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Band on the Run’s 50th Anniversary arrives with vintage clarity and perplexity

"Band On The Run 50th Anniversary"

Release date: 09 February 2024
Wings Band on the Run 50th cover
07 February 2024, 09:00 Written by Noah Barker

Make like America’s current political landscape and wind the clock back 50 years.

John Lennon and George Harrison have revived their public perception with brazen solo masterpieces, Ringo is a month away from releasing “You’re Sixteen” in the same way a Mission Impossible villain releases a nuclear plague, and Macca is working with horn sections again. He’s in Lagos, Nigeria, having traded in his recently volatile songwriting partnership with John Lennon for the reinvigorating work he’d continue for decades with multi-talented wife Linda and co., but most importantly, he was demonstrating that he was the Beatle keeping them the appropriate amount of silly.

Whereas post-Beatles solo releases at this time ranged from blockbuster quadruple albums to intimate, soul-crushing therapy sessions, McCartney kept up the facade of warped psychedelia and character songs about no one from nowhere. Band on the Run, as it arrived in 1973, was a blissful, intent, and reverb-soaked continuation of the last few Beatles releases, except with the added freedom of not having the Beatles brand as a millstone around his adventurous neck. Wings had both the audacity and the taste to inlay proto-disco (“Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five”) with ear-piercing Iggy-Popisms (“Jet,” in all its ragged glory), while still managing to fit some of the most patented McCartney tunes ever laid to tape.

Its subsequent remasters have dusted off the record’s barrel-aged grime, and they are present here for its illustrious 50th anniversary set. Although the inclusion of American single “Helen’s Wheels” throws a metaphorical wrench into both the album’s later pacing and quality, it is welcome under the guise that all the record’s unwanted children should be present for its memorial service. The new additions to the Wings canon that the set presents is the “Underdubbed” mixes, a series of selectively remastered and remixed versions of the core album that, while providing breathtaking clarity in pockets, present a uniquely odd understanding of the original record. “Understanding” is key, a few of the new mixes have an in-depth knowledge of what made their forebears pop, only to purposefully rip them apart.

“Jet” is the preeminent example; the original’s mud-soaked fuzz is reassembled in the most pristine fashion conceivable, the track as if it was recorded now with decades of digital hindsight. Absent, however, is the driving horn section which defined the momentum of the track; this results in a crystal clear, yet hollow progression, especially during an awkward middle section where McCartney’s scratchy vocal performance is left abandoned by the once-tense arrangement. McCartney is similarly betrayed on the opening title track, which is again reassembled in glorious style, but is missing the reverb-laden harmonies of its second half, arguably the song’s atmospheric trademark. His voice is ever-clearer and closely heard, which unfortunately reveals more than a few sunk notes.

Each track of the remixes follows suit, nearly the record we were always meant to hear, the definitive version, but with a few nuts and bolts removed in each instance in case the listener might be hoping for too much. Also gutted is the crisp flow of the tracklist, as it’s presented in nearly reverse order, with little justification. When compared to the mixing and progression of the original, it presents the same odd feeling for the same old record: you can see one of the greatest records of the 70s held captive by a spare mistake here and there. Held together, the original and its remixes could be pieced into Band on the Run’s finest hour. In this sense, there’s no need to turn the clock back 50 years, we’re still making the same mistakes, still etching ideas into wax in pursuit of perfection.

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