Album Review : Paul McCartney – Tug Of War (1982)

 “In a time to come, we will be dancing to the beat played on a different drum”

Paul McCartney - Tug of War

Rating : 9/10

By this point, we’ve already gotten used to the traditional McCartneyesque way of following a rather eccentric, spontaneous, home-made, half-goofy, half-serious record with a more polished, serious, shaped and as a result, accessible one (McCartney I – Ram, Wild Life – Band On The Run). So it’s no surprise that the 80’s synth-driven ‘McCartney II’ got followed by ‘Tug of War’, possibly the last Paul album that can be considered flat-out great. And I mean great in every possible way: musically (name me one song that’s not got a memorable melody), vocally (“BAAALLROOOM DANCING”, anyone?), diversity-wise (he touches more styles here than some bands in their whole career) and production-wise (George Martin of the Beatles-fame is credited here and except for the Stevie Wonder collaborations, most of the songs have a nice, warm, at times orchestrated sound). What about the lyrics, you might wonder? Well, we all know that they have never been McCartney’s forte, but truth to be told, there are some good ones here as well.

The title track, for example, definitely fits that description as it is a very powerful and touching anthem that is bound to show us once and for all that McCartney can be more than a phony, message-free song-writer if he wants to (not that I ever thought he was). Pay attention in particular to that moment when the electric guitar kicks in and the emotional “In another world” line backed up by heavenly harmonies. Oh man, have I mentioned how much I love this song? I would happily pronounce it to be the absolute highlight, only if it wasn’t constantly battling for that title with ‘The Pound is Sinking’, another tune that manages to blow me away each time I hear it. McCartney shuffles so easily and gracefully through different melodies and moods before finally culminating with that ferocious scream, that it almost hurts to see the track so rarely mentioned among his absolute best of work.

But let’s move for a while into the ballad territory. ‘Here Today’, as you probably already know, is Paul’s ode to John Lennon and will most definitely disappoint you upon the first listen. Two years passed since his ex-Beatle-fellow/best friend/successful collaborator died, and the best he could come up was this predictable, cliché-filled little acoustic ballad? If the roles were reversed, I’m sure we would’ve assisted to another Plastic Ono Band-type, “pour-my-heart-into-the-record” statement from John. But McCartney is McCartney, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Still, I suggest giving the song an open-minded listen. It may be disappointing, but it sure as hell ain’t bad (the strings in particular, are a really nice touch). On the other hand, ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘Somebody Who Cares’, are really enjoyable ballads. Especially the latter, with its contemplative mood and heavenly guitar-flute solo.

Then there’s another two seemingly forgotten masterworks: the honky-tonky, bombastic ‘Ballroom Dancing’, featuring the famous McCartney scream (looks like his vocal chords were still at full range at the time) and the funky ‘Dress Me Up As A Robber’, which I’ve always considered a successful stab at something modern-sounding.

The fact that it’s somehow natural and unforced is even more evident when compared to ‘Ebony and Ivory’ – truly the most cringeworthy moment on the album. Performed in collaboration with Stevie Wonder, the song sounds very much of its time: slick production with cheesy keyboards fronted. Plus, the overall idea is just way too sugary to be taken seriously (although not bad at all in intention). Even though a slight improvement, ‘What’s That You’re Doing’, a moronically placed (between two ballads) disco-funk weird piece, is still not something I’d come back for. And why on earth is it so gosh darn long?

In the end, it seems like we’re left with the middle-of-the-road, inoffensive tracks: ‘Take It Away’, a rather charming pop ditty (and not only because Ringo’s on it) and the countryish/rock n’ roll duet with one of the latter genre’s pioneers (Carl Perkins), which is both catchy and funny (although the “go cat, go” shtick was getting kind of old, wasn’t it?).

So here comes the natural, puzzling question that will and should be thought of: why get a rather impactless album from a dinosaur whose glory days are long gone, instead of looking for music that actually brought something new to the 80’s rock scene? Why not listen to Talking Heads? Or Sonic Youth? Well sure, go ahead and listen to those. But at the same time, always keep an eye on old Paul McCartney, ’cause you’ll never know when he’s bound to come with an actual really good, easy-going and enjoyable pop album. And we all know how useful can that be once in a while.

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5 replies

  1. Interesting review. And there is a reissue due out in October 2015. Was wondering whether to get it – and you have convinced me that I should. I guess I have aways been put off by the Ebony and Ivory single!

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  2. Fair fair review, but I strongly disagree with your comments re lyrics of here today. Each line a carefully chosen moment, but touched lightly and left open and not fully resolved… A moment not finished even after one had died…. And so touching… But hey! Each to their own

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was reading an interview with McCartney in this month’s Uncut on the subject of that very song, where he says that he DIDN’T really think that Lennon would say that ‘we were world’s apart’ – and that he finds it awkward to sing that line nowadays! I think that’s called being an ‘unreliable narrator’ or something!

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