Written by 6:36 am Audiophile Music, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Vinyl

Listening Report: Paul McCartney & Wings’ Wild Life Half-Speed Master

Mark Smotroff appreciates an overlooked Macca gem…

In 1971 hot on the heels of his hit album RAM, Paul McCartney issued the first recordings by his new group which had been dubbed Wings. The album — called Wild Life — reached the Top 10 in the U.S. (#11 UK) and yielded at least one now-classic, Beatle-worthy McCartney composition, “Tomorrow.” But in general, the album has been considered by many as something of an anomaly in Sir Macca’s catalog over the years. Some people adore this record and others simply loathe it.

Over time Wild Life has found its fanbase and I have even heard some speak of it in similar light to The Beach Boys equally under-appreciated 1967 release Smiley Smile album (a parallel not unwarranted given its overall raw production aesthetic — “Good Vibrations” aside).  Apparently recorded in just eight days (at Abbey Road Studios) Wild Life wasn’t quite as home-brewed as his debut solo album but retains special merits for its spontaneous reconsideration of McCartney’s own sound and style.

I have grown to really like Wild Life and consider it something of a sequel or companion to McCartney’s self titled debut solo album.

While Wild Life has been re-issued over the years – including a two-LP expanded edition as part of the “Paul McCartney Archive Collection” – The record still has something of a reputation for being a murky listening affair. I can understand this because for many years I had lackluster copies of the album which didn’t sound very good (US pressings). In recent years I found a near mint condition original US pressing that sounds quite good all things considered. At one point I had one of the 1980s reissues on Columbia Records which sounded nice as well (though I missed the aesthetic of the custom record labels, truth be told).

Celebrating the album’s 50th anniversary, Universal Music and Capitol / Apple Records has issued a new super deluxe half-speed mastered audiophile edition of Wild Life and the result is wonderful.

Immediately upon first putting the needle to the groove on my turntable (a Music Hall MMF 7.1 with Goldring cartridge) the first thing I noticed was that the bass response was magnitudes better than the original US edition. There is a nice natural mi- range sound particularly on the acoustic guitars and a crisp – – but not too crisp – – high end. In general Wild Life sounds excellent and certainly much better than my original US pressing (which sounds pretty solid all things considered, but very clean condition originals are not exactly easy to come by for some reason — again, I have gone through many used copies of this over the years until I found this nice original).

Some of the songs on Wild Life I am appreciating with fresh ears including the near-reggae cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” which sounds very punchy now. “Some People Never Know” has some beautiful acoustic guitar parts which feel rich and woody. I really like the fat amplifier and guitar tones — coupled with the extreme vibrato effect — coming through the mix on “I Am Your Singer.”  “Tomorrow” has never felt quite as bold and dynamic as it does here — the ending section rocks madly now. 

The 180 gram black vinyl pressing of Wild Life excellent, dead quiet and well centered. So I have no problems there, thankfully.

A key thing about enjoying and appreciating Wild Life is to go in with minimal expectations — there are many sweet details here and the songs do grow on you over time. Certainly, don’t expect it to be anything like a Beatle record nor even the later Wings recording.  Listen to Wild Life with open ears and open mind. Just sit back to enjoy it for what it is, as the Wings sound takes shape before your very ears.

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