Venus And Mars
McCartney & Wings
Released: June 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 77
Certified Gold: 6/2/75
Let's face it; Will and Ariel Durant they ain't.
Turning your wife into one of your employees is not always a wise decision, especially if you happen to be an artist. So why this current deplorable trend of making your mate a full-fledged aesthetic and business partner? James and Carly Simon/Taylor may be excused from contention forever because they both had talent in the beginning, even though in amalgamating they have rendered each other inert. And Jimmy Reed knew how to put his wife to work; she sat behind him, handling him his whiskey bottle and whispering lyrics in his ear when he forgot them. But what of John and Yoko? She taught him how to pull invisible butterflies out of boxes and rain them on the heads of the audience, and he taught her to think she was musician enough that she could yowl on vinyl with a clear conscience. Which is obviously no fair deal for anybody.
It seems just as obvious that Paul McCartney made his wife, who was a perfectly adequate "rock photographer" when she was merely Linda Eastman, a co-star in direct reaction to John's exhibitionistic excesses with Yoko. Look at us by contrast, they seemed to be saying; a decent, respectable, tidy, talented suburban couple. Not content to celebrate simple marital joys in a series of songs each more deeply mired in vacuity than the last ("Eat at Home," "The Lovely Linda," and "My Love") Paul McCartney actually made his wife Linda a member of his band, and by the time of the Wild Life album she was warbling "Love Is Strange" -- well, off-key, but in the center spotlight nonetheless.
Anyone who has heard that album, seen their 1973 television special, or witnessed Linda ineptly playing organ on stage with a perfect punk panache might well wish that Paul had contented himself instead with having her pose nude on his album covers. But, at the same time, any reasonable man who examines the current lyrical output of the other ex-Beatles must conclude that, glib and empty though they may be, Paul's celebrations of his union with Linda are certainly an acceptable verbal product -- relatively speaking, at least; between George Harrison's Krishna, John's Yoko, and Paul's Linda, I'll take Linda any day.
There is more of this cloying connubial narcissism on their latest outing, Venus and Mars, and astute observers will note that Paul's even thrown in an astrological hook this time, a little late in the day to be sure, but still it shows that Paulie is thinking. And, as usual, he is thinking more about music and production than about lyrics. Venus and Mars is basically an addendum to Band on the Run, and it consolidates Wings' position as the most proficient and diverting bland-out on the boards. Previous to the last record, McCartney had been in danger of becoming so pallid musically (Red Rose Speedway comes to mind easily, though its contents are forgotten) as to fade away altogether. But with Band he achieved a perfect synthesis of the puerile and the catchy -- a classic pop throwaway. And so, since no one should now rightfully expect McCartney to "matter" in the Dylan-Joni Mitchell sense, there is absolutely no excuse for slagging poor Venus and Mars just because it has all the same melodic ingredients that have endeared him to the relevancy-swamped twit that lives in all of us. The title track is winsome and wistful; "Rock Show" is gutsy in a Band on the Run vein; "Magneto and Titanium Man" is one of those loose, loping, half-stalked and half-sung progressions (check Ram's "Smile Away"); and the hit single, "Listen to What the Man Said", is really magnificent beauty-parlor music.
It is also a credit to McCartney that he manages to render guest artists like Allen Toussaint, Tom Scott, and Dave Mason as slick and faceless as the rest of Wings always has been. And the reader must bear in mind that none of this is meant as depreciation; on the contrary, facelessness is the business of Wings, and their recent success at it has been nothing short of dazzling.
This critic has read not a few recent reviews in these pages in which the root complaint was that the album under examination was just a piece of "product" put out by an artist indifferent or half-dead but propped up by slick production and session musicians. How refreshing, then, to not that Paul McCartney is not indifferent, that his is very much alive -- and shrewd enough to turn himself into a glossy kingpin among session men. You may find a little dust in the grooves of a Wings' product, but never in its soul: it's a clean machine -- with Linda, of course lending to the figurine on the radiator cap the radiant sarcasm of her smile.
- Lester Bangs, Stereo Review, 10/75.
Latest effort from Paul McCartney and friends is another set of fine rock, but with some strong basic differences from past LPs. First, it stands less as a collection of good rock singles and more as a collection of various styles of music that can also work as singles. Styles range from the perfect Top 40 rock McCartney is such a master of, to New Orleans horn filled cuts, to '20s flavored tunes, to oldie sounding songs, to some big brass arrangements. McCartney's vocals range from the smooth ballad style he has always handled well to a raunchier rock sound that he has heretofore been unable to attain, even on his wilder singles. In other words, he sounds less like a soft voice singer trying to scream and more like a legitimate screamer. Addition of Jimmy McCulloch has added a strong rock guitar vein and has allowed Denny Laine to switch to bass and spend more time on vocal harmonies. Linda also sounds like more of a singer. Guest musicians like Tom Scott, Allen Toussaint and Dave Mason also add to the variety of sounds and add an authenticity to the sounds and styles explored. A much more musically intricate project than Wings' other solo effort without losing the feeling of fun and spontaneity that good rock has always offered. And, to serve up the old cliche, all possible singles.
- Billboard, 1975.
Venus and Mars confirmed, if nothing else, that Paul had totally mastered the craft of turning out hit "product." Many of the songs are the sort that stubbornly stick in the head whether you want them to or not, and the production is the most polished since the break with the other Beatles and George Martin. And yet there is often something calculated and impersonal in its slickness.
The title track itself, which boasts a typically seductive McCartney melody, proved than Paul could still write lyrics when he saw fit to. "Venus and Mars" cleverly makes use of the various connotations of the word "stars." The setting of the version that opens the album is a sports arena, abuzz with anticipation just before a rock show. In the lyric about the "good friend following the stars," the friend could just as easily be a groupie or a rock fanatic as an astrologer; and the stars might even be Venus (Linda) and Mars (Paul) McCartney.
Sure enough, the track segues -- or, rather, explodes -- into "Rock Show," as spirited a celebration as any on record of the excitement, crowds, noise, and lights at a big rock concert. (Paul admitted that the references to Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl were a "hint" of Wings' future plans to tour the U.S. the following year.)
Yet when "Venus and Mars" resurfaces on Side Two -- in the grand old Sgt. Pepper/Ram/Band On the Run tradition -- "following the stars" takes a different context. The sports arena has metamorphosed into an Isaac Asimov-inspired starship, fueled by Linda McCartney's gurgling synthesizer. Had Paul chosen to extend the "Venus and Mars"/"Rock Show" idea throughout the rest of the LP, he might have produced an ambitious and fascinating concept album. In any case, he at least now had a great framework for a "Rock Show" of his own, which he would shortly put to use.
If Venus and Mars' other selections struck many fans and most critics as being a bit slick and lyrically vacuous, they are nonetheless quite diverse musically, ranging from heavy metal to '30's nostalgia to a musical interpretation ("Magneto and Titanium Man") of the Marvel Comics Paul had taken to reading. Like Abbey Road and John's Walls And Bridges, Venus and Mars trails off with a joke. The last "real" song, "Lonely Old People," is followed by a brief rendition of "Crossroads," the theme music to a soap opera then in favor with Britain's senior citizens.
Augmented by the jangling guitars and trilling woodwinds of guest artists Dave Mason and Tom Scott, the ultra-catchy "Listen To What the Man Said" quickly scored Wings their eighth consecutive American Top Ten hit (and third Number One). This single, and the album from which it was lifted, were the first McCartney records to sport the familiar Capitol logo since the Beatles' "Lady Madonna." Paul had just signed on again for the record-shattering sum of eight million dollars.
Venus and Mars first appeared on the Billboard charts on June 14, 1975, reaching #1 and spending a total of 77 weeks.
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, 1978.
Superficially, which counts for a lot with McCartney, his New Orleans venture is his most appealing post-Beatles album -- straight rock and roll with a few pop detours and one excursion into "When I'm 64" nostalgia. So clear in its melodies, mix, and basic pulse that his whimiscal juxtapositions -- robots on Main Street, Rudy Vallee cheek by jowl with Allen Toussaint -- sound like they might make some sense. Don't get me wrong -- they probably don't -- because McCartney's a convinced fool. But when the music is coherent it doesn't matter so much. B+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Released in 1975, Venus and Mars was the follow-up to Band on the Run (which was basically all McCartney in the studio). With this recording, Wings again became a real rock band, notably through the addition of guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and drummer Joe English. For this outing, the group went to New Orleans and availed themselves of the local musical riches, notably Allen Toussaint. The result is probably the best rock & roll that McCartney has made since departing his original group, particularly in the selections, "Rock Show" and "Listen to What the Man Said;" in no small part because Paul's songs here also have more spine than most of the post-Beatles saccharin pop with which he has been associated. The sound of the compact disc generally leaves a bit to be desired -- heavy hiss, buried vocals, and occasional distortion are too much in evidence. B-
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
A highly polished band album featuring the number one hit "Listen to What the Man Said," as well as "Letting Go" and "Venus and Mars/Rock Show," which served to introduce the McCartney & Wings world tour of 1975-1976. * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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