Like Paul McCartney’s first two post-Beatles albums. Wild Life is largely high on sentiment but rather flaccid musically and impotent lyrically, trivial and unaffecting. It lacks the exhilarating highs of Ram (which highs I, as one who found it as worthless as the next guy when it first arrived, can assure you are indeed present), and, in the form of a track called “I Am Your Singer,” contains the most embarrassingly puerile single piece of work Paul’s been associated with since “She’s Leaving Home.”
But allow no one to convince you that it’s entirely devoid of merit: while it’s vacuous, flaccid, impotent, trivial and unaffecting. It’s also unpretentious (a humble enough vessel of praise, but one of which neither George Harrison’s nor John Lennon’s post-Beatles work is worthy), melodically charming in several places, warm, and pleasant. Mostly, it’s nicely (but not, as was some of Ram, spectacularly) executed pop music, and should be taken or left on that basis alone.
I personally find the notion that Paul can’t distinguish between the trivial and the heavy without the assistance of a George Martin or Lennon preposterous, and attribute the low-key blandness of his recent work instead to what is, in view of his remaining contractually chained to an organization he has little desire to make wealthier, an understandable nonchalance. As for considerations of pride having to do with his rivalry with the other Beatles in general and Lennon in particular, he’s apparently quite accurately surmised that the average record buyer, unlike nearly every critic who’s expressed an opinion, greatly prefers his hummable fluff to Lennon’s more interesting but frequently strident expressions of conscience.
One somehow convinced of McCartney’s basic perversity might argue that he’s quite intentionally making mediocre music, knowing that his ex-partner will suffer more watching effortlessly-produced pop quasi-Muzak easily outsell his own anguish – predicated soul-barings. A more likely explanation for a theory holding that McCartney’s records have been deliberately second-rate is that he’s attempting to comment ironically on Lennon’s obsession with putting yet another huge hunk of his personality on every 12-inch vinyl disk by himself sticking to the most banal imaginable themes.
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In many ways Paul is slowly regaining the upper hand, mostly by making many fewer hard-to-live – up – to significance – reeking pronouncements about his own life and society at large. Note, for example, that he credits Linda as co-composer on all of Wild Life’s new compositions, as well as co-producer, while Lennon, after going out of his way to sympathize with the feminist movement in “Power To The People,” scarcely allows Yoko to complete a sentence on national television.
While Lennon continually threatens to implode in his eagerness to represent himself as the spokesman for the politically conscious avant-garde, to perpetuate his stature as the spearhead of whatever revolution is in the air, Paul quietly continues to quite deliberately demystify himself, resisting the obvious temptation to set Dick Cavett straight, showing up at the presentation of the Grammy awards at least partially to demonstrate that he doesn’t consider himself above such gross recognition of his talents, unveiling Wings’ album at the approximate English equivalent of Lawrence Welk’s Hollywood Palladium, and, most importantly, making modest, simple music about the least mystical theme imaginable, domestic contentment. He’s driven by no obsession to demonstrate rock’s potential as fine, revolutionary, or religious art, but rather is content to make straightforward pop music, to entertain. He apparently sleeps soundly.
None of which is to imply either so great a degree of detachment or so immense a capacity for charity in McCartney that he’s above further participation in the inter-ex-Beatle feuding. Parts of Wild Life may with little exertion be construed as his answer to the unkind things Lennon sang and said about him during the last round.
To my ears there’s something quite fishy about the title track
specifically, I find it impossible to take, “Taking a walk through an African park one day,” and similar lines at face value, as merely very clumsy things to say in what sounds to me like a too-obvious-to-be-real ecology-fad-inspired song. Rather, the whole theme of this track seems a subtle but discernible parody of Lennon’s stance as a social critic, just as the way Paul holds onto several raspily sung notes at the beginning of the song remind me more than a little of Lennon’s vocal approach on the primal screaming album.
It’s conceivable, of course, that I’m completely mistaken. It’s this very uncertainty about the parodic nature of “Wild Life” that permits Paul to play the unfairly victimized but still charitable half of a friendship gone sour in “Dear Friend,” to ask, “Does it really matter that much to you?” in a way that suggests that “it” doesn’t matter nearly so much to him as does the friendship.
The placement of these two songs is interesting: in closing the album, “Dear Friend,” in which he’s the unjustly-hurt but nevertheless understanding golden boy, appears in the place where we’d probably most expect him to address Lennon. Thus, if you miss the import of “Wild Life,” which is placed at the end of a side whose first three-quarters seem to have been included mostly in an attempt to convince the listener that the album bears no pronouncements, you have only the far more flattering picture that “Dear Friend” paints on which to base your perception of McCartney’s role in the feud. All of which, it must be admitted, is quite neat.
The aforementioned first three-quarters of side one comprise “Mumbo,” a raucous rock and roll rampage that, like “Smile Away,” may be taken as a small self-send-up, and “Bip Bop,” an hypnotic and quite enjoyable Merle Travisstyle guitar-pickin’ hoedown, and the venerable “Love Is Strange.”
If the remainder of the album has a theme it’s the perfect, self-containing, incomprehensible-to-outsiders nature of the McCartneys’ love. Thus, the presence of “… Strange,” the first non-original Paul’s recorded since the middle of last decade. I, for one, would have much enjoyed hearing the McCartneys asking one another how each calls his lover-boy (-girl), but the absence of this crucial component of Mickey & Sylvia’s and Peaches & Herb’s versions of the song is compensated for by the superbly-played Staxish arrangement Wings have lavished on it, including a bass and tom-toms mix that Phil Spector himself might be proud of.
“Some People Never Know” and “Tomorrow” are archetypal post-Beatles McCartney: banal, self-celebrating lyrics full of many of the most tired rhymes in Western pop, sentiments that Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy would embrace without a moment’s hesitation; glossy, if unfocused production; pretty, eminently Muzakable melodies; lots of velvety background ooh-ing; and the expressive intensity of the Carpenters good pop, but neither more nor less than that.
“I Am Your Singer” represents McCartney’s most dangerous impulses run rampant. It’s sufficiently sweet and adorable to gag on, with Mr. & Mrs. describing each’s importance to one another by use of a metaphor that even a Paul Williams might reject as overly cute. Whatever Linda’s attributes may be as a wife and mother, she’s no singer, being incapable of tip-toing through even the simplest phrase in tune (as becomes embarrassingly evident during her solo moment). Moreover, the song’s arrangement appears to have been slapped together in a matter of seconds, as is suggested by drummer Denny Seiwell’s thumping around aimlessly in a manner that suggests that the first time he heard the song was while it was being recorded. This isn’t even acceptable pop music.
Speaking of arrangements, as we were a sentence ago, Paul seemingly can’t be bothered to do much more than decide where he’s going to insert a guitar solo or background singing, and is mostly content to allow his songs to stand or fall on tune alone. Only in “Love Is Strange” and “Dear Friend,” whose jarring piano and chilling strings (which remind, even if ever so slightly, of those on “How Do You Sleep?”) successfully evoke despair, is there much evidence of anyone having taken the time or trouble to focus the performance in such a way that its effect on the listener is controlled.
Passing note should be made of the invisibility in Wings of former Moody Blues leader and Airforce man Denny Laine, a musician of some stature in England. It is difficult to imagine how he’ll remain content with the unspecified background role he plays on this record.
My own conviction is that we’d be foolish to expect anything much more earth-shaking than Wild Life out of McCartney for a good long while not, I daresay, before he extricates himself from record and publishing companies that he feels little love for. Which may very well not happen until the latter part of this decade. In the meantime the reader is advised to either develop a fondness for vacuous but unpretentious pop music or look elsewhere for musical pleasure.