Band on the Run (EMI Paul McCartney Collection 89240)
Widely regarded as one of Paul McCartney's best albums, Band on the Run is approximately as good as it's cracked up to be, another one of the albums where Paul demonstrates total focus and inspiration throughout without feeling compelled to throw in filler like, say, "Peace in the Neighborhood" or "Dress Me Up as a Robber." Sonically it's probably his most kick-ass album, which is why most of the classic-rock oriented critics hold it up as such a masterpiece (that and the fact that most of those dinosaurs remember when the album came out). I was busy suckling at my mammy's teat when Band on the Run was released (on vinyl, at least; when it was released on CD I'd moved "south of the border") (that was called for!) (oh, cram it!) but there's no denying the coherence of the album and its lasting greatness. I would still say Ram is a better listen, but even despite serious overplaying by FM radio, Band on the Run is still an exciting ride.
Recorded primarily by Paul and Linda in Lagos with help from Denny Laine (as far as Denny Laine can "help" anything), the album is really a McCartney solo album that was the first to really define what he wanted to do with Wings create mammoth arena rock songs with lots of melody that sound like they mean something. Of course, most of the songs are utter nonsense as only McCartney can write it, but this is one of the rare McCartney albums where you don't really notice. The polished rock edge of the title track, "Jet," and "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" are complemented by the "Blackbird"-mode Paul songs "Bluebird" and "Mamunia" (always a pleasure to hear) and what can only be described as "the Wings sound" of "Mrs. Vanderbilt," "Let Me Roll It," and "No Words" (literally no one before or since has written rock songs quite like these where is the Wings influence?) remain intriguing even as they become more and more irrelevant to current music.
Band on the Run is a good example of why it's bad to gauge the "importance" or "greatness" of an album by the influence it's had on later performers. I mean, really only McCartney himself might be able to explain why these songs are so effective even though they are impossible to relate to in any way or appreciate as part of any noticeable rock genre. Not that the album fell on deaf ears, by any means but in this case, Paul followed his own weird musical path and it resulted in a huge hit. What followed was more calculated (Venus and Mars is a great record, but about as plastic a record as has ever been made), but you can't say Paul was copying anyone with Band on the Run.
The tracks that really continue to deliver are the more low-key ones "No Words," in particular, is a subtle masterpiece that no one ever seems to recall, and "Mamunia" is as genuinely great as "Mull of Kintyre" is falsely great and the "band" dynamic is very convincing, and about as far from the Beatles as you can get without being in the middle of a Ringo Starr album. "Picasso's Last Words" begins with the same basic melodic idea as "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" but only gets Beatlesque in its "You Know My Name" drunken sequence. The album has lots of Paul's multi-part songs a la "Uncle Albert" ("Band on the Run" is an obvious example), and features lots of recurring motifs ("Jet" reappears" in "Picasso's Last Words, as does "Mrs. Vanderbilt," which is about the last place it was seen, Paul having forgotten about it immediately thereafter, apparently).
It's a complex album, always worth another listen. "Helen Wheels" didn't appear on the original album, but did appear on the original US release and the subsequent CD reissues. This edition (from the UK remasters series) also adds "Country Dreamer" as an additional bonus track (it was the b-side to "Helen Wheels"). The former is a very overrated song, finding Paul very much in "let's see how many times I can reinvent the 'Twenty Flight Rock' wheel" mode, while "Country Dreamer" is quite nice, closing the disc with a lilting melody and some lasting prettiness.
Thinking back, I have now bought this album six times (8-track; LP; CD; gold CD; import remastered edition, and that g'damn misfire 25th Anniversary Edition).The gold disc is the only one yet to feature all the original packaging (including the poster of session photos), but the bonus tracks on this edition make it the one to have, especially since the anniversary edition has the idiotic "documentary" disc included which is virtually unlistenable. Oh, I'm a sucker for buying this album so many times, huh? Well at least I didn't buy all three CD reissues of Kind of Blue! Oh wait a minute, yes I did.
Review by Ivan Loverling