16 November, 2014

The Bonus Discs - Venus and Mars

There is a bit of a mythology around remasters. It’s debatable as to whether the average fan is really going to hear the improvement above the confirmation bias of justifying the re-purchase of an album. It’s not that a remaster wasn’t warranted. In the case of Venus and Mars it certainly was. (Ironically, the other Paul McCartney album in the most dire need of a remaster is 2007’s Memory Almost Full, but that’s a rant for another day). I have to say though, with Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound, you can believe the hype.

Venus and Mars is one of my favourite albums. I’ve heard it on vinyl, cassette, CD, quadraphonic digitised from 8-track cartridge and DTS-CD, and I can tell you that it has never sounded better. The music just leaps out of the speakers in the way it always should have but never quite did.

On this new version, the bonus tracks that were added to the 1993 CD have been removed. My Carnival and Lunch Box/Odd Sox have been bumped to the secondary CD and Zoo Gang has been removed altogether now that it’s on the Archive Collection version of the more contemporaneous Band on the Run.

The bonus CD starts out with the tracks recorded during Wings Nashville excursion just before going to New Orleans to record Venus and Mars. This is actually the first time the full version of Junior’s Farm has been available on CD outside of Wings Greatest. Its B-side, Sally G, is followed by two instrumental tracks, Walking in the Park with Eloise (written by Paul’s father) and Bridge on the River Suite, originally released as a 7” single credited to The Country Hams.

My Carnival was recorded during the Venus and Mars sessions but was not released until 1985 as the B-side of Spies Like Us (as you do). There are two version of the song here, the completed version and the demo version under the working title of Going to New Orleans (as you do.) Absent is the “party mix” which was on the Spies Like Us 12”. These are followed by yet another version of Hey Diddle, this time mixed by Ernie Winfrey during the Nashville sessions. It does certainly have more of a country feel than the version on the bonus disc of Ram.

For no apparent reason, Soily and Baby Face from the One Hand Clapping film are included on the CD. The entire film was included with Band on the Run four years ago. It’s true that these two tracks have not been released on CD before but so what? They just seem like padding on a bonus disc that is already rich with quality content.

4th of July is a gorgeous acoustic song which is followed by the “old” version of Rockshow recorded in England and the single edit of Letting Go, which has a considerably drier mix.

The DVD is made up mostly of home movies. The recording of My Carnival is interesting mainly because the track is unmixed and we get to hear some parts that weren’t used in the final mix. The section called Bon Voyageur shows Paul and Linda on a river ferry in New Orleans shortly after Mardi Gras 1975. There are occasional snippets of interviews regarding the upcoming recording and Wings are also shown partying with The Meters.

Wings at Elstree is not a concert but rehearsals for the world tour – also home movie footage, edited to include just the songs from Venus and Mars. The audio on this section ranges from acceptable to non-existent, in which case the album audio is dubbed in. The DVD concludes with the 60-second television commercial for the album.

As mentioned at the beginning, a quadraphonic version of Venus and Mars was released on 8-track and subsequently made available as a DTS-CD. It’s disappointing that the quad mix wasn’t included on the DVD the way the Pink Floyd deluxe versions did.

On the packaging side, things have been changed around a little. Rather than a fabric cover, it’s a glossy one with the album art filling the cover. It’s not exactly a hardcover, either. Rather, it’s a perfect-bound paperback, similar to the one that came with Ram, with a hard cover wraparound. Look at the picture and it makes sense.

The content of the book, written by Barry Miles from new interviews with Paul and Denny, is excellent in detailing the Nashville and New Orleans sessions. There are also several pockets inside the book containing photographs, stickers (although not the strip of planets sticker that came with the original), posters and replica tickets. It’s very lavish and well presented, but most of this stuff you’re going to look at once, say “wow, cool!” and then put it away forever. The time and effort could have been put to much better use by remastering the quad version for inclusion on the DVD.

As usual, the deluxe version comes with a code to download all the tracks in 96kHz/24bit high resolution audio.

Worth paying extra for? For the 2-disc, absolutely! For the 3-disc version, well, I’m biased. Being a New Orleanian-in-law, I found the archival footage fascinating but for many, it might hold as much interest as the replica tickets and stickers. 

Listen to What the Man Said - 1993 remaster

Listen to What the Man Said - 2014 remaster

Listen to What the Man Said - 2014 remaster hi-res

“Very good to see you down in New Orleans, man!”


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