CD Review: Paul McCartney - Pipes Of Peace Special Edition

McCartney's follow-up to Tug Of War yields more hits and A-list guests.
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In 1983, just one year after the commercial and critical smash Tug Of War, and with an abundance of leftover material from those sessions, Paul McCartney decided to strike while the iron was hot and release his next album, Pipes Of Peace. The album in many ways mirrors its predecessor. It has pretty much the same players, the same producer in George Martin and features two duets with a high profile pop star, this time Michael Jackson as opposed to Stevie Wonder. The album was a commercial smash, though not as successful critically as Tug Of War. Now it is being rereleased with a bonus disc of demos and B-sides as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. This review focuses on the two-CD Special Edition as well as the DVD contained in the Deluxe Edition.

While Tug Of War is considered a high watermark for McCartney, many critics at the time considered Pipes Of Peace as a lesser attempt at recreating the previous album's triumphs. While it remains true that Tug Of War is the better album, looking at Pipes Of Peace 32 years later finds an album that has a wealth of great material and one that was probably unfairly maligned back in 1983.

The album leads off with the title track, a Beatlesque pop gem that takes many musical turns. McCartney is in fine voice here, accompanied first by piano before ending the song with a vocal flourish worthy of his American doppelganger Brian Wilson. "Say Say Say" follows and the song works much better than he and Jackson's other collaboration on Pipes Of Peace, "The Man." The song is a driving pop number that takes advantage of both singers' strengths and its video was a staple on MTV, where it seemed Jackson lived 24/7. The pair is also featured on Jackson's Thriller album and Jackson had previously recorded a version of McCartney's "Girlfriend" for Off The Wall.

McCartney goes into full-on Smokey Robinson mode on the syrupy "So Bad." The track is everything people either love or hate about the guy with its sweet melodies and smooth falsetto from McCartney. The song's video includes Ringo Starr, whose comical facial expressions steal the show. Robinson later covered the track on a McCartney tribute album. Less successful is "The Other Me," a pleasant, though somewhat bland pop song that never really goes anywhere musically.

"Sweetest Little Show" and "Average Person" find McCartney revisiting his Wings sound. Both tracks would fit in nicely in his Wings Over America era and, given that his ex-Wings partner Denny Laine played on the album (The last time he would play with McCartney), it is not surprising at all.

The bonus disc includes B-sides such as "Ode To A Koala Bear," a 1950s doo wop-inspired track and demos for several of the songs on the album, almost all of which benefit from the stripped down production. There's an interesting 2015 remix of "Say Say Say" that is much longer and features Jackson singing some of McCartney's parts and vice versa and a demo of the truly bizarre, yet fun "It's Not On."

The DVD included in the Deluxe Edition has the music videos for "Pipes Of Peace," "Say Say Say" and "So Bad." In addition, it includes two behind-the-scenes features from the studios in Montserrat and a brief feature about working with Jackson. This clips, while brief, add to the experience of the album and give fans an idea of what it was like recording in Montserrat.

While Pipes Of Peace will always be Tug Of War's little brother, it is getting its reappraisal as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection. It is still a fine album, with many memorable songs and fans really need to own both to get the complete picture of what McCartney and the band were up to in Montserrat in the early 1980s.