At the current rate, we’ll be lucky to see the end of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection reissue series by, oh, say about 2033 or so. The project began in 2010 with Band on the Run, then saw the simultaneous reissue of McCartney and McCartney II in 2011, and continued with Ram in 2012. That last one was the most elaborate package yet, soon to be eclipsed on May 28 with the release of the deluxe Wings Over America. Though the 1976 live album will be available as a standard double-disc edition, the box set also includes an additional CD, a DVD, and four books documenting Wings’ landmark 1976 trek across America.
With MPL Communications and Hear Music treating each reissue as an event, not only are these editions emerging at a snail’s pace, the ever-increasing price tags are sending many fans into a state of mild shock. On a more positive note, the Archive Collection has put an end to years of general neglect of McCartney’s back catalog. Predominantly focused so far on his ‘70s output, this material has been receiving a fresh appraisal, something McCartney himself was predicting would happen way back in the mid-‘80s when his critical rep was at a low point. The tour souvenir Wings Over America, originally released as a triple LP, stands as a pretty special album in his catalog. It’s all the proof needed to demonstrate that—once upon a time—McCartney could perform a two-hour set that mostly ignored his Beatles past while still thoroughly thrilling audiences.
Don’t expect a terribly significant upgrade in terms of audio fidelity with this remaster. If anything, these Archive Collection releases have only served to emphasize just how good the decades-old previous CD releases sounded. The best that can be said about Over America is that the overall level has received a modest but appropriate boost. The high end is just a tad crisper and the bass is moderately more resonant. As for the content itself, younger fans weaned on the likes of Back in the U.S. and Good Evening New York City might be surprised to find only five Beatles songs among the 28 tracks (plus five songs featuring band members other than McCartney on lead vocals). If you, like me, already have an undying appreciation of McCartney’s ‘70s output, with its flights of fancy and occasional weirdness, this is as solid a collection as ever.
What really stands out with Over America is that even its few concessions to Beatledom are mostly unnecessary. This was McCartney reborn, with a full complement of new hits and stylistically varied album cuts. His voice is in top form throughout and this particular Wings lineup really cooks, especially drummer Joe English and lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch. The four-piece horn section is a distant reminder of a time when McCartney didn’t rely on synths to recreate brass and woodwind parts. Obscurities abound, buoyed by the impassioned lead vocals of “Call Me Back Again,” the deep groove of “Letting Go,” and the relative ferocity of the encore, “Soily.” Yes, this was an era in which McCartney could test out a brand new song (that had no studio counterpart) as a grand finale instead of an endless stream of Beatles tunes.
My advance copy doesn’t include the bonus audio disc, which contains eight previously unreleased live performances recording during a stop at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. I was, however, able to screen the DVD, which contains the 73-minute television documentary Wings Over the World and a slide-show presentation of tour photos. The documentary, which originally aired in 1979, is essentially a low-fi edit of the full concert film that followed, Rockshow, augmented by snippets of fly-on-the-wall documentary footage and infrequent voiceover narration. With the restored Rockshow due June 11 on DVD and Blu-ray, remastered from the original 35mm negative and boasting a 5.1 surround mix, the value of Wings Over the World is questionable at best. Some of the documentary footage is fun (including a bit of McCartney overseeing a soundcheck), but there isn’t enough of it. Basically it plays like a teaser for Rockshow, which of course is an essential release for any McCartney fan.
Those who opt for the Wings Over America deluxe box set will be treated to a plethora of additional printed material (if I can spare the dough, I’ll update this review with additional details). The 136-page replica tour book, with its reprinted tour program, tickets, and other ephemera, looks particularly cool for McCartney geeks. A word to the wise, however—a suitable budget-conscious alternative is Best Buy’s exclusive three-disc version that includes the standard double-disc album plus the eight-song Cow Palace disc. That, supplemented with the standalone Rockshow release, may be just the ticket for those who want to wait for a price drop on the deluxe box.