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McCartney Forgets What He Does Best
on 28 March 2005
I bought this album when it came out, played it endlessly and defended it against my university friends who for some reason were more interested in Duran Duran or Simple Minds.
Twenty two years later I will be less generous. It has not really aged very well this collection, with of course a few exceptions. 'Say Say Say' is for example annoyingly lightweight and whilst it was great to see McCartney at No 2 in the singles charts, one feels that there was a touch too much compromise to commercialism in making this happen. It is almost as if Paul had seen the latter Wings efforts sell none too well and then made a conscious decision to collaborate with other stars to regain his rightful position on the hit parade. As if he needed to or as if his fans really wanted him to. The collaborations with Stevie Wonder on 'Tug Of War' at least were either funky or meant something lyrically. Yes I am one of the few who are prepared to stand up for 'Ebony And Ivory' without resorting to cynicism. But here with 'Say Say Say' and the marginally better 'The Man' McCartney collaborates with Michael Jackson on two songs whose lyrics are amongst the most futile and weedy ever to come from his pen. And we won't talk about the annoying video to the former.
'The Other Me' contained what I thought at the time was a really bad line. 'I acted like a dustbin lid', to rhyme with 'treating you the way I did'. God how bad is that? Even after I discovered that dustbin lid might be cockney rhyme for kid, it still seemed an unfortunate attempt at humour to say the least. The track itself is not bad actually and comes as quite a relief after 'Say'. 'Keep Under Cover' is quite interesting musically, if not lyrically. 'Sweetest Show In Town' is mediocre and sounds like the Tug Of War leftover which it is. 'Tug Of Peace' is quite a clever follow up to 'Tug Of War' but again is only interesting for its unusual instrumentation.
I have deliberately left the best tracks til last as there is always something good on any McCartney album. Even 'Press To Play' (1986).
'Average Person' is thoroughly Ram-ish in its feel and the lyric, although trite is at least quite amusing. It even drew a favourable comment from my Dad which is pretty rare I can tell you! 'So Bad' is nearly a top drawer McCartney ballad. The falsetto vocal works pretty well but at the end of the day is no substitute for his normal range (nor was it on 'Girlfriend' (1978), another half forgotten McCartney gem). The title track 'Pipes Of Peace' is a pretty fine piece of work, although after that opening 20 seconds ('I light a candle to your love....') expectations were of something altogther more monumental! But as it is, it is good. It means something. And the video for this, in the trenches of World War One' works exceptionally well.
The final track 'Through Our Love' is again almost a McCartney classic. Good melody, heartfelt lyric (if sentimental, but what's wrong with that?). But there is something, almost indefinable, which is missing.
With hindsight this album can be seen as a disappointing follow-up to 'Tug Of War'. And McCartney would then get worse with 'Broad Street' (1984), 'Press To Play' (1986) and a couple of mediocre singles. Of which 'No More Lonely Nights is Not one I hasten to add. But it wasn't until 1989 with 'Flowers In The Dirt' that we saw the McCartney magic on display again, at least with any consistency. It is ironic that of his post Wings records this is probably the most successful in chart terms. His last two albums for example 'Flaming Pie' (1997) and 'Driving Rain' (2001) sold disappointingly. But are both an awful lot better than 'Pipes Of Peace'.