By all means, 2009 turned out to be a massive year for Beatlemania. Paul McCartney performed at the Grammys (alongside Dave Grohl, no less), reunited with Ringo Starr at Radio City Music Hall, brought his stellar live show to stadiums around the world, headlined Coachella, and signed off on Harmonix’ brilliant Beatles edition of Rock Band. Most importantly, all the Beatles albums were finally given proper remastering for compact discs in both stereo and monaural. The results were glorious, to say the least, and The Beatles sounded crisper and clearer than ever. And now, over a year later, McCartney’s solo efforts are receiving the remastered treatment – as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection – from the same Abbey Road engineers responsible for those Beatles reissues.
First up, McCartneys fifth post-Beatles album, and third with Wings, Band on the Run. You’d think they’d start in order; however, the albums significance makes the breaking of chronology understandable. Band on the Run is the album that restored critical acclaim to McCartney, eventually climbing the charts to become quite the commercial smash. Thirty-seven years after its release, Band on the Run has aged remarkably well. The multi-part title track is as captivating a mini-rock opera as ever, building in tempo into a majestic, urgent ode to escape.
It’s this theme of freedom and escape that ties together Band on the Run as it flows smoothly from song to song. Following the title track is the albums next biggest hit, Jet, which still stands as Paul McCartneys most invigorating power pop moment since the Beatles. The soft, affecting harmonies on the acoustic, pop-with-a-touch-of-jazz ballad Bluebird prove that sometimes the simplest things in life really can be the best. Mrs. Vandebilt is an above average glimpse at McCartneys more lighthearted side, but it’s made forgettable by the cleverness of the record’s next track, Let Me Roll It.
On Let Me Roll It, McCartney responds to John Lennons How Do You Sleep?, which was itself a biting response to McCartneys Too Many People, by uncannily replicating the music and vocal style of Lennon. There may not be a bad song on Band on the Run, but its weakest moment comes in the short and soon forgotten No Words. Legend has it that “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” was written on the spot after Dustin Hoffman suggested to McCartney that the cubists last words would make for a good song. Hoffman was right, because Picasso ambitiously draws inspiration from the painters style, thanks to a fluctuating arrangement of melodies culled from the surrounding songs.
Despite its importance in the Paul McCartney legacy, Band on the Run is not the most urgent candidate for a reissue and remaster, due to 1998s 25th anniversary edition. Fortunately, there is a noticeable but not radical difference in sound quality thats perceivable even to the non-audiophile. A general brighter clarity is apparent throughout the album, but rockers such as Jet get the most benefit, thanks to a richer, deeper bass line. The 2010 special and deluxe editions also feature different bonus material than the re-release before it, such as a DVD with music videos, behind-the-scenes footage, and the One Hand Clapping television special. Both the special and deluxe CD+DVD versions, as well as the vinyl reissue, include a bonus disc featuring Helen Wheels, the b-sides Country Dreamer and Zoo Gang, and six takes from One Hand Clapping. The deluxe edition includes a third CD containing the audio documentary from the 25th anniversary edition and a 120-page book. You can’t argue with a stuffed goody bag, and – at least for die-hards – these goodies are gold.
After almost four decades, Band on the Run remains Paul McCartneys best post-Beatles output. However, if McCartney naysayers werent converted by it the first few times around, the new remasters probably wont do the trick either. In any case, Band on the Run has some of McCartneys best melodies and several prime examples of his often overlooked inventiveness.