Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Paul McCartney Album (Part 3)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Tug of War (1982, Columbia)

A +

You can make a strong case for this being Paul's best solo album. Simply, this George Martin-produced album consolidates all of Paul's strengths into one nice, tight package that is just a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. The title track is Paul's most sincere attempt at an anthemic ballad since "Let It Be"; "Ballroom Dancing" is Paul at his most hard-rocking since "Getting Closer"; "Get It" is an enjoyable duet with rock'n'roll legend Carl Perkins; the flamenco-guitar-laden ballad "Somebody Who Cares" is one of Paul's most wonderfully insightful lyrics since the final days of the Beatles; "What's That You're Doing?" is a deliriously fun synth-pop collaboration with Stevie Wonder that also incorporates a quick snippet of "She Loves You"; "Dress Me Up As a Robber" is the funkiest, most soulful groove Paul's ever committed to record and boasts some fantastic guitar playing; and "Here Today" is a chilling posthumous tribute to John Lennon. Best of all is the album's second single "Take It Away," arguably the finest of all of Paul's '80s single releases, propelled along by Paul's most impressive bass playing in some time, accompanied by a furious brass section and the delightful drumming of both Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd, the background vocals ultimately building into one final crescendo of "ahhh"s that seems to just float straight up into the skies. Perhaps most impressively, whereas most of Paul's previous solo albums have had the shared trait of lacking a genuinely solid album closer, Tug of War has the surprising and unique feature of ending with the album's biggest hit!, the effortlessly catchy Stevie Wonder duet "Ebony and Ivory," whose fade-out provides for the absolute perfect way for the album to end; though the song is considered by many these days to be of rather dubious quality, listening to it in context here as the album's closing track really makes you re-evaluate the song in a very positive light and appreciate its inclusion on the album. 

Pipes of Peace  (1983, Columbia)                                                                  

B –

Pipes of Peace tends to get a bad reputation, in part because it's quite literally half-comprised of material left over from the Tug of War sessions (not necessarily a bad thing, since Tug of War was, after all, Paul's best album in nearly ten years and a true creative reawakening) and in part because it's both musically and lyrically more lightweight than its predecessor - nothing rocks quite as hard as "Ballroom Dancing," and nothing here is as lyrically probing as, say, "Tug of War" or "Somebody Who Cares."  Most critics tend to be much, much too harsh on this album, though.  While it's no Tug of War, and while cuts like "Hey Hey" and "Tug of Peace" really should have been excised, there are still far more worthwhile, fully-realized songs and memorable hooks to be found on this album than on, say, Wild Life, McCartney II, Back to the Egg, or Red Rose Speedway. Both of the Michael Jackson collaborations ("Say Say Say" and "The Man") are extremely fun listens, as is the title track, which has a wonderful melody that nicely compensates for the preachiness of its lyric. "The Other Me," in spite of its cringe-inducing line "And I acted like a dustbin lid," is a clever and irresistibly hook-laden song about split personalities. Side One's closing number, the dreamy ballad "So Bad," a wonderful showcase of the man's talents for vocal arranging, is easily one of the finest of all Paul's solo ballads and remains one of the man's most wildly underrated singles. (Smokey Robinson also does an amazing cover of it.) Much like London Town, the album can be turned off after the opening cut on Side Two without missing anything terribly good, but the first half of the album is quite fun and shouldn't be written off. 

Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984, Columbia)                                               

C

This album tends to be one of the most easily-forgotten albums in Paul's solo catalog, for the sole reason that there's just a tiny handful of new songs here and the disc consists overwhelmingly of re-recordings of Beatles songs, Wings songs, and even songs that just appeared on the previous two albums. (Why you would want to construct note-for-note recreations of songs you've just issued a year prior and still have the rights to, I have absolutely no idea, but then again, Paul's done even weirder stuff.) The upshot of all this is that nothing here is actually bad or embarrassing - there's just not much of a reason to actually recommend purchasing it, barring the single, "No More Lonely Nights," which is arguably the finest of all McCartney's solo ballads, a moving, atmospheric plea boasting a killer guitar solo from Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. Unless you're a completist seeking to collect all of the Sir Paul discography, you may simply want to obtain the single via a greatest hits package and skip this pleasant-but-unnecessary soundtrack. 

Press to Play (1986, Capitol)                                                                        

B –

One of Paul's more obscure and easily-forgotten-about solo albums and, sadly, his worst-selling album to that point, Press to Play is remarkably similar to Pipes of Peace before it in that:  1) Paul again relies here on a similarly all-star cast of players (including Pete Townshend and Phil Collins), ensuring that the musicianship is excellent throughout and the songs here all well-played, 2) the album is very much steeped in '80s production techniques, heavy on drum machines and synthesizers, and has consequently aged less well than his earlier output, and 3) it gets far worse reviews from critics than it actually merits. Mind you, the hooks are just a little bit harder to find this time around and don't come quite as effortlessly as they did on Pipes. But to the album's credit, there - unlike Pipes - isn't anything here that can genuinely be called "embarrassing," either - a very rare trait for a McCartney solo album - and the album, at its worst, never ceases to be a pleasant and enjoyable listen, the less fully-realized songs here being steeped in elaborate productions that keep you paying attention even when there's no hook to latch onto (as is the case with experimental dance-pop like "Pretty Little Head"), and there are a small handful of truly wonderful gems to be found here, namely the album-opening rocker "Stranglehold," the ballad "Only Love Remains," and the album's sole charting single, "Press," the most irresistibly catchy track here and one of McCartney's most wildly underrated singles. 

Flowers in the Dirt (1989, Capitol)                                                               

B


His second album since returning to Capitol Records in the mid-eighties, there's just a little too much filler here, some of it merely slight ("We Got Married"), some of it just embarrassing ("Ou Est Le Soleil.")  Where Flowers improves on Press to Play, though, is that the hooks are both more plentiful and easier to notice, and the best stuff here is truly excellent and stands right up there with the best material on Tug of War.  The gentle Latin rhythms of "Distractions" and the father-and-son ballad "Put It There" are both delightful, but the real knockouts here are the three singles ("Figure of Eight," "This One," and the Elvis Costello co-write "My Brave Face"), which all rank high among the most relentlessly hooky songs Paul's penned since the '70s.  You'll skip over a handful of tracks (mostly on Side Two, which goes downhill after "This One"), but the highlights to be found on this disc make this an essential purchase for any McCartney fan all the same. 

Off the Ground (1993, Capitol)                                                                    

B +   

An album that got just mediocre reviews at best on its release, one really wonders in retrospect why there wasn't more love shown for this wildly enjoyable record. Yes, Paul's politics rear their head in particularly non-subtle and overly-preachy fashion on the animal-rights anthem "Looking for Changes," and the album's two final songs, the plodding ballads "Winedark Open Sea" and "C'mon People" bring the album to a typically anticlimactic close (but then, has any other McCartney album, barring the career masterpieces Tug of War and Band on the Run, ended with a strong song?) But if you love Paul for the ease with which he comes up with great melodic hooks to latch onto, you'll adore this album, 'cause Paul hasn't been this consistently hooky in quite some time, and the catchy melodies just never let up until the two album-closing ballads.  The highlights to be found here include the gentle shuffle of the title cut, the Spanish rhythms of "Hope of Deliverance," and the not-so-surprisingly excellent Elvis Costello co-writes "Mistress and Maid" and "The Lovers That Never Were," but the most fun moments of all here are the two rockers "Biker Like an Icon" and "Get Out of My Way," two of Paul's hardest-rocking songs since "Getting Closer" nearly fifteen years earlier.  A truly unfairly-overlooked album, this one should not be bypassed.