Tug of War (EMI Paul McCartney Collection 92662)
To anyone still clinging to the idea that Tug of War was McCartney's "return to form" or that is "a masterpiece," I offer two words: "Get It." No, I don't mean go out and get the album as soon as possible, I'm referring to the hammy Paul/Carl Perkins duet that appears on the album that goes nowhere and ends with Perkins' laughter, supposedly after Paul told him a dirty joke. The only way that could have been redeemed would have been to include Paul telling the joke as well. Talk about soundbite of the century. Then there's the tepid and off-putting duet with Stevie Wonder "What's That You're Doing?," which features the line "You can make me feel so proud/You can make me holler "Ow!" I've heard newborn babies make up better rhymes than that immediately after removal from the womb.
People's article #3: the confusing and odd "you've got a friend" type song "Somebody Who Cares," which includes what may be Paul's worst lyric ever: "I know how you feel/Like somebody has taken the wheels off your car when you had somewhere to go/It's annoying." That line has enraged me for over 15 years at this point! Not only does Paul McCartney not know how I feel, but I don't even know what that is supposed to mean! The worst part about it is he was clearly struggling for a Great Line there, and just totally dropped the ball. It's not a horrible song, but that line would stick out as bad even in the Alanis Morrissette songbook.
Having already seeped this review with enough ridicule to last another few pages, I suppose I can now turn around and say that Tug of War is not a trainwreck either. Any album with "Take it Away" on it automatically gets a three, and there are a lot of high points to the album perhaps seemingly more than in reality, since the low points are low enough to make the high points seem really good. For example, Paul's tribute to John Lennon, "Here Today," is a bit plastic, but seems very deep following "What's That You're Doing?" And "The Pound is Sinking" (about which, upon hearing it recently, a fellow Loud Bassoon staffer was moved to exclaim "This song is literally about CURRENCY?!" and sadly, it is!) is ridiculous but seems very good sandwiched in between the wonderful "Ballroom Dancing" (sort of like Wings doing "Come Dancing") and the very pretty "Wanderlust" (one of those ballady sailor songs you hear now and then). "Tug of War" is a great opener (and a rewrite of "Fernando" by Abba, I might add), leaving a wonderful memory mainly because it leads into "Take it Away."
Overall, the album is very solid, and a couple different song choices would have made it an actual masterpiece rather than a spotty rock-critic masterpiece. The difference being, rock-critics were so glad at the time to have Wings be gone that they automatically assumed Tug of War was a great album. At the points where it is great, it is really great ("Take it Away," "Wanderlust," "Ballroom Dancing," "Here Today"), but just as much of the album inspires outright cringing. The super-slick production is impressive in some places (like "Take it Away," one of Paul's two or three greatest singles ever, but impossible to date sonically) but horrible in others (the in-your-face numbingness of "What's That You're Doing?," the baffling Bee Gees throwback "Dress Me Up as a Robber," which I believe is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary of Pop Albums under "filler"). The other Stevie Wonder duet, "Ebony And Ivory," is not as bad a song as it's made out to be, but it is undeniably pure cheese, and only makes me torture myself with the fantasy of Stevie and Paul collaborating when they should have: in 1971, when Paul was making Ram and Stevie was making Innervisions. I could keep myself awake and agitated for days pondering the unfairness of having them get together in (*shiver*) 1983.
To make matters worse, the remastered version inexplicably leaves off the expected bonus tracks, when Paul's b-sides for this album were among his best ever: "Rainclouds," "Ode to a Koala Bear," and "I'll Give You a Ring," which is better than any track on Tug of War except "Take it Away" (for which it was the b-side). Very frustrating. They added bonus tracks to Ram and Band on the Run, yet for some reason thought that Tug of War stood mightily enough on its own. Well, it doesn't. On the other hand, Tug of War may be the ideal demonstration of CD technology, because it's an album that's impossible to enjoy without fast-forwarding or reprogramming entirely. I'd like to see an expanded version released with the b-sides, because that would be entirely worthwhile, even excusing the boring avuncularity of "Get It." And even though I may not "Get It," I'm certain that Paul definitely didn't "Get It" entirely when making this album, although I suppose the joke's on me because I couldn't help but "Get It" when it was released on CD. Damn completism!
Review by Ivan Loverling