Everything seemed to be falling apart for Paul McCartney and Wings when they recorded Band on the Run in Lagos, Nigeria. Shortly before they left for the trip, two members of the band had quit, leaving only McCartney, his keyboardist wife Linda and rhythm guitarist Denny Laine; the studio turned out to be seriously underequipped; the McCartneys got mugged at knifepoint.
Paul always did work best under pressure. He brought his A-game, writing his strongest set of post-Beatles songs, playing with verve and swing, and weaving themes from some songs into others for a mini-Abbey Road effect. The title track is a little suite of fragments that somehow lock together into an inseparable hit, united by their theme of escape from a rut — a premise that turns up elsewhere on the album, too. “Helen Wheels” (a single originally included on the American version of the album, now relegated to a bonus disc) is uncharacteristically rugged, loping glam-rock; “Bluebird” is an airy sequel to “Blackbird”; “Jet” is a rocket-powered rocker with a reggae-shaped skeleton that’s sometimes exposed when its glorious horns and harmonies let up.
As usual, McCartney’s lyrics tend to sound better than they parse. “Jet” seems to involve somebody being jilted, and that’s as much sense as it’s possible to make of it. (But who cares when you’re hooting along with the “OOoooOOOoooOOOooo” bit?) The album’s secret highlight, though, is a direct callback to his former bandmates. The slow-stomping electric blues “Let Me Roll It” (which shares its title with a line from Harrison’s “I’d Have You Anytime”) might or might not have been a generous response to Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” — McCartney’s vocal sure sounds Lennonesque, anyway.