Sometimes, music fans have to ask themselves some very serious questions, things like “Do you really need another copy of this album?” If you’re a Paul McCartney fan and the record is the Wings’ classic Band on the Run, then the answer is probably, “Yes. Yes you do.”
One of the things that is often mentioned as key to Band on the Run‘s success is the duress under which it was created. Still in legal battle over the dissolution of Apple, and coming off of disappointing reviews of his post-Beatles work, McCartney was looking to get away and record his next album with Wings in an exotic location. He chose studios in Lagos, Nigeria. Practically on the eve of departure for Africa, Wings’ lead guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell quit the band. This left McCartney, his wife Linda and Denny Laine. The three, along with engineer Geoff Emerick, arrived in Lagos in August. Unprepared for the appalling studio conditions, not to mention the heat, the trio nevertheless persevered. They even endured a mugging at knife point in which the thieves stole the demo tapes, thereby forcing the band to record the entire album from memory. This probably contributes greatly to the spontaneous, energetic feeling that pervades the album. Despite the hardships of its recording process, Band on the Run went on to become a commercial and critical triumph It was number one on the US album chart three separate times, won a Grammy and sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.
The 2010 Band on the Run reissue is the first release in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, and the remastered sound is superb. The sound on the previous, 25th Anniversary, remaster was pretty good, but this is noticeably superior. McCartney personally supervised the process, working with the same team who did the recent remastering of the Beatles’ catalog at Abbey Road. Not being a technical expert, I can’t give you the science behind it, but I can say that the sound is somehow deeper and rounder than on the 25th Anniversary Edition. Comparing the two side by side, there’s a slightly thin sound to some tracks on the previous discs, a sense of narrowness or confinement. There’s a greater depth to the Archive set, particularly to the bass lines, because this is McCartney, after all.
The Archive Collection’s Band on the Run Special Edition, which is the basis for this review, features two CDs and one DVD. The first disc is the remastered album with its original nine tracks (this is also available separately as the Standard Edition). Listeners may not be able to pinpoint any differences during the title track, but at some point during the irrepressible joy that is “Jet”, even non-audiophiles with recognize that this sounds bloody fantastic. All of the rockers sound great, but the softer tracks like “Bluebird” benefit, as well. There are several details and flourishes in the arrangements that I swear I’d never noticed before, but I won’t go quite so far as to say this is like hearing the album for the first time. However, it may be similar to finally hearing something on good equipment, that you’d always listened to on your old car stereo cassette player before.
The second disc contains nine bonus audio tracks, many of which are taken from the previously unreleased One Hand Clapping television special which featured studio performances recorded at Abbey Road in 1974, the standout being a mesmerizing take on “Let Me Roll It”. Also included are newly remastered versions of the single “Helen Wheels” (which was on the US release of the album) and its B-side “Country Dreamer”, and “Zoo Gang” (the B-side to the UK single “Band on the Run”, also featured as a bonus track on the 1993 re-release of Venus and Mars ).
The Band on the Run DVD, or “Bonus Film”, as the packaging calls it, contains nearly an hour-and-a-half of rare footage from the period. In addition to behind-the-scenes looks at the famous cover shoot, films of the band in Lagos (where the album was recorded), the album promo clip and the aforementioned One Hand Clapping TV special, in which the band performs 15 songs, there are original promotional videos for “Band on the Run”, “Mamunia” and “Helen Wheels”.
The Band on the Run Special Edition, is, indeed, rather special. The Paul McCartney Archive Collection is also reissuing the album in several other formats, including a Deluxe Edition with three CDs and one DVD and a two-disc180 gram vinyl version. Both the Standard and Deluxe Editions are available digitally, as well. The physical form of the Deluxe Edition does include many more extras than the Special Edition, but most of those are really for the hardcore Macca completists: a 120-page hard bound book, downloadable high bitrate versions of the tracks, expanded track information, a new McCartney interview about the album and the Band on the Run audio documentary that was originally released on the 25th Anniversary Edition. For those who are just interested in the remastered musical content, the Band on the Run Standard and Special Editions are, themselves, deluxe.