Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Appalling To Amazing

Jason Hartley's piece on "Wildlife," Paul McCartney's misunderstood debut with Wings, is a very convincing essay on why this collection of tunes from 1971 should not be tossed off the way so many fans and critics have tossed it off since its release. I am guilty of said tossing, but I did come around about 5 years prior to Hartley's essay. I urge you to read the piece. It's here.

Getting you to listen along to "Wildlife" as you read Hartley's comments, I imagine, is a much tougher proposition, as experience tells me that this community is not very keen on going back. But it is the first week of January and unless you're drinking the D'Angelo "Black Messiah" Kool-Aid, what else do you need to listen to today?

This also got me thinking about what other records have gone from "appalling to amazing." Oddly enough, it is another McCartney record that immediately comes to mind. "Chaos & Creation In The Backyard," Sir Paul's critically acclaimed 2005 release, actually made me angry on first listen. I can't begin to explain where my head might have been that day, but it is safe to say that I probably had lost patience with one of my musical heroes, like so many of you had, and simply didn't want to like it.  Thankfully, at the urging of many I trusted, I went back and I have since gone back so many times, that "Chaos" is now one of my fave Paul records of all time.

(h/t hpunch)


William Repsher said...

No. Jason Hartley is wrong. I see what he's trying to do here and appreciate it ... but he's just wrong.

I like Wild Life. Liked it the first time I heard it in the 90's. (And that's how long it took me to by it as it had such a bad reputation with critics and serious fans.)

It's not a bad album, but it's sloppy ... which is how McCartney apparently wanted it at the time, tossed off, first take, jam, let's see where it goes. It sounds that way, and it works on that level. That's what critics were responded to negatively ... compare and contrast to Band on the Run which was a fully conceived, well produced, very calculated studio effort. That was McCartney saying, "All right, enough messing around, let me show you what I can really do."

He's also wrong to position this as a precursor to indie rock bands like Dr. Dog doing what they do. The reality is bands like that are following in huge footsteps and simply don't have the musical chops to function on that level of a Beatles or McCartney .,. which is no great insult, just their reality. As we notice with so much newer indie music that gets hyped, it's a shadow of the same kind of music that was done better in the past. A nice shadow that I like listening to, but if I'm being honest, it's a lesser representation of what I already know to be good.

Grandaddy is one of my favorite of those type bands. Jason Lytle fully grasps the appeal of Beatles, Queen, ELO, etc. ... but he just doesn't have the talent, particularly the lead-vocal abilities, to make that kind of music on that high a level. He does a pretty damn good lo-fi representation. What Hartley sees as some glorious pop history continuing in a a new iteration, I see as a mild form of devolution. I say "mild" because compared to boy bands, hiphop and whatever has passed for Top 40 pop music in the past 30 years ...

McCartney had real balls back then. He took it down to zero, played impromptu concerts in small university halls in the U.K., often un-announced, playing songs nobody knew, no Beatles material at all. He made albums that he wanted to make -- which were essentially demo versions of songs that he didn't fully flesh out in the studio. Which sounds cool on one level, but half-assed on another. It says something that McCartney being half assed is perceived as the best most current pop bands can aspire to.

I should also point out that I like Dr. Dog, and a lot of the newer pop bands that have come along in the past few decades. The Elephant Six collective from Athens, GA in the 90s, particularly, struck home with me. But I'm not kidding myself either. Wild Life was a choppy album by a musical genius. Not a great work of art by a musical genius. And that's why it got panned at the time, because we had come to expect full genius from McCartney all the time, and that pressure seemed to turn him inwards and feeling a need to scrap the whole thing and start all over again on his own terms.

And he did, even if it meant having his relatively talentless wife as his keyboardist. That wasn't the point -- he chose comfort and emotion over the more highly-charged/competitive desire to prove himself the best recording artist in the world. I respect that and can grasp the meaning of Wild Life in that context.

Jon Springer said...

There's new-ish Macca bio out there that does a good job examining Paul's state of mind, post-Beatles (short review here: ). The thing I took away was Paul's notion of Wings as "growing a band from a seed" and at best I suppose Wild Life is a kind of garden where the earth is turned but nothing has really sprouted. It's kind of muddy.

A walk in the woods said...

OK, several things to address here:

- Wild Life, while overal uneven, does contain the best Paul song ever: “Some People Never Know.” That alone should give it space on the shelf of any pop fan.

- Chaos & Creation – I still haven’t warmed to it. I want to. But the ones of his recent work I DO love that nobody talks about are Memory Almost Full and, especially, Driving Rain. I think those are fantastic records, especially the latter. I actually spin songs from them more often than, say, Abbey Road and such. Not that they’re better than Abbey Road and such, of course; but there’s a freshness to songs like “Spinning On An Axis” and “Back In The Sunshine Again” that draws me in more these days.

- What, you're not wowed D’Angelo’s new album? (One thing we rarely talk about here is more modern R&B.) What I’ve heard sounds pretty great. I think he stands very tall amongst neo-soul artists.

A walk in the woods said...

Sorry - regarding the song "Some People Never Know," of course I meant to say "the best **SOLO** Paul song ever".

Sal Nunziato said...

It's probably best that I leave my "Black Messiah" comments for a separate post, but no. NO, I was not "wowed." I wasn't wowed by any of Prince's 90s records, where all of this was done before but with actual songs. I can't be wowed by D'Angelo now, with his special effects, treated voices (6 of the first 7 tracks)unfinished ideas and general style over substance. I do NOT understand the hype.

Sal Nunziato said...

And my apologies AWITW for my little tirade. I was already a bit fired up regarding "Black Messiah" from an earlier conversation. I certainly didn't mean to take it out on you.

Shriner said...

So, does that mean you now have a better respect for RE-AC-TOR now? ;-)

A walk in the woods said...

Interesting about "Black Messiah." I get what you mean about modern effects over, you know, songwriting and stuff. I don't actually have the album yet, so I'll have to see. One of my favorite neo-soul artists is Georgia Anne Muldrow, who I saw live in Atlanta 3 weeks ago and she had moments of greatness.

Re: Shriner - I personally am a Re-Ac-Tor fan.... and, dare I say, a Trans fan! I imagine both of those are disavowed by many reading this, though.

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

Speaking of neo-soul, what ever happened to Ricky Fante?

Almost forgot....Wild Life? meh.


Anonymous said...

Four come to mind: Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull, Kicking Against The Pricks by Nick Cave, Metal Box by PiL and Dylan in general. For the first, in the early 70s I regularly gave my Tull-loving oldest bro a bad time about his fave band, decrying their artiness, Ian Anderson's voice and pretentious ways, etc (I was on the cusp of teenhood). Then, one night, I was for some reason sleeping in the same room as my bro and he got up in the middle of the night to smoke a joint and put on TAAB quietly. And....I got it. No smirks here -- it wasn't the dope, which I only smelled a bit. It was having to listen without the usual bantering (he thought I was asleep), soaking in the parts I liked without prejudice, the spookiness of a lot of the parts of the song/album, it being the middle of the night and me being half-awake. Anyway, it's one of my favorite albums still, and that early (1968-1972 or so) Tull still rules mightily in my book. As to Nick Cave -- I was turned on to KATP in the mid-1980s, when it was contemporary, and I started with Muddy Water (Side 1) and thought it soooooo laughably bad that I turned it off and resolved to play it again for my fellow music-loving buddy next time he visited. So, he comes over, I give a big build-up about how terrible this record is, then set down the needle....and have an epiphany. I still can't explain this one. But I LOVE that album, love Nick Cave, have spread his gospel to others since. PiL: Same music-loving buddy is with me when I get Metal Box when it came out, we take it home to listen....and literally weren't sure what speed to play it on as it was on 10-inch discs and was so foreign-sounding to our ears that we couldn't read it. But I kept it as a collectable record, and was intrigued enough by one or two of the songs' sounds that, years later, after that same buddy had gotten me into Joy Division, I gave the album another try. And man did I like it then -- and still do. Clearly, I wasn't ready for it when I first bought it. Finally, I was one of the crowd that thought Dylan a lousy singer who wrote lots of pretentious stuff, some of which was done -- better! -- by other artists. Then I try to cue up one of the songs I recognized on my bro's CD copy of Biograph, and accidentally hit Masters Of War, and had another musical epiphany. Shortly thereafter, I got a girlfriend who adored Dylan, so my initial curiosity was able to be exercised since she had most of the albums. And me Dylan is God, a fine songwriter (duh!) and a great singer (yes, yes he is).
C in California

DeepKarma said...

The 15 year old me loved this record...LOVED it. When I got my hands on it again, long after divesting myself of all my vinyl, still liked it.

Problem was, I never thought about it much in between the 15 and 50 year old me. Fun, but unessential Macca.

hpunch said...

The run of concepts albums in the 70s by The Kinks are often dismissed as their low point. Even Ray Davies has been known to say he should not have been allowed to make records during those years. I have been a long time defender of those albums. Soap Opera is one of my favorite Kinks albums. The live show and TV musical shed more light on the brilliant plot.
I heard a story recently about a millennial at a record show praising Soap Opera to a dealer selling it for peanuts.
Maybe the time has come for the world to upgrade those records from appalling to amazing.

William Repsher said...

Er, uh, let's sit down and think this thing through before Soap Opera becomes the next Abbey Road!

The Kinks concept albums are still pretty bad. Granted, within that badness, some very good songs on each album ... just lost in these muddled, hoary concepts that wreak of a self-absorbed rock star having way too much time on his hands.

I was slightly too young to buy those albums as they came out, but got into The Kinks mildly with SLeepwalker, simultaneously got Kink Kronichles and had my mind blown, then became a lifelong fan with Misfits. Frankly, if I had to re-do their history, Sleepwalker deserves more credit for pulling them out of that concept-album haze and focusing on songs again. I've seen good things written about the song "Stormy Sky" that I agree with -- written off for years as a borderline lounge track, but actually a pretty solid song. Ditto, "Brother." Those two albums, Sleepwalker and Misfits, despite some real duds ("Hay Fever" might be the worst song Ray ever wrote), are worthy of re-discovery. But I just can't wrap my mind around Soap Opera or Schoolboys in Disgrace!

buzzbabyjesus said...

It's better than I thought, but, not great.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Repsher on this one. Much better than its rep, but wouldn't go too far. The only thing I have to add is a confession that I always thought Linda looked uncharacteristically hot on the cover shot.

Bruce H