Holy crap… Back To The Egg is the first McCartney/Wings album that actually sounds fresh and contemporary; it was so named as it was Paul’s attempt to “get back” to his rock roots. With Joe English and Jimmy McCullough gone (McCullough would sadly die from a heroin overdose in September 1979), he recruited guitarist Laurence Juber and drummer Steve Holley into the Wings fold and started recording sessions in the summer of 1978 in Scotland. Moving into Kent and finally London, over two dozen tracks were laid down during this especially fertile period for McCartney.
While Back To The Egg is not quite up there with the quality of Band On The Run, Venus and Mars, or Ram, it succeeds at integrating the then-contemporary sounds of new wave and power pop, as well as a tinge of hard rock, jazz, and R&B, while retaining McCartney’s pop sensibilities and musicianship. The result is a good if flawed album that, if nothing else, makes McCartney sound more relevant to the times than anything he had released in his solo career up to that point. He sounds energized and recharged, especially compared against the lifelessly crummy Wings At The Speed of Sound and the subdued yet interesting London Town.
There are some strong songs here, and some filler, but overall there’s a good batting average here. What makes Back To The Egg seem like a lesser entry in the Wings/McCartney catalog is that there are no home runs on the album, no standout classic tracks. But while home-runs might seem scarce, the album is full of solid doubles and triples, a few pop flies, and no blatant errors. It’s a good album. But good wasn’t good enough. Lacking a standout single, Back To The Egg didn’t see quite the sales of his previous releases. It did go Platinum in the US and Gold in the UK. The singles, on the other hand, weren’t very notable from a sales/airplay perspective. “Old Siam Sir” topped the charts at #35 in the UK (didn’t get a US release), where “Getting Closer” barely scraped the US Top 20 and “Arrow Through Me” couldn’t crack it at all (#29).
The funky bassline of album opener “Reception” (featuring actual radio broadcasts) leads into the power pop of “Getting Closer”, a fine melodic rocker that sets a great tone for the album to come. “We’re Open Tonight” is a minute and a half off of 12-string acoustic nicety that segues nicely into the phased guitars of “Spin It On”, a fast rocker with some choice leads from Juber and askew but enjoyable vocal harmonies. It’s probably the “hardest” song McCartney has done so far, and it’s another good one.
“Again and Again and Again” is Denny Laine’s only vocal performance on the album (he composed the song as well). It almost sounds like an Elvis Costello number, and that’s probably a good thing as this is one of the best songs on the album. Keeping the harder edge going, Paul goes Asian-themed with “Old Siam, Sir”. Sort of a silly number, it’s still a winning rocker with an infectious hook. Why it never took off as a single is hard to say, but it seems like the obvious commercial rock hit of the album.
Speaking of obvious commercial potential, “Arrow Through Me” would be a likely candidate, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s not that good. Paul brings it down with an R&B ballad punctuated with some electric piano and fuzz bass — there’s more Stevie Wonder influence here — and while I admire the ambition of the tune, the end result is the first piece of filler on the album. This is quickly blown out of the water by “Rockestra Theme”! This was an All-Star affair; also playing on this mostly instrumental track, alongside Wings, is Pete Townshend, John Bonham, John Paul Jones, David Gilmour, Kenny Jones, and many others. It’s certainly not THAT great or memorable a song, but it’s certainly a fun one, and it did end up winning the 1980 Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Paul brings it back to earth with another power pop track, “To You”. This song is a bit silly but with a great sound and some impressive guitarwork. Overall it’s an OK track. “After The Ball / Million Miles” fares worse, a piano ballad that is the weakest track on the album thus far. Not a bad song, just total vapor. Thankfully, the much more interesting “Winter Rose / Love Awake” almost makes up for it. Almost. It’s half a great song, half a filler one. The “Winter Rose” sequence is a beautiful dark-sounding, minor-key piece. Icy and haunting, yet somehow uplifting, it’s so strong that it’s almost saddening how it’s paired with “Love Awake”, a forgettable sing-along piece of fluff. It makes one wish that Paul had fully developed the first half of the track and pretty much dropped the second.
A pretty piano line runs underneath more radio broadcasts on “The Broadcast”, which runs just under a minute and a half. The pace jumps immediately with the fast pop rocker of “So Glad To See You Tonight”, a solid track that shows Paul can still bring the rawk when he needs to. The album ends with the delightful “Baby’s Request”, a jazzy, swinging piece that has Paul doing some of what he does best: merging music hall sounds of the past with his pop sensibilities. Does it really fit in with the contemporary feel of the rest of the album? Not really. But it’s a great track. Probably my favorite on the entire album.
Side 2 of Back To The Egg is nowhere near as strong as Side 1. “Rockestra” is silly fun, “To You” is a decent track, half of “Winter Rose / Love Awake” is excellent, and “Baby’s Request” is a pretty nifty tune. Maybe if the album side had stayed in the vein of “Getting Closer”, “Old Siam Sir”, “Again and Again and Again”, and “Spin It On”, it could have been a contender for one of McCartney’s overall best albums. Still, while you might want to cherry pick through it, there are certainly enough cherries here to make Back To The Egg — the last Wings album — probably their third best studio release, right after Band on the Run and Venus and Mars.
As far as the bonus tracks on the 1993 release, I’m not going to discuss the single most horrid Christmas song of all time (“Wonderful Christmastime”) or McCartney’s reggae version of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”. I’d sooner eat my own face. “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is a decent little song though. It’s got a good beat and is enjoyable enough as a piece of late 70s pop.