16 June, 2013

The Bonus Discs - Wings Over America

In the CD age, an entire concert can usually fit comfortably onto a double live album, so it’s easy to forget that in 1976 the idea of releasing an entire set as a live album, rather than edited highlights, was a pretty lavish to begin with. It’s like a relic from a different age. Could be.

This expanded and boxed edition is the most sumptuous release in the McCartney Archive Collection yet, making the earlier deluxe editions of Band on the Run, McCartney and McCartney II look positively humble by comparison. The whole package is arranged much more sensibly than RAM’s box of tricks. The box itself is a slipcover, housing four(!) books: a short history of Wings and the US tour written by David Fricke, an album of Linda’s photographs taken on the tour, a book of drawings by Humphrey Ocean and a replica itinerary of the tour including dates, lyrics, insurance details, replica programme, passes and tickets and it also happens to house the discs. 

The discs themselves are presented in miniature reproductions of the inner sleeves of the original LP and the disc labels are replicas of the custom labels of the LPs. (Sides 4 and 5 are the ones that were left out).

The remasters definitely have more clarity and crispness than the previous CD release. However, the album has not been remixed, so the bass is still at the front of the mix as it was on the original album.  While it’s refreshing to hear those classic McCartney basslines so clearly, it becomes a little disconcerting to have the bass dominating the mix as much as it does. 

And so to the bonus discs, of which there are two – a short CD of songs from the show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, and a DVD of the television special Wings Over the World and a(nother) collections of photos called Photographer’s Pass. Unlike the McCartney and RAM DVDs, there is plenty of visual material connected with Wings Over America to make a decent length DVD. Wings Over the World is not so much a documentary as a bit of a travelogue where the music does the talking most of the time and there are short quotes from Paul as voiceover between the songs. Most of the concert footage is taken from what would eventually become Rockshow, but it also includes a song each from San Francisco and Melbourne. There are also some amusing pieces with Australian media and snippets of the infamous Norman Gunston interview, which Paul and Linda excelled at because they got the humour. 

As with the previous deluxe edition DVDs, the vision has not been restored and the audio has not been remastered so the quality of both is exactly what you would expect from a late 70s television special. (The copyright date at the end says 1979, so it may have originally been released to promote either Wings’ 1979 tour or possibly the Rockshow film). While this may have added some charm to the short programs on the previous DVDs, it’s a bit disappointing that more effort wasn’t made on such an expensive release. The Photographer’s Pass segment features many photos that are also included in the books, set to the live versions of Band on the Run and Soily

The bonus audio disc features only eight songs. Why only eight and why these eight remains a mystery. These versions were clearly never candidates for the main album as there a couple of noticeable mistakes and a few wobbly harmonies. The mix is considerably drier than the main album which gives the set a more intimate sound even though the venue was as large as any other they played on the tour. 

As with the other deluxe editions, the box comes with a voucher to download all the music in high-resolution audio.

Worth paying extra for?
Well, that all depends on what you’re buying. If you want the full package with photos, coffee table books and a box that could actually double as a small coffee table, then it’s quite reasonable. Nothing approaching a bargain, but reasonable. However, if all you want is the extra music and DVD, then no way on earth is it worth paying over $100 extra for. And frankly folks, this is why people download. It makes sense for record companies to entice people back to buying real, physical music by value-adding on the packaging side, but this goes way too far. It’s not that the packaging isn’t brilliant. Indeed, it’s probably the most beautiful package ever released by a Beatle, and that’s saying something. It’s just that what people want most is the music. As I’ve said in reviews of other deluxe editions, there are more than enough cashed-up completists to make this boxed set sell handsomely even if all the audio and visual content were made available for less than the cost of a five-star dinner for four. 

I really hope they go back to the single book packaging for the next round of reissues, but the way things are going, Venus and Mars is going to come with five hardcover books housed in a replica billiard table and cost about $250.

Venus and Mars/Rockshow/Jet - Initial CD release

Venus and Mars/Rockshow/Jet - 2013 remaster
Venus and Mar/Rockshow/Jet - Hi-res 2013 remaster

1 comment:

  1. This remaster is a golden opportunity to relive the huge disappointment of hearing the vinyl for the first time upon its release as a youth. This bass-heavy mix, which emphasizes the cardboard-ey midrange of Macca's Rickenbacker rather than the bass frequencies themselves, was and is a testament to the copious amounts of high quality herb he undoubtedly smoked through these mixdown sessions (and beyond).