Album Review: Back To The Egg by Wings
The Final Wings' Album
As 1979 rolled around, a huge anti-Disco movement erupted and there was a surging demand for Rock. Rock music had already splintered into punk rock and new wave, both which would influence the mainstream artists. McCartney before releasing his final Wings album, had put out a disco-inspired "Good Night, Tonight" single which did reasonably well on the charts.
However, he chose to concentrate on the newer fads and seeing there was huge backlash against disco, he refused to allow the single on what would be considered one of Wings' heavier rock projects. Laurence Juber and Steve Holly were both added to Wings' line-up. McCartney was in a less generous mood of sharing the writing and singing duties. Even long time partner Denny Laine only managed to get one track ironically called "Again And Again And Again".
As mentioned earlier in Wings' London Town review, Linda McCartney appeared ever bored on the album cover and also seemed impatient during the Tom Snyder Interview. You can view that here. The album had high hopes from its members as there was a considerable effort put into its planning. On top of the Wings' lineup there were two tracks done with the "Rockestra" crew, a collection of living legends assembled by Paul. Many of the same personnel would be used on "The Concert For Kampuchea" live performances.
The "Back To The Egg" album was conceived by Paul as another way of getting back to the roots of rock. The album did poorly in comparison to Wings' previous projects with no singles breaking the top ten. The album did encompass diverse styles of music which has endeared itself to many Wings' and McCartney fans who have staunchly defended it as being one of their favorites.
The album opens up with some intriguing radio waves with snippets of conversation stuck in with some groove bass playing to fade out. The running radio dialogue in multiple languages was very reminiscent of "I Am The Walrus" with its various dialogue insertions into the track. Further flipping of the radio leads us to:
Getting Closer is a McCartney rocker in the same vein as 1975's "Junior's Farm" without the outstanding guitar playing of Jimmy McCulloch. While this song would have felt at home in any McCartney project in the mid-seventies, by 1979, the formula was getting tired and thin. Though the track ends with some very haunting synth work, the single did very poorly by Wings' standard which signaled that the album was in deep trouble. It sole claim to fame may only have been the lyrics "my salamander" which probably did nothing to help its cause.
We're Open Tonight
Upon receiving favorable reviews on London Town's "I'm Carrying" by none other than George Harrison, McCartney obliges with a similar sounding track here. A simple yet hypnotic acoustic rhythms with a wailing string in the background and a charming McCartney vocal make this one a pleasurable listen. Pity that the track is far too short and that McCartney could not focus long enough to explore further the textures he set here.
Spin It On
If one would ever have to wonder what would happen if you mixed the Beatles with punk rock, wonder no more. McCartney would have been wiser to load this track as an instrumental and send it out to the Sex Pistols to perform. The lyrics are devoid of any of the punk angst though the music tempo is fast enough. The combination of the punk influence plus the Paul & Linda McCartney vocals makes this track all too silly and crass. Guitar solos are good and the track is decently arranged but still not good enough to save it from the McCartney children from rolling their eyes.
Again And Again And Again
Denny Laine was given only one track on the album and he makes the most of it. The melody of the track goes places and for at least side one, this is one of the better tracks. The music has a curious mix of folk rhythm and a bit of the Golden Age of Rock feel while the vocals are unmistakably Denny Laine. There is a lot of spirit in the track which truly makes it one of the endearing moments on the LP.
Old Siam, Sir
One of McCartney's heavier rock effort here, "OId Siam, Sir" unfortunately is about eleven years too late in the making. McCartney's vocals are too strained here and it feels he might have sung this in one key too high for his liking. There is good interaction between the bass and guitars here as the track explores the use of the octave a la "My Sharona". Unfortunately, the vocals are inaudible to the point that the lyrics cannot be understood. The track makes good use of double time rhythms but the musical hooks and energy still cannot save the song from its wrenching vocals.
Arrow Through Me
One of McCartney's high points of "Back To The Egg", one begs to ask why this track was not the lead-off single to the album. Even the lyrics here are interesting! Upon listening to the content of the track, one cannot but wonder what inspired McCartney to write "You couldn't have done a worse thing to me, if you'd have taken an arrow and run it right through me." Okay, Linda. What did you do?
The track is a standout not only for its soulful singing, rhodes piano and smooth backing vocals but also for the hypnotic drums and its horns backing (although a tad too repetitive). The horn finale at the end went perfectly with the revolving egg symbol on the record. It is a pity that the official video had some of the group pretending to play that horn part since those were authentic horn arrangements on the actual track.
"Arrow Through Me" was released as a single late in 1979 but the album had already sunk well into the abyss of obscurity for it to be anything than a top 50 hit.
Wings opens the second side of their album with a little help from their friends. Members of Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and others banded together to perform this semi-instrumental McCartney rocker. The combined effort won McCartney a Grammy for best Rock Instrumental. The accompanying video showed a working McCartney with a who's who in rock. The grandiose buildup was reminiscent of Band On The Run's "1985". One of the few rock tracks here that actually succeeded in what it was supposed to do.
To have followed up a Grammy winning song with the one with the likes of "To You" is a terrible lack of sequencing skills. In fact, it would have been much better if this track had been left off the album. While the start of the song is melodically reasonable, the ensuing guitar solos are just plain horrible. It induces the listener to scream right along with the McCartney vocal albeit in a non-musical way. That solo torpedoes the whole track and almost take the entire album with it. One can only think that McCartney allowed it for it to sound raw but it is truly a blemish to his usual standard of high quality of musicianship.
After The Ball/Million Miles
The first part of this track features a gospel flavored song about the party being over. There are a few lines here where McCartney comes dangerously close to plagiarizing "Amazing Grace". The track then leads into Million Miles in which McCartney features an accordion as the lead instrument. Perhaps, McCartney was trying to take us on an adventure down by the Louisiana banks for some revelation/confession experience?
Winter Rose/Love Awake
Whatever shortcomings McCartney had shown in the previous track, he made up for it here in brilliance. "Winter Rose" is lovely and the music actually fits the title aptly. There is a dreamy dark feel to this piece and yet it has enough grace to be a worthy consideration for a ballet piece. The track unmercifully yields its short existence to "Love Awake". "Love Awake" is a decent McCartney acoustic number. Like Winter Rose, it is much too short to make an indelible impression on its listeners. McCartney must have had far too many of these number lying around to make any of them a full fledged effort.
Reading the notes on the album sleeve, one would think that this track was a special treat since so many were involved in its creation. However, disappointment would soon arise when all it was, was a piano tinkering to a poetry reading contest.
So Glad To See You Hear
One of the better rockers on the album, McCartney a bad judge of his own music, buries this one as the second last track on the album. Helped out by the Rockestra crew, this track really rocks. Again, this is far too short and there is no real middle eight. Use of the horns here was not really necessarily but the vocal work here makes up for it. The whole track jumps into a semi-reggae feel, with Paul, Denny and Linda taking turns doing the refrain in a round. This track really is a microcosm for the entire album. It was an exciting idea, was spiritedly performed yet the end results were disappointing. The disappointment was the execution and the patience to see the project to its final and polished conclusion.
McCartney closes off the album with this cute 1940ish little lullaby. Sung stylistically beautiful, McCartney croons like few can and pulls off this effort with a smooth appeal. A pity that this was never incorporated into any of his live shows since. The track has little to do with anything else on the album that it is a wonder that McCartney included it.
Back To The Egg is proof that it is much easier for a heavier band to pull off lighter stuff than a lighter band to pull off heavier stuff. McCartney was ambitious to rock heavy here but when all is said and done, he cannot compete with the true heavies. Still, there are some memorable moments on the album and it is a pity that there were poor choices in sequencing the songs as well as choosing which ones should be singles.
It is unfortunate that Wings' swans song album was about as successful as its debut one. McCartney by the time of release must have felt he needed a break and began recording his own material in 1979 which he would incorporate into McCartney II in 1980. The fall of 1979 saw Wings perform its last tour across Britain.
The band did not dissolve on its hiatus nor did it split when McCartney was busted for drugs in Japan in January of 1980. After the release of McCartney II, the band reconvened for more recording in the summer and fall of 1980. The real death knell of the group came with the news of the assassination of John Lennon. McCartney was not to appear live for at least another four years when he performed "Let It Be" for Live Aid in 1984.
Denny Laine although sympathetic to the events of Lennon's assassination, insisted that the group continue to tour. With no reassurances coming from McCartney, Laine promptly quit the group bringing an end to one of the enduring acts of the seventies.