McCartney song on the archetypal Wings LP. London Town was an irritating mélange of lyric fragments, squandered melodies and clever but half-assed arrangements, the whole unrealized mess packaged with a slick, unctuous flair that would have reduced an idea like “Eleanor Rigby” to a two-line roundelay.
Since his solo debut in 1970 with the casual, albeit totally original McCartney, this ex-Beatle has been lending his truly prodigious talents as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer to some of the laziest records in the history of rock & roll. With the exception of Band on the Run and some relatively cohesive material on Venus and Mars, McCartney’s work with Wings has proven to be as scattershot as it is puerile, each abortive rock snippet and silly love song feeding the mounting bewilderment about his direction (or utter lack of it) as an artist. Who, one felt compelled to ask, is in charge here? Back to the Egg provides the final, obvious answer: no one.
After ten Capitol albums with wife Linda, stalwart Denny Laine and various incarnations of Wings, McCartney jumped to Columbia last year in a multimillion-dollar deal that many thought would represent a new era for him musically. Despite the addition of Steve Holly on drums and Laurence Juber on guitar, Back to the Egg is just about the sorriest grab bag of dreck in recent memory.
Herewith, a sample of the words from the single, “Getting Closer”: “I’m getting closer, my Salamander/When will we be there? Oh no, don’t answer.” Mercifully, no lyric sheet is provided, but a throwaway scrap (what other kind of McCartney lyric is there?) from the above tune about a “radio playing a song with a point” sets an ironic tone for the entire LP. A veritable slide show of dead-end flights of fancy and yesterday’s dross, Back to the Egg doesn’t contain one cut that’s the least bit fleshed out or brought to any logical conclusion. In place of well-framed songs, we get an irritating display of disjointed images and unfocused musical snapshots. Titles are abundant (fourteen in all), but the content is largely regurgitant. “We’re Open Tonight” bears a strong resemblance to London Town‘s “I’m Carrying,” while “Winter Rose/Love Awake” recalls “Power Cut” on Red Rose Speedway. “After the Ball/Million Miles” is the obligatory tip of the McCartney hat to English music-hall tradition, but it’s vastly inferior to even such half-baked fluff as Venus and Mars‘ “You Gave Me the Answer.”
The instrumentation on Back to the Egg is so scrambled that any serious criticism would be ridiculous, except to note that the much-heralded “Rockestra Theme” (featuring the playing of Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, John Bonham, Gary Brooker, David Gilmour, John Paul Jones, et al.) is a flat affair cooked up around one hackneyed riff. Likewise, the runaway bass that made the disco single, “Goodnight Tonight” (absent from the album), a curiosity is in ample supply here, but not nearly as inventive or powerful. Instead, McCartney just retraces his tired old patterns.
“Arrow through Me” illustrates why Paul McCartney’s output is rarely covered anymore by other artists. At first pleasing to the ear, this love lament soon becomes so flaky that no other performer would dare stand naked with it. Indeed, the only track deserving of special mention is Denny Laine’s “Again and Again and Again,” a somewhat engaging rock segment that could have been built into a comprehensible song. The rest of the record sounds like a rude mixture of subbasement tapes and prose torn at random from the Yellow Pages, interspersed for no discernible reason with — no kidding — some spoken excerpts from John Galsworthy’s The Little Man and Ian Hay’s The Sport of Kings.
In keeping with the fractured nature of Back to the Egg, I offer the reader a multiple-choice ending to this review, with the suggestion that he or she consider combining all of the following:
(A) This album is nothing more than a slipshod demo by an aimless band. If it had arrived unsolicited in the offices of Columbia, it would have been returned in the next mail with a terse “No thank you.”
(B) I can think of few other prominent rock musicians who’d have signed their names to this kind of drivel. 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.
(C) Paul McCartney (how does this man sleep?) has been plagiarizing his own material for years now, and he’s finally run out of recycled ideas. With a few key word changes, the lyrics that began this piece could end it on an appropriately grim autobiographical note.
(D) Where have you gone, Emmitt Rhodes? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.