Friday, 1 May 2009

1984 Paul McCartney: Pipes Of Peace

In 1984, McCartney was still managing to ride the goodwill carried over from his Beatles years. His solo/Wings career, although patchy, did throw up the odd classic and expectation was still high with every release that he'd finally got his groove back. Unfortunately, 'Pipes Of Peace' falls well short of any 'classic' status and summed up in just under four minutes everything that was wrong with Paul McCartney in the eighties.

For a start, it tries to be too clever for it's own good. With an overly busy tune, a shifting key and a vocal section that is a definite nod to The Beatles' 'Carry That Weight', 'Pipes Of Peace' sounds like an offcut from side two of Abbey Road, a demo of some tunes tried and discarded or else subsequently polished into something quite different. Veteran producer George Martin tries his best with trademark flourishes and military march motifs, but no amount of studio trickery can disguise the fact that the foundations here are shaky from the off.

The three main musical 'parts' sound limp and unfinished by themselves, like three individual pieces of work in progress that are following their own separate paths which would not ordinarily cross. Bringing them together and mounting them as a triptych does not produce an outcome greater than the sum of it's parts; it's as if McCartney is so assured of his own genius that he believes he can throw any old tune together and his natural magic will make it gel. But it doesn't - it sounds forced, laboured and a bit of a mess; in short, a far cry from the clean, direct lines of the best of his previous work.

Secondly, after solving the question of racism with 'Ebony And Ivory', McCartney again goes hunting for bear and tries to sort out another biggie: world peace:

"What do you say?

Will the human race be run in a day?

Or will someone save this planet we're playing on?

Is it the only one?

Help them to see

That the people here are like you and me

Let us show them how to play the pipes of peace"

Had this been the work of a precocious twelve year old high school student entering a poetry competition, then such wide eyed innocent optimism might be passable. But in coming from one of the major songwriters of the twentieth century, it's a shock akin to finding out that '
Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth' was actually the work of Sylvia Plath and not Pam Ayres who it had been erroneously credited to. A video re-creating the World War One Christmas Day football match (with McCartney playing both the British AND German officer) was a touch heavy handed too, a literal interpretation of the mawkish lyrics that even Pan's People would have though a bit too obvious and unimaginative.

The fact that it was still more or less Christmastime no doubt helped this 'message of hope', complete with a children's choir, to the top of the charts on a wave of gooey eyed sentiment. But this was to be an Indian Summer for McCartney and marked the last time he would appear there in his own right. The goodwill had to run out sometime.

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