Saturday, 12 June 2021

Bite-sized Harley

These are some of Steve Harley's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

The Human Menagerie (1973)

In 1973, we were only just getting used to David Bowie and then Roxy Music, then out of nowhere came Cockney Rebel. Led by the irritatingly cocksure and often pretentious Steve Harley, they evoked “Cabaret”-era Berlin and dressed accordingly. Harley's lyrics were full of bizarre imagery and he had a penchant for making somewhat preposterous pronouncements on the music industry, politics and life in general. Basically, Harley was a pain in the posterior, but wow - what a debut album he and his band mates came up with.

The Psychomodo (1974)

After 1973’s often oddball, innovative debut, The Human Menagerie, that took so many by surprise, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel continued in the same vein in 1974 with an even better piece of avant-garde pop/rock songs. Full of Dylanesque/Shakespearean lyrics that alternate between sixth form poetry and sheer genius and a sound dominated by electric violin and keyboards, there was some truly unique stuff on here. Harley’s strained, melodramatic voice and drawn-out vowels was somewhat unusual too. Musically, only Roxy Music and Sparks were as adventurous and different at the time, and that includes David Bowie (I did say musically). Harley was guilty of a huge amount of vaingloriousness, particularly in his dealings with the music media, with whom he seemed to have almost weekly run-ins and also of going totally over-the-top with the bizarre imagery and literary/artistic references. They must have worked, though, because I recall at the time thinking how clever this guy must be - why, he references Shakespeare characters all the time. While it was a shimmering bombardment of quasi-intellectual stylings it definitely added a certain élan to his compositions that put him in the somewhat clichéd art rock genre.

The Best Years Of Our Lives (1975)

1975 saw The Best Years Of Our Lives be the album that briefly saw the (now named) Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel crack the commercial mainstream with a number one single in the catchy Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) and a mid chart hit in the enigmatic groove of Mr. Raffles. I have to admit that, though, even from way back then, I have never been a particularly huge fan of Come Up And See Me. Its effect on me is one of nostalgic pleasure more than anything. Maybe I have just heard it too much, but I recall not being too overwhelmed by it at the time and was most surprised when it got to number one, despite my pleasure at one of my favourite groups hitting the top spot.

Timeless Flight (1976)

Apparently recorded under swelteringly hot conditions, Steve Harley has stated that the general torpor of the heatwave had led to a certain tiredness and lack of energy from the band, hence the album’s slightly laid-back ambience. However, they were slower-paced, acoustic led songs in the first place, so the weather is only really a small percentage of the story. For many, it is Harley's greatest album despite its slipping under the radar, hidden by the previous three offerings. For me too, this is Harley’s last worthwhile album, and yes, it is possibly his best, in many respects. It is a collection of eight non-commercial, “serious”, often poetic, imagery-full and reflective songs. There is no Come Up And See Me, the great commercial success of the previous album, or even a Mr Raffles, that album’s lesser hit.

Love’s A Prima Donna (1976)

This late 1976 album was a sad postscript to the short but extremely innovative career of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. Three years and five albums ended with this unfortunate, at times unlistenable, mish-mash. I struggle to understand what Harley, albeit ever the innovator, was trying to achieve with some of the material on here. After the sublime Timeless Flight from earlier in the same year, this one seriously paled in comparison. This album plumbs the depths in places. It has been critically acclaimed by many as a brave, adventurous piece of work and although some of the tracks grow on me after several listens - the longer, funky ones - I still can't accept that on the last two tracks we saw anything other than an artist desperately running short of creativity. Harley, always the converse arguer, would no doubt vehemently disagree. Indeed, I have read interviews where he really rates the album as containing some of his best work, so what do I know...

Bite-sized Petty

These are most of Tom Petty's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1976)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers came on to the scene in 1976, after a few years gigging as Mudcrutch, and because of the time they emerged, they were considered punk. I guess they had a swagger and wore leather jackets, but they were no Ramones. They were, quite simply, a Southern States US rock band, albeit with a penchant for short, concise, sometimes fast-paced rock songs. Their influences were The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and even 60s pop bands like The Searchers.

You're Gonna Get It! (1978)

After a quite successful debut album from 1976, with some patchy moments, but two copper-bottomed Petty classics in Breakout and American Girl, the Florida band were back with more of the same Southern, vaguely punk-associated bluesy rock. These early albums were all somewhat short, all over in about half an hour. All enjoyable though, but no works of genius. I prefer this to the debut album, however, it has a fuller sound and is generally more polished.

Damn The Torpedoes (1979)

This was the album that “broke through” (to paraphrase Petty) for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. After two short but occasionally impressive albums, they really got their whatever together for this one. The first thing that hits you is how much better the sound is. It is now full, defined, powerful and with the bass given the oomph it needed. If only the debut album had been recorded like this, I am sure I would view it differently. 

Hard Promises (1981)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers albums, by now, 1981, were becoming trustworthy, more of the same impressive fare offerings. 1979's Damn The Torpedoes had established Petty and his band as a solid outfit worthy of respect from both the rock and the new wave fraternities. After the slightly dodgy sound of the band's first two albums, this, their fourth outing, finds a better quality of sonic delivery. The thing I find with these albums is that none of the songs, or indeed the album as a whole particularly sticks in your mind, yet at the same time it is still a quality offering. You can't argue with it, not in any way, but neither can you make a case for it being extra special.

Long After Dark (1982)

I have read a few criticisms of this 1982 album from Petty and his Heartbreakers, accusing it of being formulaic and tired. I am having none of that - it is a vibrant, rocking enjoyable album. Yes, it betrays some traits of its era, but it still retains a strong rock flavour. Although the album’s best material comes at the beginning, it is a pleasurable short sharp blast of inconsequential rocking air. 

Southern Accents (1995)

This 1985 Tom Petty album saw him influenced by contemporary sounds, some vaguely country-ish melodies and also, notably, funk and disco, would you believe. In a similar way to The Rolling Stones in the eighties, he managed to successfully merge his trademark riffy rock sound with rhythms borrowed from popular dance music. This makes this a surprisingly fresh and innovative album. It is one of my favourites of his. Love the cover too.

Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) (1987)

Lots of influences from Dire Straits-Mark Knopfler, Springsteen and eighties-era Dylan can be heard here. This was the time that Petty and The Heartbreakers were touring as Dylan's backing band and you can tell. I really like the rootsy rock sound on this album and always thoroughly enjoy every track. It is a bit of an underrated album within Petty's canon - I prefer it to Wildflowers and Southern Accents, for example. I love the Knopfler-esque melodic rock-blues vibe that dominates the whole album, making it one of his very best, in my opinion.

Full Moon Fever (1989)

Tom Petty solo albums are odd things. This was his first one from 1989 and, rather like Bruce Springsteen often used members of the E Street Band on his supposedly solo albums, Petty saw several of his Heartbreakers turning up to appear on this one. I don’t really know why he bothered calling them solo albums, to be honest, if not all the Heartbreakers were there, never mind, some of them were, as was the sound/vibe. Despite the presence of some eighties synthesisers, the sound is still a rocking one, powered along by those typical jangly guitar sounds. Heartbreakers or no Heartbreakers, the sound sounds indistinguishable to me, really. Therefore, I tend to lump the solo albums together with the Heartbreakers albums.

Into The Great Wide Open (1991)

A solid, very appealing album in the style of the solo album, Full Moon Fever. A most enjoyable, lively listen where every single track is more than acceptable. It doesn't mess with the formula, as was true of most Petty albums, and therein lies both its strengths and its weaknesses - if you like it (as I do), you like it, but if you are looking for something that breaks the mould and innovates, then you won't find it. Then again, Petty & The Heartbreakers were never about changing  much, were they?

Wildflowers (1994)

This was Tom Petty’s second ‘solo’ album (several Heartbreakers were involved). It was intended to be a huge, 25 track album but was eventually released as a still bloated 15 song offering. Personally, that is too long an album but that should not detract from the quality of the material on offer. Many consider it to be Petty’s finest piece of work. It is said to be Petty’s ‘divorce album’ and has many soul-searching, emotional songs as opposed to his usual carefree rockers, making it something of a low-key, indigestible listen. 

Songs From She's The One (1996)

A more rough-edged, stripped-down, gritty and raw album that was a movie soundtrack but stands up alone as a credible album in its own right (I know nothing of the movie, for example). Although it is slightly sprawling (fifty-one minutes long) and lacks just a little cohesion, it has a down 'n' dirty energy about it. The album contains a couple of covers, too - Change The Locks is a Lucinda Williams song and Asshole is from Beck. Compared to the previous two albums, though, it is not one I find myself returning to very often.

Echo (1999)

An album far more like Wildflowers than Let Me Up or Into The Great Wide Open and one that suffers from CD bloat in that it is way too long at over an hour. I prefer my Petty albums to be more all out rocking (as the afore-mentioned pair were) than ones like this one where the rock is mixed with introspective, sprawling ballads. This is just a matter of personal taste, of course, but I find this sounds like "just another Petty album". I know there are differences in his approach, as I have highlighted here, but, for me, there is a bit of a sameiness about this one. I know a lot of people like the album but, unfortunately, I just can't help but find it all a bit dull. 

The Last DJ (2002)

This album finds a world-weary, cynical Petty moaning about the music industry, its corporate greed, and that old chestnut - the radio, notably on the title track. However well-meant, it doesn't really come across that well, its singer sounding like an embittered ageing artist. The sound is also a bit over-orchestrated, 2000s-style, in many places (too many strings) and acoustic-driven for my liking - compare it with Let Me Up to hear the difference. I have read a few notable critics say that this was Petty's worst album, which is a bit of a shame as it was relatively near to the end of his career, but I can see what they meant. I can go along with Joe being his worst track, however, no doubt about that. Actually, maybe the Man Who Loves Women is worse.

Highway Companion (2006)

This final 'solo' album from Tom Petty, from 2006, was intended to be a goodbye to the music industry. As it was, Petty didn't retire. It is a pleasant, if not a bit understated, collection of acoustic-electric merged new millennium rock.

Mojo (2010)

This was Tom Petty's penultimate studio album. It is one where Petty writes songs in a blues rock style, most of them being as powerful as you would expect, with a lot of Dylanesque influence. They do, however, lack the hooks of his earlier, less bluesy and more rocky material. Songs done in a blues rock fashion invariably are musically sound and grinding but are maybe not as catchy as lighter rock stuff. If you like blues rock, though, as I do, then you will get something out of it. I have to say that it is nice to hear Petty play the blues, something he had never really done previously. He even tries his hand at reggae too. To be honest I can enjoy the whole album pretty easily. 

Hypnotic Eye (2014)

This was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ final album, and it is a deceptively good one. Initially, it sounds a bit harsh and as if it is  trying to sound contemporary but a couple of listens in it starts to get to work on you. It is very much a grower. Sure, it is quite a heavy, dark album compared to some of Petty’s past work, but therein lies its slow burning appeal. Those old new wave days seem a long time ago, though. 

Bite-sized Floyd

These are most of Pink Floyd's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)

The debut album from Pink Floyd was a most odd affair - full of Syd Barrett's strangely child-like lyrical imagery, mixed with lots of very English whimsy, the band's often bizarre psychedelic innovation and a few tiny signs of Roger Waters' wry, often cynical, world-weary too soon witticism. I guess I am supposed to accept it as a work of tortured genius, but, unfortunately, I don't. Listening to someone's LSD trip and eventual decent into mental breakdown is a challenging experience.

A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968)

Whereas the first album had been pretty much Syd Barrett's album, the other members all contributed to this one and, for me, it is notably an improvement on its predecessor. During the recording of the album, Barrett was ousted from the band. Although its second side isn't up to much, for me, I much prefer this album to Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, although many critics would seem to disagree with me. For me the difference is measured in light years, maybe appropriately. It was also the album in which the band dabbled in "space rock".

Ummagumma (1969)

I remember as a young teenager in 1972, pre-Dark Side Of The Moon, that those boys I knew who were (incomprehensibly, to me) into Pink Floyd treated this album as the Holy Grail - the best The Floyd had to offer thus far. Hmmm. It is notable how many of the group's members, in retrospect, criticised their early work. The live album is much more accessible, to a point, although it is still too rambling and ambient for my liking (that is just personal taste). The four cuts all improve on their studio equivalents but they all go on way too long and simply don't excite me. Roger Waters' bass guitar work is excellent, I have to say. as indeed are Mason's drums. Look, I'm just not really a Floyd man, am I? I have gone into their weird world with my eyes and ears open but I remain unconvinced, particularly by this. 

Atom Heart Mother (1970)

Quite a bit of it reminds me of Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. Maybe he drew inspiration from this. As these prog suites go, it is ok, give me this over much of Yes’s output all day long. Furthermore, I have to admit that, for 1970, it was pretty adventurous, falling into the category of classical rock music, something that Emerson, Lake and Palmer would specialise in. The band have all expressed negativity towards it subsequently. Maybe the last word on it should go to Roger Waters, speaking in 1984, who said “if somebody said to me now – right – here's a million pounds, go out and play Atom Heart Mother, I'd say you must be fucking joking”. There were some good bits on this album, but some dross too. Would I ever play this album out of choice, in order to gain satisfaction? Would I hell. I'm with Roger Waters on that one. Never mind, the best of Pink Floyd was to come, or so I'm told by those who know better than me.

Meddle (1971)

Firstly, I have to make the point that I have done on all the Pink Floyd albums that I have reviewed - I am not a ‘proper’ Pink Floyd fan. I am a Floyd dilettante. Therefore my approach will be a slightly different one. Anyway - this was, I have to say, a most interesting album, packed full of lengthy, often ambient, often heavily rocking, instrumental passages spread over only six tracks. Overall, it is a really fine early seventies rock album and another Pink Floyd album I prefer to Dark Side Of The Moon. 

The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)

I have to say, initially, that I am not a proper Pink Floyd fan, as such, just someone who felt he ought to listen more times to this iconic album. The thing is, I have never quite understood the hype about it. Yes, it is immaculately played, for sure, and the sound on this latest remaster is superb. However, I find much of the actual album vacillates between stunningly good and intensely irritating, with lots of strange noises, sound effects and occasional vocals, not forgetting some pretentious lyrics. The snippets of voices talking in between tracks and often at the beginning and fade out of tracks is a good idea, and is effective.

Wish You Were Here (1975)

Written as a tribute to former member Syd Barrett, for many ‘proper’ Pink Floyd fans, it would seem to be an album they don’t revere as much as others. Maybe I’m wrong there, but it certainly as if it wasn’t a favourite of the band themselves, finding it the most gruelling to complete. From my point of view, as a sort of non-Floyd fan, I really like it a lot. It is packed full of superb instrumentation, particularly David Gilmour’s guitar work and several outstanding extended instrumental pieces which render the vocals almost unnecessary. I would enjoy it just as much without them, but I have to say that the relatively sparse use of them is really effective. Personally, I much prefer this to Dark Side Of The Moon - don’t shoot me Floyd obsessives! Just the way it comes over to me from considerably my more detached viewpoint.

Animals (1977)

Released in 1977, at the height of punk, this Pink Floyd album could not be further from the short, sharp, raw punk ethic if it tried. It is a further outing down the lengthy, instrumental/occasional vocals road and, although immaculately played, is seemingly culturally out of time. Now, I may think that, but, casting my mind back to 1977, Pink Floyd fans outnumbered punks by ten to one - probably more. To lots of people punk meant nothing - this was what they wanted, and they lapped it up. It was a very successful album. The album, in true prog rock style, is based around a vague concept of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' linked to the political landscape of Britain in 1977. Its bloatedness was possibly inspired as an answer to punk's anarchic nihilism, but, in many ways, this is as anti-establishment an album as anything punk came up with. Indeed, the punk/established rock antipathy was all a bit of a pose - Johnny Rotten secretly liked some prog rock and Floyd's Nick Mason produced The Damned's second album. Personally, in 1977, I hated this and those who liked it, but my views have mellowed over the many subsequent years. Ironically, many Floyd aficionados at the time disliked the album due to its iconoclasm, cynicism and dark edginess. 

The Wall (1979)

So, that is that for me as far as Pink Floyd are concerned (almost). As I have pointed out throughout my delvings into their output, I was not, and still am not, really a fan. Some of their stuff I like, but much of it just fails to reach my senses in the way it clearly does many other people. That said, I have listened to it through several times, though, and it is not without its merit in places, although concept albums were so naff in 1979 (or so I thought - it seems many other people didn't - it sold shedloads). There are five or six genuinely good tracks on the album but there is too much "concept" for my liking - too many of Roger Waters' neuroses put to music - rather like on Genesis's similarly sprawling The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. In between the "proper" tracks are too many shorter "concept" pieces. That's just me and my aversion to concept albums - as those beasts go, it flows pretty well.  

The Final Cut (1983)

This was Pink Floyd's last studio album to feature founder member Roger Waters and it is a trying listen, based around Waters' well-used theme of of his father's death in World War Two. At times, I admit it is very moving and obviously intensely personal to Waters but, callous as it may sound, I want to hear Waters sing and write about something else. Actually, he does cover other subjects - ranting with unbridled abandon about Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Falklands War, all justifiable targets, of course. It all comes across to me as someone howling at the moon. Sorry Roger, I know your sentiments are fine ones, but here, to music, they are ineffective, for me, anyway. My reaction is - maybe incorrectly - "give it a rest, eh, Roger?". For such an old curmudgeon, however, there are some genuinely sensitive lyrics in some of the songs, particularly in relation to his mother.

The Division Bell (1994)

A later album from a Waters-less Pink Floyd was this one, which does not seem to have received much critical acclaim. The album is perfect for a part-time Floyd person such as myself. It is actually a really impressive rock album - no prog, no indulgence, just quality rock, for once. The album features all recognisably Pink Floyd songs but they are also ones in possession of a more contemporary and easy rock groove than, say, their early seventies material. While I have given their sixties and seventies stuff a chance, liking bits of it, but I find myself actually properly liking this album, something that will no doubt horrify bona fide Floyd followers. So be it. Give me this over Ummagumma anyday. After this long journey through Pink Floyd's extensive catalogue, it is this last one I have covered that I like the best. That's musical taste for you - totally unpredictable.


Bite-sized McCartney

These are most of Paul McCartney's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

McCartney (1970)

Paul McCartney's first solo album was something of a strange affair. It was recorded just after his acrimonious split from the Beatles and was accompanied by a lot of media hoo-hah and some perceived arrogance from McCartney himself within the hype.  The album features just him playing various instruments in his own house, almost as if to prove that after The Beatles he could record anything he wanted to and get away with it. There are unfinished-sounding songs and instrumentals on there. That is putting a slightly too simple a sheen on it, however. Yes, it is indulgent and the question "he left The Beatles to do this?..." is a perfectly understandable one. Nevertheless, there is some good, enjoyable material on here as well as some underwhelming, throwaway stuff. It is also a bit of a misnomer to say the album is "lo-fi", as it has been described over the years by many. The sound, for me, is very good - full, warm, bassy and with a nice stereo separation. Yes, it was recorded in rudimentary fashion, but it still sounds perfectly acceptable to me, in a down-home, folky sort of way, which definitely has an appeal. The contemporary reaction to it, however, was one of shock. It was highly-anticipated and to say it was perceived as a colossal let-down was an understatement. It was nowhere near as good as Lennon's Plastic Ono Band or Harrison's All Things Must Pass. Listened to now, all these years later, allows it to be re-assessed, positively. I have always quite liked it, I have to admit. My opinion is a typically contemporary one, though, as the album has been re-assessed positively on regular bases as the years progress.

Ram (1971)

After the deliberately "home-made" feel of 1970's McCartney, Paul McCartney continued in the same vein, to an extent, although this album benefits from a much fuller, more powerful production - more electric guitar, for example. It did still have that ramshackle feel to it, though, as if it were recoded in one of McCartney's farm buildings (it had not, see above). The whole "folk rock" laid-back thing was de rigeur at the time - Dylan, CSNY, The Byrds, Van Morrison, they were all at it. Why not McCartney? He ad a ten year legend to de-construct, after all. I am being facetious, but you certainly got the impression he just wanted to do some carefree, enjoyable music under no pressure. That is exactly what this album is. It doesn't really beggar too much analysis.

Wild Life (1971)

This album has not been included in the Paul McCartney remaster series, and it is now only available for ridiculous prices. (This situation has now changed - 2018) A pity as it is a rather pleasant pre-big rock band Wings outing. The sound on the 1993 remaster is perfectly acceptable and the 2018 one is even better. There is a real laid back pleasure to this album. Most enjoyable. Just enjoy it for what it is. It is no Band On The Run, of course, the key is not expect it to be. At the time it was critically panned, with some saying that McCartney’s songwriting was never at a lower ebb, and just when he needed to gain back respect (after the patchy McCartney I guess) he released this somewhat underwhelming album. Quite why McCartney needed to gain back respect is unclear to me. He was only a few years on from Abbey Road.

Red Rose Speedway (1973)

After a quirky series of solo releases in the experimental, somewhat indulgent McCartney, the slightly better Ram and the bucolic Wild Life, this was Paul McCartney's first "proper" rock album made with a full band and featuring a lot more power and attack in comparison with the airy, whimsical nature of parts of the earlier albums. This was the first album to properly establish "Paul McCartney & Wings" as a credible entity - a valid band.

Band On The Run (1974)

By far Paul McCartney’s most famous post-Beatles album. It is pretty much perfect. No instrumentals, jams or short, lyrically wanting songs, such as on McCartney, Ram and Wild Life. Recorded under trying circumstances in Nigeria, (poor quality studio, a knifepoint robbery and some health problems) the album is played mainly by McCartney, his wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine, the results are quite remarkable, all things considered. The songs on here are all fully-constructed big, powerful compositions with impact. From the perfect Band On The Run with its beautiful bass intro slow build up, to the storming (although lyrically nonsensical) single in Jet to the full on Beatles-ish rock riff of Let Me Roll It - this is an excellent album.

Venus And Mars (1975)

Originally released in 1975, after the monumental success that was Band On The Run this was a somewhat patchy album, but the good patches were very good. It is generally considered - correctly - to be the inferior album to its illustrious predecessor but there is a loose, catchy rockiness to proceedings, though, that keeps the quality alive throughout. For some reason, I haven't written so much about it, probably because I know it so well.

Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976)

Best known for its two massive hit singles, the quirky Let ‘Em In and the melodic and catchy Silly Love Songs (the extended album version is much better), this is a pleasant, laid-back album. Its success was probably due, however, to the presence of those two tracks on it. Paul McCartney decided to show that the band was not just him, but a co-operative, and allowed free rein to his mates to sing on various songs. This attracted criticism at the time (despite previous criticism being that the band was a vehicle for McCartney). Personally I don’t mnd. I don’t feel it spoils the album particularly. The songs still sound like McCartney & Wings songs. All the songs are extremely appealing in many ways, but in other ways - apart from the singles - they don’t really stick in the mind much. The album is a perfectly acceptable listen, but no more, really. It is a very summery album, almost easy disco-styled for daytime radio in places. 

London Town (1978)

Listening to this album now, in 2021, it comes across as a strong one - one of Wings' underrated offerings. On its release in 1978, however, it was considered an utter irrelevance by many as punk and new wave was the new flavour. This was decidedly old hat. The two years since the release of the group's previous album had seen huge changes in the musical landscape that this album seemed to be oblivious to. No longer were Wings releases awaited with eager anticipation, such as was seen with Band On The Run or Venus And Mars. Retrospection has treated it kindly, though.

Back To The Egg (1979)

This was the last album credited to Wings. It is basically Paul and Linda and two session musicians, Laurence Juber (Guitars etc) and Steve Holley (drums). I have always been a bit perplexed by the negative reaction that this album received, both at the time, in 1979, and subsequently. Yes, McCartney was influenced by punk and new wave, like lots of artists were at the time but the songs are nowhere near as bad as so many critics have pointed out. Not for me anyway. If Joe Jackson had released some of them people would have said they were great.

McCartney II (1980)

Paul McCartney's first solo album after the demise of Wings was a patchy affair, to be honest. McCartney was battling to keep hold of his relevance after punk, with new wave, post punk all over the place and "New Romanticism" waiting around the corner. Was there any need for McCartney and this sort of semi-synthesised, electronic-ish material? Probably not, at the time. It is a very incongruous album, culturally. The idiotic, bemused expression on the cover didn't help either. Compare that with the Sex Pistols' album cover, or London Calling, or Dexy's Midnight Runners' Waiting For The Young Soul Rebels, just as random examples.  

Tug Of War (1982)

From 1982, this has been one of Paul McCartney's albums I have not paid too much attention to, to be honest (compared to Band On The Run, Red Rose Speedway, Wild Life or Venus And Mars, which I know far better). So, I am giving this new remaster a chance to get myself reacquainted with it. Firstly, I have to concur, unfortunately, with some of my fellow reviewers regarding the sound quality of this particular remaster. While Band and Venus were excellent remasters, I have to say both this, and Ram, have been remastered too harshly for my personal taste. A bit tinny, I find. Nowhere near the bassy warmth that Venus has, for example.

Pipes Of Peace (1983)

For many people it is the use of electronic instrumentation throughout the album that  renders it a far worse album than Tug Of War. I agree that in many respects it represents the worst of the 80s - saccharine, commercial, every electro-dominated throwaway songs. However, for some reason, I quite like it and prefer it to its predecessor. Maybe it is just the sound quality, but maybe I just prefer the songs too. This is a pleasant album, not nearly as bad as people say, but, unfortunately, it will always be the case that any work of Paul McCartney’s is measured against his Beatles output.

Press To Play (1986)

Many artists put out albums in this period that are subsequently regarded as poor -  The Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, Elton John’s Leather Jackets and several Rod Stewart albums spring to mind - this one suffered in the same way. It is not surprising, as it is from a musical period which was uniformly pretty abysmal. That said, it still has a few good points.

Flowers In The Dirt (1989)

Paul McCartney's stock had fallen a bit by 1989 and he needed to get back in the groove. He decided to team up with Elvis Costello to try and rekindle his enjoyment in the studio, writing and recording, again. Despite being an ok album, McCartney was now seen a very much as an anachronism. As we moved into the nineties, though, it was the "grand elder statesman" image he would be given, so things were on the up.

Off The Ground (1993)

This album is often condemned as being one of Paul McCartney's worst, which is somewhat unfair and does it something of a disservice. It is nowhere near as bad as it is made out to be. Personally, I prefer it to Tug Of War or Pipes Of Peace from ten years earlier. It is quite a direct, rocky album and eminently listenable. There is no "whimsy" on it either, always a good thing for me. 

Flaming Pie (1997)

For this album, Paul McCartney wished to return to a "back to basics", less grandly-produced and tuneful approach, with simple, direct songs, often with an acoustic backing. The songs were intended to be catchy, immediate in their appeal and unassuming. By and large he achieved his goal with this highly listenable, pleasant album. A lot of Paul McCartney's albums suffer from being thought of as "just another Paul McCartney album". I know what is meant by that. This is not one of those albums, though, it is better than that.

Run Devil Run (1999)

This was Paul McCartney's equivalent of John Lennon's Rock And Roll. He enthusiastically revisits his favourite rock 'n' roll songs, pretty convincingly. This is a good, if inconsequential, album. Sooner this, however,  than more messing around with Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder anyway. McCartney revisits his roots, successfully.

Driving Rain (2001)

After the excellent, melodic rock of Flaming Pie and the rootsy rock 'n' roll covers of Run Devil Run this was another credible Paul McCartney album. It was also maybe his last one constructed as one to still appeal to the contemporary music-buying public as opposed to later ones, which seemed to almost revel in the ageing process at times. There was, thankfully, no "whimsy" on here, such as appeared on later albums. It was far more of a slightly arty, melodic rock offering. It was not as straight ahead rock as Flaming Pie had been. There is more experimentation with different sounds and moods. It is actually quite an inscrutable album, quite difficult to pigeonhole or characterise. At sixteen tracks, it was a typical early 2000s album, full of well over an hour's music. Too much for my liking. I prefer the old seventies forty-five minute albums. The sound quality is excellent too, not affected by the off-putting, crashing loudness which blighted "Memory Almost Full" in particular, and, to a lesser extent, Chaos And Creation In The Backyard. Here it is rich, warm and bassy, as it should be.

Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard (2005)

After three excellent albums in Flaming Pie, Run Devil Run and the underrated, slightly experimental Driving Rain, Paul McCartney returned to the "solo" concept of McCartney and McCartney II in that he played nearly the instruments himself on this one.

Memory Almost Full (2007)

Recorded when he was 64, the age he sang about so many years earlier, Paul McCartney alludes to his age on both the title of this album and its cover and in some of the lyrics. Taking that into account, one may expect the album to be reflective and quiet. Actually it is quite refreshingly upbeat. The sound and production has long been a matter for discussion on this album, as it is deafeningly loud and needs to be turned down lower than most albums. I am someone who likes his music loud, but it is too much for me at times, and actually unnecessary. I can't help but feel that however tender and sensitive parts of the second half of this album are, it is the first half that is the more instantly appealing. Maybe the "suite" in the album's second half just needs more attention. It is certainly inventive and adventurous. As I said about Vintage Clothes, the more you listen to it, the better it sounds.

Kisses On The Bottom (2012)

This is an album of cover versions of "easy listening/crooning" songs that Paul McCartney remembers from his childhood. The are delivered in a fetching, appealing manner, with his ageing voice adding a nice feeling to what are mainly quiet, melodic and relaxing songs. They are largely played in a jazzy style - lots of drum brushes, beautiful jazz guitar and a delightfully warm stand up bass. The sound quality is excellent and it makes for an enjoyable late-night listen. Yes, it is a bit in the Rod Stewart "Great American Songbook" fashion, both in the type of material covered and in the method of vocal delivery but somehow it doesn't seem as cheesy as those albums do in places. It has a nice ambience, like putting on your slippers for the first time in autumn and sucking a Werther's original. Very rock 'n' roll I know, but he wanted to do it, and clearly enjoyed it, so fair play to him. Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison regularly mine this sort of material these days. McCartney grew up in the same era, so it is unsurprising that these songs mean a lot to him. They are the songs his mother and aunties liked. He covers the songs evocatively and respectfully. I certainly play his regular material far more than I do this, but there is a place for this sort of album.

Egypt Station (2018)

Of course, many, many reviews will trot out the "return to form" quote in relation to this album. It is de rigeur for an album release from an artist who has been around a long while. Funnily enough, however it is probably correct for this one. The whole album is delivered with an age-belying effervescence that renders it most appealing. It actually avoids being labelled "another Paul McCartney album", in my view. On first listen, I am extremely impressed with this album and, while I am obviously an aficionado of McCartney's work, I am not an absolutely obsessed fan, so I feel my views on it are somewhat objective. I like it. And the great thing for me - no "whimsy" tracks!

McCartney III (2020)

I have a strange relationship with Paul McCartney. He was possibly my least favourite Beatle, but I liked his hit singles with Wings a lot, more than I should have, maybe, and I also own lots of his albums, despite not really loving them as I do those by many others. When he releases an album, though, I am there, listening to it as I would a Springsteen, Costello or Weller release. Anyway, this is his third “McCartney” offering and is by far the best of the widely-spaced trio. I really like it. Recorded, like the other two, with McCartney playing everything, Stevie Wonder-style, it has elements of folk, acoustic rock, occasional rock ‘n’ roll elements and a fuzzy rock sound that reminds me in places of the afore-mentioned Elvis Costello’s latest album and, to my immense pleasure, there is no “whimsy”. It has a warm sound quality to it along with a comforting bucolic tinge to some of the lyrics. It is very much the product of a man of advanced years and, as one of those myself (not quite as old), it appeals to me as McCartney sings of tasks he has remembered he needs to do in his garden. He may well attract some criticism for that, but probably not too much, as he is still roundly revered by many. In spite of that, however, the album has attracted the now extremely predictable shots of "his voice has gone" and "he should retire". Bollocks to that, I say. If he wants to carry on making music at the age of seventy-eight then fair play to him. The music is still good, it doesn't need comparing to Band On The Run. Just take it on face value. Released as it was in winter, a week before Christmas, and containing some winter references, it certainly is an album very suited to that season.