The year 1975 saw the release of Paul McCartney and Wings' fourth album, Venus And Mars, and marked arguably, the beginning of their most popular phase as a band. New members Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English had replaced Henry McCullough and Denny Seiwell on guitar and drums respectively and became permanent, important fixtures of the band in the studio and on stage. This album and its follow-up, Wings At The Speed Of Sound, provided much of the material for the hugely successful world tour the band was soon to undertake, which spawned the triple-live album Wings Over America.
The album has been remastered as part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection and is available in a number of formats, including a double LP, double CD and a three-CD Deluxe Edition. This review focuses on the two-CD Special Edition, as well as the DVD that comes with the Deluxe Edition.
The album opens with the title track, segueing into "Rock Show." From the onset, it is clear that this CD sounds superior to previous versions, with all the instruments and vocals clear in the mix. It's also clear that this music was designed for the stage, with the mellow "Venus and Mars" building anticipation for "Rock Show." The band opened their live sets with this combination and it's plain to see why.
A number of quirky songs that people either love or hate McCartney for pepper the album, including "You Gave Me The Answer," which recalls songs such as "Honey Pie" in its old-timey feel and "Magneto And Titanium Man, " perhaps the bounciest song (and maybe the only) about comic book super villains ever written. Still, these tracks have hooks galore and are infectious from the get-go. These songs are balanced out by heavier material (Both lyrically and musically) such as the bluesy "Letting Go," a track that proves not all is twee with McCartney.
As Wings was always portrayed as a band, listeners get songs from other band members, such as Denny Laine's sprawling "Spirits Of Ancient Egypt" and McCulloch's hard rocking "Medicine Jar." The latter track is, of course, ironic in its anti-drug stance considering McCulloch died of an overdose a few years later. The big track here is McCartney's "Listen To What The Man Said," a huge hit that showcases McCartney at his pop songwriting best.
The bonus audio disc includes 14 tracks of B-sides, alternate mixes and live cuts. Highlights include the rocking non-album track "Junior's Farm," which served as McCulloch's potent debut as he delivered a blistering solo and a live version of "Soily" from One Hand Clapping that showed Wings were an excellent rock band when they wanted to be.
The bonus DVD includes studio footage of the band recording "My Carnival" as well as black and white rehearsal footage. Also included is video of the band in New Orleans, as well as a TV commercial for Venus and Mars. The rehearsal footage is the selling point here for sure, but it is all cool to have.
Paul McCartney and Wings could do no wrong during this period. This was Wings at their most popular and, to many, their best. Venus And Mars is another excellent addition to the Paul McCartney Archive Collection.