Was it Ian Leslie I promised this review to? Time is slipping away! Speed of Sound (songs at the link) was much derided upon its release in 1976, and more recently one scathing reviewer gave it a “1” score out of 10. Yet I find this an entertaining and also compelling work. At least Eoghan
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Was it Ian Leslie I promised this review to? Time is slipping away!
Speed of Sound (songs at the link) was much derided upon its release in 1976, and more recently one scathing reviewer gave it a “1” score out of 10. Yet I find this an entertaining and also compelling work. At least Eoghan Lyng had the sense to call it “definitely infectious and decidedly hummable.” But it’s better than that, and I would stress the following:
1. The album very definitely has its own “sound.” Super clean production, a limpid clarity in the mix, and sparing deployment of guitar. Not all of that works all the time, but there is a coherence to a production often described as a mish-mash. The sound of the whole is best reflected by “The Note You Never Wrote,” a McCartney song sung by Denny Laine, placed wisely in the number two slot. Nothing on either the disc or the original album sounds compressed, rather it all comes to life. It’s better than the sluggish, overproduced, horn-heavy Venus and Mars.
2. The unapologetic presentation has held up fine, rejecting its own era of albums that were overloaded with ideas, overproduced, and too self-consciously parading their messages. Speed of Sound is so deliberately unhip you can hardly believe it — who else in 1976 would pay tribute to “Phil and Don” of the Everly Brothers? And Paul was thanking MLK (“Martin Luther”) when others were still flirting with the Black Panthers. Surely he was right that “Silly Love Songs” would persist, so maybe people were hating on how on the mark he was.
2. At exactly the same time Wings was evolving into one of the very best live acts of the 1970s, far better than the Beatles ever were. (Yes, I know it is hard to admit that.) Their live act sizzled, and yes I did see it back then and I have listened to it many times since. Check out the YouTube channel of jimmymccullochfan, for instance “Beware My Love” or “Soily,” or how about “Call Me Back Again“? For Macca, Wings at this time was essentially a live band, and it proved to be his greatest live band achievement of all time (with some competition from his early 1990s shows), most of all pinned down by Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and Paul on bass.
You have to think of Speed of Sound as a complementary valentine to the live shows, a sweeter and more digestible version of what went into the road. Most of all it is about Paul and Linda, about the maturation of Wings as a group, about opennness to the world and to each other (a recurring Macca theme) and about domestic life, with recurring melancholy thrown in. Maybe those ideas are not your bag, but at least you can accept this as one piece of the broader McCartney tableau.
Now Macca knew you might not know about the live shows, but he didn’t care. He figured he was giving you two monster hits (“Let Em In,” “Silly Love Songs”) in the process, and that was good enough. And yes I agree he was too much the satisficer in this period.
3. The weak songs are “Wino Junko” and “Time to Hide” — 10% less democracy as Garett Jones says! “Time to Hide” is almost good, but it relies too heavily on horns and then drags on. “San Ferry Anne” also has a weak use of horns and the melody never quite takes off. “Cook of the House” goes into a category of its own. I’ll say only Wings [sic] needed to get this out of its system to move on to other approaches. I am pleased, however, that the lyrics are fulsome in their praise of domesticity, compare it to Lennon’s effort in an analogous but not similar vein. I don’t mind “dares to be appalling” as much as many others do. Frankly, I enjoy this song.
4. Excellent are “Let ’em In,” “The Note You Never Wrote,” “She’s My Baby,” “Beware My Love,” “Silly Love Songs,” and “Warm and Beautiful.” That is six very good songs on an album, with “Must Do Something About It” as “pretty good.” The prominence of the former set on Beatles XM satellite radio should not go unremarked, as presumably listeners are not switching the dial away. These songs are still popular nearly fifty years later.
5. “She’s My Baby” is the most underrated cut of that lot. It starts before you realize it and it just gets down to business. Thumping bass, innovative vocal, it keeps on going and then it segues into “Beware My Love.” Does not wear out its welcome.
6. There is no good reason to mock “Silly Love Songs,” which is a classic, ecstatic in its peaks, and which deploys disco influences in just the right way. The vocal and bass lines work perfectly, as does Linda’s vocal counterpoint. It stays vital at almost six minutes long. Once you step out of your ingrained bias, it is easy to see this is better than many of the classic McCartney Beatle songs. I would rather hear it than say Lennon’s soppy “Imagine,” which is ideologically ill-conceived to boot. Macca in this one is sly, mocking, and sardonic too, such as when he subtly refers to the problematic nature of mutual orgasm (“love doesn’t come in a minute…sometimes it doesn’t come at all…”).
7. “I must be wrong” in “Beware My Love” (plus the preceding guitar break) and “I love you” in “Silly Love Songs” are the two highlight moments of the album.
There are definitely disappointments in this work, but it is time we were able to view its contributions with some objectivity. Wings at the Speed of Sound is an excellent album, still worth the relistens. And I really am glad that the Beatles broke up — it meant more music from the group as a whole.
History, Music, Uncategorized