I've become unhealthily obsessed with this album of late, listening to it pretty much every day and finding more and more to enjoy about it each time. This is slightly surprising, as I'd always towed the critical line in accepting that V+M was a somewhat sub-standard sequel to the era-defining Band On The Run, and very much an album 'of its time'.
Funnily enough, I still think both those things are true: it IS a lesser work than BOTR, and it IS very much a mid 1970's album, but nevertheless on its own terms its quite lovingly put together and contains several moments of Macca-esque genius.
As usual with any McCartney album (with the possible exception of BOTR and Tug of War), it's something of a mixed bag - that is, mixed in terms of genre and also in terms of quality. Some of the songs - Magneto and Titanium Man, Medicine Jar, Spirits Of Ancient Egypt – are rather ordinary and forgettable (although none of these are terrible - in fact unlike several McCartney albums that DO contain at least one terrible track, Venus and Mars fails to deliver any true stinkers). However, what's left when you subtract these tracks is a lot of really rather fun material.
The song Venus and Mars (and its reprise) has a lovely melody - so simple and sparsely arranged yet genuinely affecting. The fact that the lyrics really don't seem to communicate anything specific really doesn't matter (as is often the case with Macca's best songs). Rock Show is all a bit of a mess, with (to my ears) slightly out of tune vocals and a generally chaotic arrangement, but the reverbed drums are so massively atmospheric and '1970's', and that the lyrics so daft, that the whole thing can't help but grow on you.
Love In Song is one of McCartney's better 'album track ballads' (along with similarly) overlooked songs such as I'm Carrying and We're Open Tonight), with another beautiful tune and stirring strings.
Then comes a song that, in my youth, I really couldn't stand, but now I find myself dancing round the kitchen to it with my five year old son. You Gave Me The Answer is a Fred Astaire pastiche and so utterly lacking in 'rock credibility' that, in the end, you have to hand it to McCartney for his gumption in including it. In a recent interview, he bracketed it with such Beatles songs as Honey Pie, and in doing so probably said more than he'd intended.The strange truth is that over and over again, Wings and McCartney solo albums often contain songs that would not have sounded at all out of place on certain (generally later) Beatles albums. Certainly if You Gave Me The Answer had been on the White Album it would have been treated more cordially by critical history (and by extension, stuff like Honey Pie and Martha My Dear, had they popped up on Venus and Mars or London Town, would probably have been dismissed out of hand).
Letting Go is the album's stand-out rocker, with a deliciously swampy guitar sound and some great, sassy horn work. Similar kudos to the soul-inflected Call Me Back Again, which features one of the THE great, overlooked McCartney 'red raw' vocals - easily up there with, and in fact eclipsing his performance on Abbey Road's Oh Darling.
Listen To What The Man Said is winsome pop in the best Wings tradition, highlighting the extraordinary vocal blend of Mr and Mrs McCartney and the stellar talent that was (is) Denny Laine: for my money, when the Wings harmonies are brought out and REALLY showcased (as they are here), there is no more beguiling or distinctive vocal sound to be found in any 70's rock or pop (with the possible exception of Abba).
The closing medley of Lonely Old People/Treat Her Her Gently and the hilariously included Crossroads theme actually work fine as as a surprisingly downbeat curtain closer: a touch maudlin in places but elsewhere genuinely emotional, particularly in light of the fact that Paul and Linda did not actually end up growing old together.
Make no bones about it, Venus and Mars is NOT as good as Band On The Run, but that is at least partly because Band On The Run was just one of 'those' fluke albums that mysteriously come to transcend their era. While BOTR is arty and druggy, Venus And Mars is glitzy and joyful. Accept it for what it is, don't expect any profound lyrical truths, have a couple of glasses of wine and stick it on. You'd have to be a singularly joyless kind of person (or possibly a Bruce Springstein or REM fan) not to enjoy it.