Tug Of War, by Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney is not known by many people as a person of consistent albums, but as someone who has been a great fan of his for some time, thought it would be worthwhile to check out some of his albums as a way of appreciating his qualities as a musician. Today, therefore, we will be looking at his early 80’s comeback album of sorts after the end of Wings, Tug Of War, which was viewed far higher at the time than it has been viewed in retrospect. Is this album worthy of the praise it got as an excellent album in the past or the revisionist negativity that many people have given to it more recently?
This review is of the 2015 remastered version, the version that is available on streaming. The album begins with the title track, with its desire for peace in the face of conflict, a desire that is no less fervent now than when the album was made in the early 1980’s. After that comes the beautiful “Take It Away,” with its look at the way that music can be used to overcome the difficulties of connect disparate people together. “Somebody Who Cares” is a touching and lovely ballad about the narrator’s devotion to his partner. “What’s That You’re Doing” is the first song on this album that is a duet between Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder and it is the better one of the two, with its expression of bewilderment at the way that someone interacts with a lover. “Here Today” is a beautiful and touching first-draft comment by McCartney on the death of John Lennon and like Elton John’s “Hey Hey Johnny” it is a melancholy but beautiful song. “Ballroom Dancing” then follows with a rocking narrative song that shows a love of ballroom dancing and nostalgia about the past. “The Pound Is Sinking” is a political song that somewhat fails to hit the market about the relationship of currency and political stability. “Wanderlust” is a gorgeous piano ballad about the longing for travel and insight and freedom. “Get It” is a guitar-picking duet with Carl Perkins with a bit of a boogie beat about the way that life can sometimes beat you up even while you continue looking for how to get the good. “Be What You See (Link)” is a short but haunting track. “Dress Me Up As A Robber” features Paul McCartney dealing with the question of costume and identity with an interesting falsetto voice and some lovely instrumentation including a Spanish guitar. Ebony And Ivory is the very popular (at the time) but not very well appreciated (presently) song where McCartney and Stevie Wonder express some naive hopes about racial reconciliation.
Tug Of War is an interesting album in that it is an excellent album but one that also exposes that McCartney (like many artists) is at his weakest when trying to speak about political concerns. At least four of these songs directly address problems that McCartney had to deal with, and the two that address political issues like race (“Ebony and Ivory”) and currency policy (“The Pound Is Sinking”) are the only songs in this album that don’t work well. On the other hand, there are a few songs that have not been remembered from this album that deserve to be far better appreciated, especially the the title track and the sublime “Wanderlust,” which is a real hidden gem in the deep McCartney catalog. Overall, then, this is an album that would have been fantastic in a less political ten tracks but even at twelve tracks certainly remains a worthwhile high point that shows McCartney and his ideals even if his politics are often wide off the mark.