Music Review: Paul McCartney Archive Collection - Wings at the Speed of Sound

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Boasting possibly the most noticeably improved audio fidelity of Paul McCartney’s Archive Collection reissue series thus far, Wings at the Speed of Sound arrives as a newly remastered double-disc set (available November 4). The deluxe book edition adds a DVD and far more elaborate packaging. Notable for being the most democratic of McCartney’s Wings-billed albums (only six of the 11 tracks are sung by Paul), Speed of Sound is generally regarded as one of his weakest ‘70s outings despite its great commercial success. Recorded relatively quickly between tours during the initial weeks of 1976, it spent seven weeks atop the Billboard album chart.

McCartney’s inventive production often masks the thinness of the material. Seldom has so much been done, arrangement-wise, with a song as simple as “Let ‘Em In,” yet without overwhelming it. The same can be said of the album’s other smash single, “Silly Love Songs,” though its distinctive strings and horn score adds a more slickly commercial sound than what had been heard on most of McCartney’s often-homier early solo work. The new remastering allows the various layers to be better discerned, especially the complex backing vocals of the hard-rocking “Beware My Love” or the tasty guitar fills on the disco groover “She’s My Baby.”

As for the songs more likely to be skipped by casual listeners (i.e. the ones sung by other Wings members), three of the five were written by McCartney. Of the two that weren’t, “Wino Junko” (Jimmy McCulloch’s sequel, of sorts, to “Medicine Jar” on Venus and Mars) has a pretty rockin’ jam at the end that fades out a little sooner than it probably should’ve. The other non-McCartney tune is a sinewy little outlaw rocker with a foreboding tone by Denny Laine, “Time to Hide,” that has aged surprisingly well. Both tunes are probably better than the McCartney throwaways that conclude the record, “San Ferry Anne” and “Warm and Beautiful.”

The bonus disc has seven tracks, but don’t be fooled—one of them, “Message to Joe,” is an under-30 second spoken word and sound effects piece that’ll have you wondering why it was even included on the track listing. The big attention getter is the alternate take of “Beware My Love” with John Bonham on drums. While the late, great Led Zeppelin drummer doesn’t really add anything distinctive to the song, it’s certainly a historical curiosity. Also of note is the McCartney-sung version of “Must Do Something About It,” which was sung (quite capably) by Wings drummer Joe English on the album. The remaining four bonus cuts are demos recorded at various stages of each song’s development; “Warm and Beautiful” is instrumental, “Let ‘Em In” is a bit faster than the final take, and both “Silly Love Songs” and “She’s My Baby” are solo piano run-throughs.

While I didn’t have access to the finished packaging for the deluxe book version, I did watch the bonus DVD and sadly there isn’t much to report. There are three pieces (one of which is the previously available “Silly Love Songs” music video) that, when viewed together, only run a little over 20 minutes total. While the featurette titles “Wings Over Wembley” and “Wings In Venice” might imply a concert (or at least partial concert) film a la Wings Over America, they are actually just compilations of home movies and B-roll footage shot around the time that At the Speed of Sound was made. The economically-priced two-disc release is going to be satisfactory for most fans. The deluxe packaging of the book version comes with a deluxe price as well, and that may be very well worth it for diehards. Just don’t expect much out of the disappointing DVD.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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