The most confusing thing about Pipes of Peace is that its predecessor, the similarly-named Tug of War, was actually good. Really good. Yes, it did sound like a product of its time, but the melodies were inspired and the arrangements interesting. McCartney seemed to put more effort than usual even in the lyrics, resulting in the touching eulogy of Here Today and the anti-war protests of the title track. Going back one more album, McCartney II had a knack for experimentation like few other of his works. The results were not always successful, but at least you could appreciate the effort.
I don’t know what happened, but in contrast Pipes of Peace turned out to be a complete disaster. Its feet are firmly set into the Hellish territory of 80s adult contemporary – the ballads are as saccharine as they come, the production unbearably glossy and artificial. I mean, McCartney’s always been known for his ‘silly love songs’, but So Bad reaches new heights – it has all the elements that people have criticized him for over the years minus the excellent musical ideas that made those complaints null for us fans. And what’s up with those out-of-place hair metal riffs in The Man, one of the two collaborations with Michael Jackson? It the song supposed to rock? All I hear is another piece of totally forgettable pop. One could say Tug of Peace is more experimental, but what the heck is the purpose of it? A mere mash-up between two songs with no personality of itself, this is basically the definition of filler. It becomes even more pitiful when you realize that McCartney probably thought of it as an edgy, staying-current type of move.
When it’s not embarrassing, the album is simply forgettable. I only know The Other Me, Hey Hey, Sweetest Little Show and Average Person are on here because I happen to have the track-list in front of me – otherwise they just go in one ear and out the other. The only songs that seem to bring faint echoes of the old McCartney to mind are the first two: the title track has that sequel feeling coming after Tug of War, but its buildup is undoubtedly the most interesting moment musically, and I even like the arrangement with a more organic sound and trademark Linda harmonies. And Say Say Say is more like a guilty pleasure type of song, but one can’t deny the infectiousness of hearing Paul and Michael trade lines.
Ultimately, Pipes of Peace sounds like the type of album McCartney was bound to make sooner or later, just like Bowie eventually did a dance album. Both artists were always highly influenced by the mainstream scenes and their careers seemed to vary in accordance to it – so when pop music went all the way down in the mid-80s, so did McCartney. And not even George Martin at the production helm could save him.
Categories: Album Reviews