The Who Sings My Generation is often cited as the first ever punk album (or at least one of the more prominent influences on the movement), not due to any musical correlations between the two but as a result of the band acting like the angry, embittered voice of a generation, with My Generation being the primary instance of this dynamic on the album.
I'd tend to dispute this, as Daltrey's exaggerated, stuttering vocals seem to signify that the song is as much a mockery of Townshend's own generation as of the previous one, but all the same it's difficult to argue that the album inspired myriad punk rockers who took a cue from the collectively-voiced generational paradigm exhibited on that particular song.
One need only glance at the track listing to notice that the album greatly differentiates itself from the debuts of the Who's contemporaries in one very basic respect; out of twelve tracks, only two are covers, a rarity in this epoch and a feat that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones certainly failed to replicate.
Furthermore, the only noticeable filler on the album manifests itself in the form of these covers (both adopted from James Brown), as at this stage in his development as a singer Daltrey is painfully incapable of handling the vocals on these numbers.
Everything else, however, works extremely well. Admittedly tracks like La La La Lies, Much Too Much and It's Not True are rather lightweight and throwawayish, but they're still sufficiently cute and charming that they're always a pleasure to listen to, fitting in well to the framework of the album.
Elsewhere The Ox (a reference to bassist John Entwistle's nickname) is a ferocious jam with strong basslines and Keith Moon's frantic drumming being fully unleashed.
A Legal Matter is lyrically amusing and sports a great riff, while The Kids Are Alright is a glorious mod pop anthem. Another one of the true highlights is the forgotten gem The Good's Gone, which has a subtle menace underlying the catchy vocals.
The album's most famous track is indisputably the aforementioned zeitgeist defining generational rallying cry My Generation, which earns its spot in the pantheon of rock history with its infamous socially contumacious lyrics, its classic stuttering delivery and its insanely catchy refrain. It propelled the band to instant stardom, and remains one of the group's most enduring classics.
In all The Who Sings My Generation is a stellar, beyond auspicious debut, with Townshend already a great songwriter straight from the inception of the band. The album is filled with Who classics, announcing their arrival with some of their best known works. One might worry that contributing this many originals to a debut is a risky gambit, but Townshend more than makes it work with brilliant songwriting and great performances from the rest of the band (save Daltrey's vocals on the Brown covers (though he sounds excellent on the original tracks)). The album eclipses both the Beatles' and Stones' debuts with its plethora of high quality originals, rendering it perhaps the greatest debut of the era.
The genesis of A Quick One lies in a consummately misguided decision on the part of the record company, an incomprehensible bungle that the album suffers for. That the Who were able to salvage the situation and craft a very good album is a testament to their extraordinary talent even at this early stage in their careers.
The band was suffering from a profound dearth of funds, and rather than simply bestow the necessary sum to the band collectively the record company opted to convey an individual portion to each member, with the understanding that each of them must compose new songs for the album. This defies all reason, as Townshend had been the sole active songwriter for the group; ergo A Quick One is greatly marred by this mystifying gesture from the studio execs which was basically tantamount to outright sabotage.
Nonetheless, there were some positive ramifications from this predicament. Entwistle's latent talent for composing catchy, darkly comedic tracks is unveiled, as he contributes two great songs (four if you factor in the bonus material on the reissue), the immortal ode to an arachnid Boris The Spider and the bouncy celebration of dementia Whiskey Man. This constitutes an extremely auspicious songwriting debut for the Ox, and he would proceed to contribute songs in a similar vein for the remainder of the band's history.
Unfortunately Daltrey and Moon's contributions are somewhat lacking. Daltrey's See My Way is simply atrocious, an amateurish attempt at rock composition from a man who never professed nor aspired to be a songwriter. Moon's I Need You is similarly dismal, though his instrumental Cobwebs And Strange is at least somewhat interesting, sounding more like circus music than Who material and featuring some of the most breakneck, frantic drumming in existence.
Inevitably, however, it's Townshend who comes to the album's aid. His best additions to the album are the excellent pop song So Sad About Us and the album's main attraction, the nine minute, first ever rock opera A Quick One, While He's Away. Featuring a procession of creative, catchy melodies and memorable vocals and telling an amusing story of marital infidelity it's by far the band's most ambitious track to this point, likewise containing the roots for their subsequent forays into the realm of rock operas.
The album is further enhanced (and graded accordingly) by ten bonus tracks, ranging from merely interesting to brilliant. It's a highly diverse melting pot of tracks, from a run through of the Batman theme to Beach Boys mimicry (in Bucket T and Barbara Ann) to more Entwistle-composed hook-filled bleak humor (in Doctor, Doctor and I've Been Away) to some decent Townshend offerings (such as Disguises) to a high quality acoustic rendition of their hit single Happy Jack to a version of My Generation that inexplicably segues into Land Of Hope And Glory seemingly for no other reason save to fuck with the listener.
Overall A Quick One is a highly enjoyable, unique listen. It's certainly highly flawed, with songs composed by musicians bereft of songwriting talent, but with the emergence of Entwistle as a strong creative force, Townshend's continued brilliance and a selection of entertaining bonus tracks the album manages to be a high quality addition to the band's canon, with the A Quick One, While He's Away paving the way for more ambitious projects in the band's future.
While it may seem like lightweight fare when compared to the legendary behemoths that succeed it like Tommy and Quadrophenia, in its own way The Who Sell Out is nearly as entertaining as those more ambitious projects, boasting some of the best melodies to be found on a Who album. What it lacks in scope and scale when compared to the band's deeper enterprises it compensates for with sheer enjoyment, providing a veritable armada of hooks and catchy tunes, along with a healthy dose of creativity and humor as well.
The Who Sell Out is a concept album, with the simple but ingenious premise that the entire LP is a broadcast from a pirate radio station. Thus the album features commercials crafted by the band, some of which contain melodies on par with the regular songs (such as Odorono) or simply whimsical humor (such as Heinz Baked Beans), along with messages from the radio station which function as segues into many of the songs.
As for the songs themselves, they're nearly uniformly excellent, from the sweeping psychedelic opener Armenia City In The Sky (attributed to one John Keene) to the glorious ballads Our Love Was and I Can't Reach You to the amusing pop of Tattoo to the menacing rock of the fan favorite I Can See For Miles. Townshend, already no slouch at composing as evidenced by his first two outings, has progressed immeasurably, penning a plethora of catchy, memorable songs.
Entwistle's main offering, Silas Stingy, fails to live up to the standards he'd set for himself on the previous album, yet is still entertaining, while Townshend felt compelled to end the album with another miniature rock opera, the epic Rael (which contains the melody of what would subsequently become Sparks on Tommy).
Like A Quick One, the album includes a multitude of bonus tracks, and while they're enjoyable for the most part they're universally inferior to the original set of songs, and if anything they dilute the effect of an extremely consistent and compelling album.
Thus The Who Sell Out is a huge triumph for the band, their first truly great album and the source of many of the group's most captivating melodies. While it's not a serious artistic statement it excels with regards to pure entertainment, rendering it wonderful escapist fare and a listen that will always be eminently enjoyable. On this album Townshend proves himself to be a master songwriter of a truly rare caliber, crafting a one of a kind LP that's as much a testament to his brilliance as any of his subsequent ventures.
While not the first full length rock opera (that distinction goes to the Pretty Things' unjustly obscure classic SF Sorrow), Tommy is certainly the most well known entry in that particular field, propelling the Who to instant superstardom (previously they had only enjoyed moderate success through their albums, primarily subsisting on the profits derived from their singles).
Tommy presents the tale of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a pinball messiah of sorts, chronicling his life from his birth to the trauma that stripped him of his senses to his eventual recovery to his abandonment by his disciples. While this is hardly the most compelling story it serves its purpose in this context, providing the album with a solid framework and keeping the listener engrossed for the duration of the LP.
Tommy's main asset, however, is its brilliant songwriting; clever riffs abound, along with a plethora of catchy vocal melodies that make nearly every song (even the diminutive segue tracks) highly entertaining and memorable.
While there are a few weak points, they're of little consequence when compared to the stunning quality of the highlights. The flaws include the fact that Sparks suffers from self-plagiarism, recycling the riff from a section of The Who Sell Out's Rael. Furthermore, the track is reprised in ten minute form as the album's Underture, which is more than a tad excessive (though the theme is so strong that it's ultimately not an insurmountable problem). Likewise Welcome is somewhat tedious, markedly lacking in the hooks department.
Nearly everything else, however, is of an extremely high quality, built around creative riffs and impeccable melodies. Pinball Wizard is the most famous track, but there are plenty of songs of that caliber and higher, from the catharsis of the repeated See Me, Feel Me passage to the aggressive rock of We're Not Gonna Take It to the hyper catchy The Acid Queen to the bouncy Go To The Mirror!
Tommy proved to be a revolutionary effort, going a long way in terms of establishing rock music as a serious art form and more than escapist headbanging. Tommy expanded upon what people thought rock music was capable of, thus paving the way for future ambitious projects of a comparably risky nature.
The reason that it works so well in this regard is that, while it has serious artistic pretensions it doesn't neglect its rock music side, with Townshend marrying incredible melodies to his artistic aspirations. Thus Tommy provides the best of both worlds, comprised of both an ambitious artsy enterprise and great, axiomatic rock music.
Even when stripped of its revolutionary status Tommy is simply an excellent collection of rock songs, undiluted by the artistic pretensions of Townshend. Combined with its overarching ambitions, however, Tommy becomes something even greater, a milestone in the history of rock music.
Ergo Tommy succeeds in every goal that it applies itself to, constituting a rock opera that never favors either its rock nor opera aspects at the expense of the other. Functioning both as a brilliantly written and performed sequence of rock songs and as a new mode of storytelling, Tommy excels in both endeavors, crafting a timeless work that acts as a highpoint in the annals of rock and roll history.
While the Who are renowned for their incredible studio achievements, the focal point of their legend has always been their concert performances; the group is often referred to as the greatest live band in rock history, and Live At Leeds makes a strong case for that assertion.
Unlike many groups' whose studio and live sounds are interchangeable, the Who's concert and studio personas were drastically different; thus many of their studio classics took on a different life on stage, making their live experiences something truly special.
On Live At Leeds the band's instrumentation is drenched in a mass of distortion, but this isn't to compensate for performance inadequacies; on the contrary, the playing is tight throughout, with impressive interplay between the members during the album's many jams. Rather this distortion is employed to give the numbers a harder edge, playing music far heavier than anything you'll encounter on their studio albums.
Another merit that helps distinguish the album is its impeccable song selection. Live At Leeds opens with Heaven And Hell, an Entwistle composition that, while never appearing on a regular studio album, often functioned as their live opener, and for good reason; it starts the album off with a huge adrenaline rush, the perfect burst of ferocious, live energy to prepare the listener for what's to come.
The album contains myriad early singles from the group, from their first single ever (I Can't Explain) to Substitute to Happy Jack to I'm A Boy, and it's remarkable how the band manages to transfigure these otherwise innocuous pop gems into aggressive rock anthems.
The band likewise made brilliant choices when determining their covers; Fortune Teller eclipses the more well known Stones variation with a heavier sound, while Young Man Blues is simply a vicious onslaught of distortion and madly soloing guitars. The band's famous rendition of Summertime Blues is a true classic, with Entwistle's lines as the boss figure acting as true highlights, and Shakin' All Over takes on a harder edge than one's accustomed to from it.
Tattoo is an odd candidate for a live number but there's no reason to regret its inclusion as it's a great song that comes off well in a live context, while A Quick One, While He's Away takes on a new life onstage and easily surpasses the already strong studio version. Amazing Journey/Sparks, always a stage favorite, is predictably strong in a concert environment, while Magic Bus is somehow transformed from a cute pop ditty into a ferocious jam.
The true highlight, however, is the fifteen minute cut of My Generation, a version that's full of surprises, from including passages from Tommy to frequently launching into exhilarating improvisational jams. The song is captivating for its entire lengthy duration, always segueing into a different section whenever the song is in danger of becoming tired or stale.
Ultimately Live At Leeds is one of the greatest live albums of all time, which is especially remarkable given that it's often said that the concert that the material's derived from came at a time, toward the end of a long tour, when the band was depleted, and thus lacks the energy and enthusiasm that characterized their earlier shows. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant as Live At Leeds remains a brilliant album, featuring an incredible level of excitement and a set list that's devoid of filler. Townshend's solos are terrific and the band members gel together perfectly whenever he leads them into another jam, making for one of the most purely enjoyable rock experiences available.
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 is an archive release, and it's truly mystifying that a live album of this caliber would be consigned to lie inert in the band's vault for 26 years. Townshend had remarked that the festival was an especially good night for the group, and anyone who listens to this album will be hard pressed to dispute that comment.
In contrast to the comparatively restrained nature of Live At Leeds, this album is overflowing with energy, and while this comes at a price (Townshend's playing can be somewhat sloppy on occasion) it's certainly a huge asset, and the trait that most differentiates this album from its live predecessor.
In terms of the overlap with Leeds the redundant material at least equals their Leeds counterparts; in particular Young Man Blues benefits from the greater live energy, with even more ferocious playing and vicious lightning fast solos courtesy of Townshend.
As far as the different content is concerned, the album includes three tracks from the ill fated Lifehouse project (I Don't Even Know Myself, Water and Naked Eye), and each of them comes off extremely well, with the performances infusing a measure of raw, primal energy into the proceedings.
Elsewhere the band plays an excellent medley of Shakin' All Over, Spoonful and Twist And Shout, all of which sound terrific, with ultra tight playing and incredible vocals from Daltrey, who sounds his very best throughout the album and eclipses all his prior and subsequent performances with his amazing roaring vocals.
The main attraction (and the content that accounts for a large bulk of the near two hour run time of the album), however, is Tommy, which is played in its entirety (save a few tracks that were generally omitted from live renditions of the rock opera); the predominantly acoustic instrumentation of the original is replaced with an electric treatment, making the music much more powerful and aggressive, and while this isn't necessarily an improvement over its studio counterpart it certainly makes for an engaging listening experience.
In all the album is proof that, at this stage in their careers, the band could do no wrong in a live context. While not superior to Live At Leeds, it's definitely on a similar level, with each album holding a few key advantages over the other. The album is a long and rewarding listen, and one of the most exhilarating live albums you'll encounter. Both Isle Of Wight and Leeds are essential to fans of the Who, and a testament to the band's greatness on the stage.
Lifehouse was the band's most ambitious project, surpassing even Tommy and Quadrophenia with the sheer magnitude of its pretensions, and perhaps by virtue of this fact it was inevitable that this enterprise would irrevocably collapse before it saw that light of day.
In the wake of this stillborn rock opera the band was left without a new album to release, ergo Townshend was compelled to, much to his chagrin, attempt to salvage the remnants of Lifehouse and from this disaster produce a new musical venture, the final product being titled Who's Next.
Fortunately the aborted Lifehouse project was filled with top tier Who songs, making it rather easy to borrow a few of them and emerge with an excellent album. Despite being displaced from their original context none of the songs are marred by their lack of an overarching story, fluidly making the transition to their ultimate home on Who's Next.
The album contains some of the band's best and most beloved work, from the immortal anthems Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again to the superb rocker Bargain to the classic Behind Blue Eyes, a number that starts out as a gorgeous ballad before transforming into an aggressive arena rocker. Entwistle contributes one of his best tracks as well, the hilarious and catchy My Wife, which depicts his flight in terror from his homicidally embittered spouse.
Tracks like The Song Is Over and Getting In Tune are somewhat bloated and pretentious, but they're still sufficiently pretty that this can be overlooked, while the oft maligned pair of Going Mobile and Love Ain't For Keeping are actually quite good, admittedly lighter fare yet immensely enjoyable.
Synths are featured far more prominently on the album than they had been in the past, and while this comes at the expense of the amount of guitarwork it works quite well in this environment and no one will ever bemoan the loss of Townshend's guitar playing (which he still does excellently on many occasions).
Daltrey had finally developed his own unique voice, a potent roar (which was brilliantly exhibited on Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970) that would in time wear out his vocal chords but for the moment is very effective and exhilarating.
The album contains myriad bonus tracks, largely comprised of other songs initially intended to be part of Lifehouse. The highlights include great versions of Naked Eye and Water, though Pure And Easy shares the same liabilities as The Song Is Over and Getting In Tune.
Ultimately the album is yet another rock masterpiece, filled with incredible songs and tight performances. While it suffers from a few weak spots it remains a true classic, with nothing that could be termed truly offensive. While it's unfortunate that Townshend's vision of Lifehouse was never realized, those sessions still attained rock immortality through the medium of this album, the greatest mere excerpt in rock and roll history.
Townshend apparently wasn't sufficiently discouraged by the collapse of the Lifehouse project that he was dissuaded from crafting more rock operas, and thus, immediately after that album's failure, he composed yet another one, the band's final foray into the realm of the rock opera, Quadrophenia.
Quadrophenia depicts the inner struggles of Jimmy, a teen whose psyche is compartmentalized into four disparate personas, hence the title of the album. Jimmy endures countless vicissitudes, from his succumbing to fashionable conformity to his contumacious attitude toward his parents to his addiction to narcotics to his involvement with vicious gang warfare.
The plot, while far from brilliant, is at least more focused and easier to relate to than the saga of a pinball messiah in Tommy, presenting a portrayal of teen angst in a more emotionally transparent, and thus hard hitting, fashion.
The main appeal, however, is certainly the music. Exclusively composed by Townshend, he tends to favor playing his synths over his guitar, but this instrumental dynamic works very well in this context.
It becomes evident from the title track (an instrumental medley of the album's four main themes, each representing one of the four personalities that Jimmy's afflicted with) just how musically ambitious Quadrophenia is, as the song is a gorgeous suite of complex, interlocking melodies expertly performed that manages to sustain a state of catharsis for the listener for all six minutes of its runtime.
It's not only the more artistic tracks that merit attention, however; The Real Me is a straightforward, highly catchy rocker that, after the brief introductory track I Am The Sea, opens the album with a great rush of adrenaline.
Elsewhere The Punk And The Godfather begins with a masterful riff before launching into a plethora of infectious vocal melodies, while 5:15 is a brass driven masterpiece.
The cornerstone of the album, however, is the transcendently beautiful Love, Reign O'er Me, yet another gorgeous track that plunges the listener into a state of deep catharsis. The song nearly attains the status of musical perfection, with each element coming together to mesh perfectly, from pretty synth embellishments to Daltrey's powerful vocals.
Overall Quadrophenia is an absolute triumph, proving that art can coexist with rock music without either side being compromised. Townshend's songwriting is immaculate throughout, and the band's performances are utterly flawless.
The album is wholly Townshend's vision, and he's to be commended for conceiving of this brilliant album and translating it perfectly into reality. While it may alienate some Who fans with its boundless artistic pretensions and dearth of guitarwork it remains an incredible album, an ambitious masterpiece that manages to fulfill its elusive aspirations.
One must always be wary of outtake and rarity collections, and indeed in its initial form there was little to recommend Odds And Sods save to the most devoted Who fans. Fortunately this situation was rectified, and the reissue of Odds And Sods doubles the length and arranges the tracks in chronological order, and while it's still hardly a classic it can at least function as a fascinating career retrospective for the band.
While there's a profound dearth of substance on the album it's filled with historical curiosities, even containing tracks that go back to the band's days as the High Numbers with their mod anthem I'm The Face. Most of the early tracks on the album are rather lightweight fare, but they're still entertaining given their historical context.
Unfortunately more of the tracks are 'interesting' than 'good.' The studio cuts of Summertime Blues and Young Man Blues are pale shadows of their live counterparts, while the group's ill advised cover of Under My Thumb ostensibly butchers the Stones' original.
While most of the tracks are outtakes for good reason, there are at least a modicum of forgotten gems interspersed with the filler. Many of the best tracks are predictably enough culled from the Lifehouse sessions, with the highlights including the band's obligatory celebration of rock and roll Long Live Rock and the studio version of one of the group's best songs, the excellent rocker Naked Eye that had previously only been available in its live format. A cut of Water is also present, but it's vastly inferior to the live renditions of it.
While few tracks on the album are actively bad, it simply lacks compelling material. While initially intriguing for historical reasons, on subsequent listens one's interest will wane and be replaced with mere apathy. There are other good tracks, but they're divided by too much average to mediocre padding that prevents the album from ever getting into a solid groove. From Entwistle's poor song Postcard to Townshend's egregious lapse of taste (qualitatively speaking, that is) Now I'm A Farmer the album simply features too many disappointments, making for a highly erratic listen.
In the long run, the album contains enough good tracks and sufficient historical importance to make for an easy recommendation for hardcore Who fans, but those who anticipate a collection of forgotten gems and thrilling surprises will be sorely disappointed. Odds And Sods is a solid entry in the band's discography, but more often than not it can be a frustrating experience, burdened with a surplus of filler that prevents the album from cultivating much momentum at any given point. Ergo don't go into this album with high expectations, or you'll invariably be disappointed by the overall product.
Around the time of this album Townshend suffered one of his myriad emotional breakdowns. While some rock artists thrive in times of emotional turmoil, Townshend's inner angst was evidently not terribly conducive to quality songwriting, resulting in an album where the melodies tend to be either rudimentary at best or absent altogether, with the focus on venting his feelings without adapting them to a musically strong context or structure.
It would be hard for any band to pen a follow up to an album of the stature of Quadrophenia, but The Who By Numbers fails to even try, with Townshend succumbing to the alluring temptation of simply wallowing in his melancholia for the duration of the album with little thought to melodies or hooks.
Not all of the tracks are poor, as Squeeze Box is at least amusing and Dreaming From The Waist and a few other songs are decent enough, and nothing on the album can be termed outright offensive, but the album remains an ultimately tedious experience, producing track after track that are devoid of compelling hooks or creative musical ideas, relying solely on Townshend's intimate but monotonous lyrics.
Even the live bonus tracks offer little of merit, and certainly don't redeem the album from its lackluster position in the band discography.
It's amazing that after such an incredible quality streak a group could go so badly awry, but the album is simply sabotaged by Townshend's refusal to contribute strong melodies or hooks. Townshend was undeniably the visionary of the band, and without him being in top form the band is incapable of salvaging the effluvia he provides. Everything in the group centered around his songwriting genius, and without this the band is condemned to wallow in mediocrity.
The Who By Numbers was the first substandard offering from the band, proof that the quality of the group's material was directly dictated by the emotional condition of Townshend at the time of recording. While Entwistle, Moon and Daltrey were hugely important with regards to the band's sound, they were dependent on Townshend to provide strong material for them to perform. Sadly on this album they're given little to work with, a handful of decent tracks and a plethora of fillerish throwaways. Even Entwistle's sole contribution to the album, Success Story, doesn't amount to much, displaying the impotence of Townshend's fellow members to greatly impact the quality of an album on which he's in poor form.
Perhaps whatever mental malady that had afflicted Townshend during the Who By Numbers sessions had subsided, but at any rate Who Are You was a true return to form, and the last great album from the band. In contrast to the seemingly limitless padding that had diluted The Who By Numbers, Who Are You is bereft of filler, as even tracks like Guitar And Pen, with its irritating style of showtunes inspired delivery, is extremely catchy and infectious.
Perhaps to compensate for his lackluster showing on the previous album, Entwistle contributes a trio of strong selections, from the hard rocker Trick Of The Light on which he attempts to ascertain his sexual prowess to the charming 905 that was intended to be part of the soundtrack of a sci/fi film that he'd been recruited to score to the overorchestrated but still enjoyable Had Enough.
In the long run, however, it's Townshend who makes this album great, with a renewed and rejuvenated capacity for strong songwriting. From his contemptuous eulogy to the disco scene (Sister Disco) to the classic rocker Who Are You, Townshend pens a plethora of catchy melodies, with none of the bland primitivism that characterized his prior outing.
There's a solid assortment of bonus tracks as well, including what would become the title track for Townshend's first solo outing, Empty Glass.
Overall Who Are You is the best that one could hope for from the Who at this late stage in their career, filled with memorable hooks and catchy melodies. From the pretty ballad Love Is Coming Down to the jazzy rocker Music Must Change to the catchy opener New Song each track is imbued with a unique personality and melody, a huge relief after the banal, nondescript songs that populated their previous album.
Regardless of what emotional state of Townshend's this album was derived from, it's a true surprise and treat for fans who had given up on the Who after The Who By Numbers. Just as that album had proven that the band could only conjure a poor listening experience when Townshend was in poor form, Who Are You proves that the band can only produce great material when he's in good condition.
This isn't meant to minimize the importance of the other members. Entwistle is, as always, incredible on the bass, while Daltrey roars with the ferocity one's come to expect from him. As for Moon, who died shortly after the recording of this album, his performance on this album is often denigrated, with fans claiming that he's only a pale shadow of his former self due to his rampant drug use that had finally caught up with him after years of addiction. I find this assertion to be overly harsh, as, while he's certainly not at peak condition he remains a great drummer, and the loss of him would proceed to hurt the band badly.
For now, however, everyone is in great form, and the result is an excellent album from a band from whom no one had expected any more excellent albums.
The soundtrack for a much beloved rock-umentary about the band, The Kids Are Alright, much like Live At Leeds (though admittedly to a lesser extent), has greatly benefited from its most recent reissue. While the record label failed to address the issue of the album's irksome overlap with older Who releases, they have thankfully reintroduced several brilliant tracks that for some mystifying reason were excised from the initial CD print of the soundtrack. The restoration of these numbers has greatly elevated the overall quality of an already strong album and placated the hardcore Who fans who felt personally antagonized by, amongst other things, the soundtrack's lack of the classic Join Together/Roadrunner/My Generation Blues medley, a suite that managed, despite its presence on both the film and the first run of the album, to evade release on the first CD edition of the soundtrack.
As I alluded to before, however, there remains the issue of the soundtrack's regrettable overlap with prior official Who outings; the presence of the Leeds cut of Happy Jack is understandable given that the initial release of Live At Leeds lacked that number, but less forgivable are Long Live Rock, which is readily available on the rarities compilation Odds And Sods, and even more so I Can See For Miles, which any Who fan already owns on the incomparable The Who Sell Out. At least the studio version of Magic Bus was relegated to greatest-hits-pack-only status, rendering its presence here welcome if perplexing. The other overlapping songs, however, do pose a serious problem, one that, given its continued presence on the newest reissue, the record execs are apparently blithely oblivious to, making no visible effort to correct the unfortunate situation.
Fortunately this is the only major flaw when it comes to The Kids Are Alright, and one that can be easily overlooked given the caliber of the material on the soundtrack. The remaining content is all exclusive to the album, and these tracks are nearly uniformly excellent, or at the very least quite entertaining.
The album opens with a brief clip of the band introducing themselves (rather sardonically at that) on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which immediately segues into a by-the-numbers yet still enjoyable rendition of My Generation. Also culled from the group's early period are a solid live cut of I Can't Explain (marred only by the inevitable screaming girls obstructing the music) and an eye-opening live performance of Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere which, despite its poor sound quality (or perhaps because), transfigures the innocuous pop song into an infectious sludge-rocker that rocked far harder than nearly any other track from that era.
One may question the need for yet another live rendition of Young Man Blues given the high caliber of both the Leeds and Isle Of Wight versions but, in addition to discovering the perfect guitar tone on this go-round, Townshend was a sufficiently gifted guitarist that each variation can stand on its own as a terrific and unique aural experience. Townshend is in rare form with his incredible manic soloing, and he manages to once again find new interpretations to draw from what was apparently one of his favorite foundations for his classic blues-rock guitarwork.
The live performance of Entwistle's classic My Wife on the album has often been lambasted for its horrific sloppiness and correspondingly chaotic nature but, while those are perfectly legitimate gripes (and perhaps more valid than any argument in favor of the track), I actually find that those flaws make the song all the more charming. A technically immaculate rendition would, of course, be preferable, but as it stands, warts and all, I find the track to be highly entertaining and have never once been tempted to skip it during a listening session with the soundtrack.
The version of A Quick One, While He's Away is also quite strong, but I prefer the Leeds performance wherein the group seemed to be transparently enjoying themselves while working their way through the miniature rock opera. Nonetheless this is another quality rendition of a criminally underrated track that only seems to truly come to life when performed on the stage (though I do also highly enjoy the studio cut despite its relative inferiority to the live interpretations).
A definite highlight on the album is a trio of Tommy tracks from the band's legendary Woodstock performances. Sparks is simply incredible, with Townshend accomplishing live what few guitarists could achieve with the aid of studio trickery and overdubs. Pinball Wizard is also deftly handled, but pales in comparison to the brilliant rendition of See Me, Feel Me which sounds even more tender and gorgeous on the stage than it did in the studio, a truly sweeping, majestic anthem that can't help but move even the most jaded of listeners.
One track, however, should prove sufficient to inspire even people who already own the soundtrack to purchase the reissue, and that's the previously mentioned Join Together/Roadrunner/My Generation Blues suite. Filled with brilliant guitarwork and creative twists on old staples the medley is truly like nothing else, the kind of unforgettable rock experience that only transpires for a few moments on stage when everything gels to create rock and roll perfection. Such moments are seldom captured on tape, and I'm thankful not only that this performance was recorded but also that the record company came to their senses and acquiesced to the fans' demand for the number to be included on the album.
The zenith of the album, however, comes in the form of the only two tracks present that were performed specifically for the film/soundtrack. These two tracks are both derived from the seminal album Who's Next, an LP that wasn't released in time for its material to end up on the band's more well known live releases. Both tracks come across brilliantly in this context; Baba O'Riley benefits from some additional live energy and more adventurous guitarwork than was featured in the original, while Won't Get Fooled Again manages to sound even more epic and anthemic than the brilliant original. Daltrey's roar somehow eclipses his comparatively timid shout on the studio version, a seemingly impossible feat that likely did irreparable damage to his larynx. These are the definitive versions of the two tracks, a huge statement given the high quality of the studio versions.
Thus The Kids Are Alright is a necessary purchase for any fan of The Who. The overlap with past releases is grating but is easily compensated for by the stellar quality of the previously unreleased tracks, as the live material contained herein rivals the best numbers of Live At Leeds and Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 for sheer musicianship and melodic grandeur. Thus the album takes its rightful place beside those two immortal classics, further reinforcing the oft espoused notion that The Who truly were the greatest live band of all time.
Before addressing the issue of quality with regards to Face Dances, the question invariably arises as to whether or not it was right to continue on under the Who moniker after the demise of Keith Moon.
In response to this query, I would say that if the band still had something to say as a unit then by all means they should leave the group intact and carry on as the Who. However, as it pertains to this album it appears that the band had very little to say at all, and given that Townshend had already commenced his solo career it's difficult to find a way to justify this album's existence.
Like its vastly superior predecessor Who Are You, the sound of Face Dances is dominated by synths. However, whereas Who Are You employed synth arrangements in a rock context, Face Dances predominantly focuses on the pop end of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, this merely exposes the fact that Townshend has once more lost his aptitude for strong songwriting, resulting in a parade of pop songs with little in the way of hooks with which to distinguish them from one another.
Entwistle was similarly afflicted with a case of creative stagnation, as while his two contributions to the album, The Quiet One and You, rock convincingly, they do little else of note.
There are certainly a few decent tracks, such as the pre-bonus tracks closer Another Tricky Day, and nothing on the LP is terribly offensive, but the album is devoid of any true classics. Its one hit, the pop tune You Better You Bet, is simply banal and familiar, hardly a stellar romantic anthem with which to elevate the quality of the overall album.
Ultimately Face Dances is an album that had no reason to be made. It was clear that Townshend was primarily focusing on his solo career, simply exploiting the marquee name of the Who to educe some extra funds from his old fans. His songwriting on the album is generally mediocre, and stylistically the LP treads far too close to the realm of generic synth pop for comfort. While this may have been prescient, it's far beneath what the band was capable of, and thoroughly compromises their old identity.
In all, one wouldn't expect a classic from a band on their last legs, but neither would they expect an artistic misstep of this magnitude. Townshend and Entwistle are in poor form with regards to songwriting, Daltrey has a tangibly uncomfortable time providing vocals for an album with such a dearth of rock tracks for him to showcase his patented roar on, and the erstwhile Faces drummer Kenney Jones had difficulty measuring up to the incomparable standards of Keith Moon.
Ergo it seems it would have been for the best for the group to simply disband after the loss of Moon. Faces Dances doesn't sound like a Who album, not due to an imaginative shift in artistic direction but simply as a result of the band's deteriorating songwriting faculties. Face Dances adds nothing to the Who's legacy, merely coming off as a quick way to earn some extra cash by prostituting the name of one of the greatest rock outfits in the history of the business.
One would have thought that after the debacle that was Face Dances the band would have seen the wisdom in early retirement; this was not to be, however, as the group felt compelled to crank out another album, an even poorer swansong for the Who than its predecessor would have been.
Townshend's aptitude for songwriting had nearly atrophied, as there's only a solitary classic on the album, the rocker Eminence Front, a track that easily surpasses any song derived from either Face Dances or It's Hard.
Eminence Front is in the minority, however, as the remainder of the songs are at best mediocre and at worst atrocious. Entwistle does little to ameliorate the situation, penning three tracks (It's Your Turn, Dangerous and One At A Time) that fail to betray the talent that the Ox used to possess as a songwriter.
Townshend's tracks fare no better, as they're riddled with poor melodies and a profound dearth of hooks. Whether this is due to him being more committed to his solo career or a simple erosion of his songwriting talent is unclear, but the product is a procession of bland, generic and thoroughly uninteresting rock songs.
It's Hard is simply the nadir of the Who's discography, a misbegotten project that lacks nearly everything that made the band great while demonstrating the group's worst excesses. Even the performances are flawed, as Daltrey appears to have difficulty adapting his signature vocal style to the material on the album, while the void that Moon's demise left continues to have deleterious effects on the final product (not that his replacement is bad per se, he merely can't measure up to his predecessor's drumming genius).
In the long run It's Hard is another Who album that simply has no reason to exist. While Eminence Front is certainly a great song, given that Townshend himself provides the vocals for it it could just as easily fit onto one of his solo ventures. None of the remaining tracks do justice to the Who's name, trampling on the band's once immaculate image. The group could simply no longer sustain the level of quality that once came effortlessly to them, resulting in an album that fails to capture what once made the Who one of the greatest rock outfits of all time.
When the Who persevered with touring and recording albums in the wake of Moon's unfortunate demise their fanbase was relatively tolerant, acknowledging that the core of the band remained, largely, intact; however, a Townshend/Daltrey collaboration professing to be the Who is a bit more problematic, not only due to the inherent bad taste of such a matter but likewise due to the sheer absurdity that these two individuals alone constitute the Who.
Keith Moon was one of the quintessential rock and roll drummers, while the Ox was not only one of the finest bassists in the genre but was also a major creative force in the band, penning classics such as My Wife, Heaven And Hell and Boris The Spider. When stripped of their instrumental and creative presence and reduced to Townshend and Daltrey alone the surviving entity can't rightly be called the Who, and this masquerade has raised the ire of many a fan of the legendary group.
Nonetheless this heresy is diluted by the fact that Endless Wire is a far better swansong than the debacle that was It's Hard; it's even sufficiently good that I wouldn't have a problem if the record didn't turn out to be the band's last providing they're able to sustain this level of quality over the course of their subsequent work.
While not a masterpiece Endless Wire is a highly enjoyable affair, and a conscious attempt to restore some of the Who magic that their late work was bereft of or, at the very least, to provide some entertaining nostalgia for longtime fans. To this end the album opens with a deliberate evocation of the band's past, as the group lifts the famous synth introduction of Baba O'Riley before segueing into Fragments, a decent anthem of the brand that the Who had been incapable of producing on some of their later work. While this self-referential gimmick primarily serves to remind their audience that the product they're listening to can't even approach the Who's past triumphs, it's still a nice wink for hardcore fans, enough to elicit a smile from even the most jaded followers of the group (Unfortunately this trick isn't quite as successful when it's subsequently repeated on the reprise of Fragments, a headache inducing cacophonous mess that sabotages any good will the song initially cultivated with its abrasive dissonance).
Another respect in which the album hearkens back to the band's golden age is evident just by looking at the track listing, as the record's bifurcated into two sections, the first being a traditional collection of songs with the latter being a mini-opera. While Townshend had certainly composed a plethora of rock operas over the course of his erratic solo career, it had been a long time since the Who had ventured into that territory, and it's apparent that the concept album is supposed to conjure memories of Tommy and Quadrophenia as opposed to later, less revered projects like Psychoderelict.
Wire & Glass (the title of the mini-opera) is hardly on the same level as those prior classics; aspects of it seem to be lifted from other sources (the premise of one section, revolving around three childhood friends and the vastly different courses their lives take, recalls concept albums like the Jam's Setting Sons and Gentle Giant's Three Friends, while the tirade against the music industry is a plot that's long been abused throughout the history of concept albums, from the Kinks' Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround Part One to many of Townshend's old material, both with and without the Who) and its story doesn't really hold up to intense scrutiny, being rather rudimentary and banal, but it's still an eminently worthwhile listen and it's nice to see ambition of this magnitude still being practiced in this day and age.
As is inevitably the case, however, the quality of the album centers around the caliber of the songs, and in this regard Endless Wire is rather impressive, if a tad inconsistent. Mike Post Theme, one of the album's best cuts, is an irresistible rocker, as is the bitter and ferocious It's Not Enough.
In addition to those highlights culled from the concept-free portion of the album there are myriad strong points contained in the mini opera as well. The title track is quite pretty if far shorter than the listener would desire, but fortunately the band anticipated this problem and rectified it by offering an extended version as a bonus tracks on some editions of the album. Elsewhere Sound Round and Pick Up The Peace are great bursts of raw, unadulterated energy, with each one lasting less than ninety seconds. We Got A Hit is decent if unspectacular, though Townshend must not share that assessment as evidently he felt the track merited an extended cut to be placed alongside the elongated rendition of the title track.
As I'd alluded to earlier, however, the album harbors some erratic tendencies. A Man In A Purple Dress is simplistic from both a musical and a lyrical standpoint; what should be a scathing indictment of organized religion comes across as more of an angry rant voiced by a mildly precocious teenager, with some lyrics that are so awkward that they're downright embarrassing. For some reason this heavy-handed, musically primitive (presumably intended to be strikingly minimalistic) diatribe is often selected as a highlight, but there have been a plethora of far more effective anti-religion songs that made the same points far more gracefully.
Many of the tracks are somewhat pleasant but ultimately bland and nondescript; In The Ether differentiates itself from the others with Daltrey's attempt to imitate Tom Waits' vocal delivery but, despite the novelty of the concept, it still suffers from the same blandness that afflicts numbers like You Stand By Me and Unholy Trinity.
As for the performances, Moon and Entwhistles' replacements are perfectly competent if unspectacular, but Townshend and Daltrey are still in good form. Townshend's playing is always impressive, be it on a mandolin, banjo, violin or his trusty guitar, while Dalrey compensates for the toll the years have taken on his voice with a more versatile, nuanced and subtle performance than one would usually expect of him. He's retained much of his vocal power, and when married to his maturation as a singer he proves himself to be just as impressive a vocalist as he was in the golden age of the group's existence.
On an interesting historical note the album features some of the final sessions of Billy Preston's career, as he perished shortly after the record's completion. As always he was a great asset on the proceedings, and while he doesn't play a pivotal role on the album it's still a fitting end for his legendary career.
Ultimately Endless Wire is a solid listen, boasting some stellar tracks that generally eclipse the inoffensive but tedious filler. Whether or not it's a true Who album is debatable, but it's certainly more worthy of the band's name than some of their later, more dubious output. Townshend's songwriting, especially for so late a stage in his career, is quite impressive, and standout songs like Mike Post Theme, Endless Wire and It's Not Enough rank amongst the best material he's produced in quite some time (though given the quality of some of his recent solo endeavors that's not a hugely laudatory statement).
The album may not fulfill all of its ambitions; the quality of the songs is certainly uneven, and the mini-opera, while containing a number of strong tracks, is far from a major artistic triumph and comes across as Townshend desperately attempting to recreate his past glories with little chance of success. Nevertheless the high quality of much of the album's content shows through, resulting in a product that, while riddled with imperfections, is at least far from a stain on the band's good name, offering no moments of transcendent greatness but certainly more than enough instances of true, untarnished entertainment.