Wild Life (EMI Paul McCartney Collection 89237)
Like McCartney II, the album it is probably most similar to, Wild Life features a Paul McCartney that is uncharacteristically not trying to please anybody but himself. Also like McCartney II, the album tends to get dismissed pretty out-of-hand by most critics, but Wild Life is a terrific little album in its own way. I think a lot of people probably put it on and hear the testy caterwauling of "Mumbo," followed by the "what the hell is he on" madness of "Bip Bop" and just give up. But this is an album that rewards a little patience. I actually like "Mumbo" and I love "Bip Bop," both of which are total nonsense but they're a good example of how Paul can literally make music out of anything. "Bip Bop" is phenomenal, basically like a Chet Atkins fingerpicking thing with goofy lyrics about nothing: "Put your hair in curlers/We're gonna see a band." I'll take that a hundred times for every "Paul trying to write meaningful lyrics" song you can name (i.e. "Ebony & Ivory," "Peace in the Neighborhood"). And in fact there are a couple of "Paul trying to write meaningful lyrics" songs on here that actually work: "Wild Life," an early animal rights song that somehow doesn't topple over like some of Paul's socially conscious 90s material, and "Give Ireland Back to the Irish," included here as a bonus track. It was actually a single, banned in the UK, and although some of the lyrics are dopey, the song is kick-ass musically, and furthermore, quite a bit more genuine than some of Lennon's more well-regarded political material. It's a great lost Paul classic that should be on his best-of, if it were an "actual best of" rather than a chart hit compilation.
Wild Life is the fruit of a couple weeks rehearsal after Wings became a tangible group, and you can't argue that Paul didn't reinvent himself in the context of the new band. On this record, much more so than any other Wings album, it really does sound like a band, for better and worse. But that's part of why I dig it. It's nice to have Paul in a "warts and all" mode. The songs are a blueprint for the truly great stuff to come from Wings a couple years later "Some People Never Know" could easily fit on Band on the Run; "Tomorrow" is a roughshod "Listen to What the Man Said" two very neglected Paul songs (except by those crazy Peruvians, We All Together).
Then there's "Dear Friend," which is one of the "Paul vs. John" songs that came out of the duo's famous album-oriented-feud (AOF) in the early 70s, and which Paul, like it or not, wins. "Dear Friend" is pretty haunting, a little meandering, and obviously addressing Lennon, but not as an attack. It's possible that the "Mumbo Link" and "Bip Bop Link" are unnecessary, though the latter is very cool, and both add to the "new rock band making an album" feel. You have to admire a guy who had, in the space of the previous couple years, made both Abbey Road and Ram, two highly polished studio albums, and then here he is cranking out Wild Life with no regrets. Another facet of the album I like is that it shows how Paul was always able to use Linda's limited voice to great effect (much as The Beatles had used Ringo) she's a central focus on "I Am Your Singer," and it's a great song. The island funk revamp of "Love is Strange" will be wither charming or tedious depending on your "Paul can do no wrong" quotient (for me it falls about halfway).
The other bonus tracks include "Mary Had a Little Lamb," one of Paul's weirder pet songs, setting the nursery rhyme to new music and featuring the kids singing and laughing. It's good, I think. "Little Woman Love" is a cool New Orleans thing that was the b-side to "Mary." Definitely a b-side, but very strong. "Mama's Little Girl" closes the CD, apparently recorded around the same time as Wild Life but unreleased until like 1990 (it was a b-side of "Put it There"). I love this song so much. It's simple and stupid and Paul in "hey, wasn't 'Blackbird' a great song?" mode, but I love it. I still associate it with 1990, so it seems out of place (plus, it's clearly not a "Wings, The Band" track but rather Paul solo), but it's a good addition to this album. The bonus tracks actually round out the album quite nicely, kicking things up a notch from the moderate greatness of the original release.
I really wish Paul knew what his good albums really are, instead of constantly buying into the critical crap of "Ram is bad, Wild Life is bad, McCartney II is bad, Press to Play is bad, Tug of War is good." I wish he'd buy into my critical crap instead: "Pipes of Peace is bad, Flaming Pie is really bad, Paul is Live is fucking abysmal, Wild Life is fantastic."
Review by Ivan Loverling