It's not fair to say Mike McGear wouldn't have had a musical career without his older brother Paul McCartney -- he launched his first band, the Scaffold, just before Beatlemania -- but it is fair to say that his 1974 album McGear wouldn't have existed without Paul. The pair of brothers made McGear in early 1974, just after McGear's band GRIMMS fell apart and in the wake of Band on the Run turning into an international smash. Paul decided his younger brother needed a bit of a boost, so they recorded a single called "Leave It," which led to a full-length album cut at 10cc's Strawberry Studios. For support, the elder McCartney enlisted his band Wings, including its newest member Jimmy McCulloch, which means McGear does indeed sound like a forgotten Wings album -- one whose spirit and tenor has much more to do with the wild, wooly sound of Red Rose Speedway than the focused polish of Band on the Run, or the arena rock of Venus and Mars, which came just a year later. Much of this vibe is due to McGear's inherent jocularity. The Scaffold always walked the line separating comedy and pop, and McGear is happy to indulge in his silly side here, putting on a series of voices on the lengthy '50s rock & roll pastiche "Have You Got Problems?" and camping it up on "Norton." This lightheartedness is a good match for the glam undercurrent running throughout McGear, a connection that's made plain by the album opening with a stately, straightened cover of Roxy Music's "Sea Breezes." Later, McGear partakes in a bit of steely, synthesized car worship on "Givin' Grease a Ride," a number that feels strangely prescient, pointing the way toward the new wave throb of Gary Numan. "Givin' Grease a Ride" is an exception to the rule, though. Most of McGear is steeped in the early '70s, filled with elaborate mini-pop suites, moments of tenderness, and candied effervescence -- all qualities that could conceivably be called "McCartney-esque." Since Paul is behind the boards, McGear abounds with clever production fair and melodic invention, but having the album fronted by the amiable, pleasing Mike McGear means the record often feels like the work of one of the many McCartney acolytes instead of the man himself. Which may mean McGear seems like a bit of a lesser Wings album, but it also means that it plays like a really terrific Gilbert O'Sullivan album, too.
[Cherry Red's 2019 reissue of McGear adds the bonus tracks "Sweet Baby" and "Dance the Do" to the first disc, then a full disc of "Out-takes & Odd Ditties." The second disc is heavy on radio ads, alternate versions, and studio japes -- there are two tracks of Paddy Moloney pipes, one track of Viv Stanshall imitating himself -- but there are a couple of pleasant unheard pop tunes tucked away here, including "Do Nothing All Day," "Girls on the Avenue," and "Let's Turn the Radio On." The set also includes a DVD featuring two interviews with Mike McGear, along with the "Leave It" promo film from 1974.]