Venus And Mars is a masterpiece because I say it is.
In the summer of 1975 I was 18 years old and I had it on heavy heavy rotation as Lebanon fell apart spectacularly. The year before, 1974, I’d been dating a woman whose husband was with McCartney in New Orleans for the recording of Venus And Mars and by 1975 all I had was the album as a reminder. In the sun swept Mediterranean with a virulent civil war in the rearview window ready to turn the country on its head, I was a teenage reprobate with no controls on my actions, it was a wonderful carefree time. From that backdrop of beaches and nightclubs, McCartney was the soundtrack: “Remember last week when I promised you I was gonna buy a good seat at the rock show? Well, I bought it, come on now, now get your dress on.”
The album is rich man’s weather: it is almost astoundingly hedonistic, with even the horrors of aging dismissed as “treat her gently, treat her kind” and two years after the end of the Vietnam War this US based (and US sounding) rock album having the nerve to include a verse about a soldier going off to war with “he don’t mind, he’s in love and he thinks love is fine”. It finds no depth in pain, no horror in sorrow, it rejects them both and rushes straight into a world of carnival and holiday. The two main instruments are piano and horns and it doesn’t sound like the McCartney of the Beatles: it has moved on, to a street carnival, a party, a dreaminess beyond doubt.
It is also a young person’s album. McCartney was 31 when he recorded it, 32 when he released it, 33 when he toured it. With a band completed and in control behind him, young children and a wonderful wife by his side, his drug habit essentially just a taste for weed, with no Beatles to bother him, and nothing but hit songs to his name, a US tour in the wings and an album well worth performing live to flog, McCartney had every reason on earth to be happy. By 1975 he had eclipsed his past, he’d moved on. As the center of the Wings legacy, Band On The Run was recorded in poverty stricken Nigeria and it was an album that seemed dodged in uncertainty and Speed Of Sound was back in London a twee mess, but right there in the middle, Venus And Mars were alright tonight and was a sharing good vibe. Sharing? Absolutely, “Rock Show” isn’t taken from the bands perspective, it is taken from the audience’s perspective, it shares what he is doing with who he is doing it for: long hair, Jimmy Page, Madison Square, Hollywood Bowl. It is an invitation to share.
And it sets the stage for the soft shoe shuffle “You Gave Me The Answer”, the cartoon heroics of “Magneto And Titanium” and the lulling narcoleptic “Treat Her Gently – Lonely Old People” to the soap opera theme closer cover of “Crossroads”.
But over the years I stopped listening to Venus And Mars, except for “Listen To What the Man Said”. It seemed lost in time for me, lost in a country that really didn’t exist the way I remembered it, the girl? I was gonna google her but I’ve forgotten her name entirely, and idealism I couldn’t tune in to.
I don’t think I’ve listened to it all the way through since 1975 and so with the Remastered Deluxe version with 14 tracks added to the existing 13, and extending the already long for the time 43 minutes to a full spread 93 minutes it seemed time to return and see how it sounds now.
In 2014 it seems to have less eddies and crevices, the sinkhole of “Love In Song”, “Medicine Jar” and “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” don’t derail the album the way they once did. It feels of a piece and then in the ending, the soft flow to the conclusion is deserved. It is maybe McCartney’s third best album and therefore illuminates both his skills and his weaknesses. Time hasn’t given it depth, it is still rock and roll as Marvel comic, but tinged with the loss of Linda McCartney, and the upending of time for all of us, we bring with it a certain soft glow. The actual music sounds even better, the band are tight as hell, Allen Toussaint is all over it, and the arrangements are less fussy and more incisive than Band On The Run. Paul is in great voice, he caresses everything he sings, even the rockers.
The additional 14 tracks add little to the legend, though I didn’t notice his Nixon dis, “ev’rybody’s talking ’bout the President, we all chip in for a bag of cement” on “Junior’s Farm” at the time. Two songs about carnival never made it to the album, though either would’ve fitted nicely, a cover of “Baby Face” preceded Kisses On The Bottom by a couple of decades and a slowed down “Rock Show” wasn’t up to much. “Sally G” –a country rock B-Side deserved its place. So, while I have no real complaints, I am not exactly thrilled by the additional songs. Except for “Let’s Love”, McCartney’s song for Peggy Lee, fabulous by Peggy on the album of the same name, and almost its equal on this piano based demo.
So, yeah, I am glad to own it, and happy for the opportunity for an old favorite album I can listen to again as if for the first time. I wish Paul had really gotten to the bottom of the album, the way he did with the deluxe Band On The Run, but I’ll take it.
Venus And Mars – A-
Venus And Mars Deluxe – B+
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