Page A3 / The Joan De Arc Crusader / Sunday, June 23, 2019
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A long overdue defense of Wild Life

By J. Bueker

     I doubt itís possible to exaggerate the Beatlesí profound influence on the Joan De Arc years. The bandís unrivaled fame and incomparable artistic achievement permeated virtually every aspect of our lives, encompassing trends in music, fashion, language, politics and beyond.
     From a Joan De Arc perspective, the most intriguing fact about the Fab Four is that their emergence into unprecedented and everlasting notoriety coincided almost exactly with our familyís arrival on the street in December, 1963. The Beatlesí career was precisely intertwined with our entire Joan De Arc experience from beginning to end. John, Paul, George and Ringo quite literally supplied the soundtrack for some of the happiest years of our lives.
     A mere kindergartener at the time of the groupís breakthrough, I was swept up by Beatlemania to no less degree than my older siblings. I still carry vivid memories of belting out She Loves You from the kindergarten playground swing set and using my time in art class to construct crude drawings from memory of the band performing onstage. The Beatles were just a marvelous sensation, unlike anything weíd ever seen. Our notions of what constituted popular music had suddenly changed irrevocably, and yet little did any of us suspect what wonders still lay ahead.
     Years were required to digest the unpleasant reality of the bandís dissolution. There was always that lingering hopeful suspicion that the boys were just having us on, and of course there would be a wonderful new Beatles album soon forthcoming, after which we would all feel quite silly believing these guys could ever actually break up. As the Ď70s wore on, however, the world slowly absorbed the sad fact that this matchless band now belonged exclusively to the confines of musical history.
     But we did get the solo albums. Naturally we expected roughly the same uniform excellence when the Beatles started producing their individual LPs and 45s, but this was sadly not the case. Our surprise at this diminished quality seems curious in retrospect, but at the time the Beatle magic still seemed quite invincible.
      Oh, there was some quality material. Johnís profoundly emotional Plastic Ono Band album is still rightly held in very high esteem, as are Georgeís ambitious All Things Must Pass and Paulís pristine Band on the Run. Even Ringo still stands up pretty well, and in fact that particular LP actually features my all-time favorite Beatles solo tune, the beautiful Photograph.
     Taken as a whole, however, the Beatlesí solo efforts seemed undeniably disappointing. When McCartney formed a band called Wings in 1971 and swiftly recorded and released an inaugural album entitled Wild Life, the scorn was immediate and acute. Rolling Stone dismissed the new record as ďflaccid musically and impotent lyrically, trivial and unaffecting.Ē And this was one of the kinder reviews.
     At the time, I understood the criticism. The songs seemed decidedly unsophisticated compared to the Fab masterpieces of just a couple years earlier, say Abbey Road for instance, or even Paulís immediately previous solo work, Ram. But there was something about this Wild Life record that I instantly found profoundly attractive.
Perhaps it was the carefree simplicity of the arrangements and the spontaneous immediacy of the performances, many of which were recorded in a single take or two. Suddenly this McCartney fellow seemed surprisingly unconcerned with nailing the perfect recordings, and this from the artist who just a few years earlier had insisted on 60-plus takes for Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. These new songs sounded fresh and unpretentious to a fault.
     The album opens with the raucous and energetic jam Mumbo, followed by the curiously appealing triviality that is Bip Bop, which 50 years later does not seem quite as annoying as it did back in í71. In fact, the melody here is undeniably catchy once you become inured to the vacuity of the playfully inane lyrics. Paulís cover of Love is Strange is expertly executed reggae, while the title track Wild Life presents a stark, bluesy piano ballad decrying the plight of zoo animals.
     I adore You Are My Singer, a charming duet that pleasingly slips into focus in spite of, or perhaps even thanks to, the amateurish harmonies of Linda McCartney. Letís give the girl some credit, sheís sharing the mic with a Beatle for godís sake. This required more than a little courage on her part and she acquits herself admirably here and throughout the album. Iíve come to regard this particular song as an underrated gem and personal favorite.
     The very finest tracks on Wild Life however are as good as anything McCartney has ever done as a solo artist. Dear Friend, a beautifully somber and equivocal olive branch to John Lennon, subtly conveys extraordinary depth and emotion. The melodicism and guitar work of Some People Never Know is first-rate McCartney product, as is the terrific piano number Tomorrow, which features an exceptional vocal arrangement and appears to be an oblique reference to Paulís most famous Beatles number of all, Yesterday. (In what manner this was intended, however, remains unclear to this day). All three of these songs would be standout tracks on any McCartney LP.
     The critical consensus though has long placed Wild Life rather low in the overall rankings of Maccaís post-Beatle achievements. Perhaps itís nostalgia to some degree, but I continue to completely dissent from this judgment. There is no Paul McCartney LP I like better. It has a freshness and timeless quality that I have never exhausted in countless listens over the past half century. This material has only grown in my esteem and I am not alone in this assessment.
     Paul has been cashing in on his musical legacy in a big way in recent years, and deservedly so. Deluxe boxed sets of the aforementioned Ram and Band on the Run have sold quite well amongst our aging population of boomer Beatlemaniacs, but I had so far resisted the temptation to purchase any of the pricey re-issues on the grounds that I already possessed the remastered CDs, so what was the point really? But then the man released the deluxe edition of Wild Life this last November and I caved. Just had to have this one.
I was not disappointed. The clarity of the remastered album CD is remarkable, and the main disc is complemented by a pair of companion CDs that feature intriguing album rough mixes and both obscure and well-known bonus tracks. The collection also contains a bonus DVD with films created around the time of the albumís production, and the whole shebang is supplemented by a fascinating 128-page book that documents the circumstances behind the formation of Wings and the LPís creation. Itís been both a privilege and delight to discover this remarkable work anew.
     The Beatles were an amazingly prolific band, especially by todayís standards. The group averaged about two masterpiece albums a year for the balance of their incredible 7-year run. Every time we turned around on Joan De Arc, it seemed a fabulous new Fab Four disc had appeared at Billís Records. We quickly came to take the band completely for granted and then they were gone. 
In the ensuing aftermath of the Beatleís monumental achievement, there was no way any of their individual works could ever measure up, and so Wild Lifeís reputation was unfairly diminished from the beginning. Paul wasnít trying to make the next Beatles album; he was testing the waters for his new band, and no such endeavor was ever going to be well received during this period. Only after all these years, perhaps, can we begin to properly assess any of the Beatlesí individual works.
     Funny then that my original opinion remains squarely unchanged: Wild Life is one of the very best.


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