By John M. Borack
In discussing 1971’s Wild Life album in 2018, Paul McCartney opined, “We didn’t get good reviews…because I think people were expecting something more sort of Beatle-like and I was purposefully digging my heels in, saying, ‘We’re not gonna do that.’”
Wild Life — Wings’ debut offering, their least commercially successful, and certainly their most casual — definitely did not evoke memories of McCartney’s former band, nor was it conceived with maximum chart success in mind. The record is not without its subtle charms, though, and looking back it serves as a bit of a blueprint for what was to come for McCartney and Wings, who would eventually take flight as one of the top-selling acts of the 1970s.
To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, a limited edition, half-speed mastered vinyl pressing cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios (using a high-resolution transfer of the original 1971 masters) has been released and presents Wild Life in the sharpest fidelity to date. (This latest reissue is credited to Paul McCartney and Wings rather than solely Wings.)
It's crystal clear that this is no Abbey Road or Ram: many of the tunes here are off the cuff, rambling, a bit overlong (three clock in at nearly six minutes or more), and sound as if McCartney is doing his level best to put the specter of The Beatles in his rear-view mirror. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the opening cut, “Mumbo,” which is nothing more than a seemingly spontaneous jam captured with the tape rolling. (Based on McCartney’s intermittent, nearly incoherent vocal interjections during the tune, it could very well have been titled “Mumble.”)
Elsewhere on side one, the silly-yet-tuneful “Bip Bop,” sung in a throaty, upper register, half-whisper was described by McCartney years after the fact as “another little thing that’s not really got a lot of lyrical strength.” (The man does not lie.) A reggae-fied reading of Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” is decent enough (the original was reportedly one of Linda McCartney’s favorites), and the title track features a ripper of a lead vocal from Paul.
Side two sounds a bit more focused and “rehearsed,” with tracks such as “Some People Never Know” and “Tomorrow” being highly underrated pieces of McCartney’s massive oeuvre. A slightly mournful, haunting musical olive branch extended to John Lennon, titled “Dear Friend,” is another highlight.
The passage of time has eased much of the shade that has been thrown at Wild Life over the years; this new aural upgrade, which adds an overall crispness and freshness, is another reason to revisit the record.
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