Thursday 12 December 2019

The Who - Who

13 years after the last release, The Who (or 50% of them) return with a new album.
2006s 'Endless Wire' was (at best) OK - it got a bit bogged down in the Concept/Mini-Opera attempt, and a couple of good songs were lumped in with a fair few so-so tracks.  And the performance and delivery felt a bit half-hearted.
No problem this time round - their sounding refreshed, even valid.  OK, there is a little bit of a "looking back at the glory days tone" but Pete is writing some good songs, and Roger's vocals are just as powerful as ever.
Replacing the missing 50% of The Who are long time band members Zak Strakey and Pino Palladino (on the majority of tracks) plus hired hands ably filling the void.

There have been many reviews suggesting this album is their best since the mid-70s.  The true reference here was "their best since Quadrophenia".  Personally, I think that is unfair to 'Who By Numbers'.  But if we must make back catalogue comparisons, I would say it is the equal (if not better) than "Who Are You', and certainly better than the post-Moon outings (Sorry, Kenney Jones)

Pete & Rog seem to have found a much more comfortable way of collaborating - one where Pete's studio ego does not take over and Roger just goes along with it (or walks out).
They must have come together at some point, but the bulk of the writing and demoing was done by the wonders of the internet.

"All This Music Must Fade" opens with a Hammond Organ drone, and than the vocal kicks in - to paraphrase Alan Partridge "Classic Who".  A slightly angry, urgent vocal with a mellower Pete Townsend counter-vocal.  Drum banging and bass burbling, acoustic guitars and power chords in equal measure.  A top start to proceedings.
"Ball and Chain" keeps the sound coming - sounding both like The Who, then not, and then settling back to The Who when Rog starts singing.
"I Don't Wanna Get Wise" has a bit of "Baba O'Riley" going on (not for the last time on this album", but yup it's The Who again.  And "Detour" gives a nod to their first name and then sounds like a re-working of "Magic Bus".
4 tracks in, their are recognisably back - maybe not to their best, but somewhere near.
"Beads On One String" is perhaps a bit wistful and moves slightly off template.  This is restored by "Hero Ground Zero" (note the string version of "Baba O'Riley" here).  It starts slowly, but I reckon this would be a killer live track.
"Street Song" is adequate and fills the gap - no pulling up trees here.
Definitely not sure about "I'll Be Back" - it's all a bit Hotel Lounge Jazz.  This is a sole Pete vocal, and I just wonder if it was on these e-mail collaborative tracks that Roger either declined, or just doesn't have the voice for.
"Break The News" tries hard, but is bogged down in a Mumford and Sons style arrangement, which just doesn't work.
After a couple of mis-steps "Rocking In Rage" almost redeems the previous tracks, even sounding like (possibly) a 'Tommy' out-take.  Plenty of strings, but with a title including the word "Rage" you just want it to explode a bit more.
The Who may have invented the "Epic Closing Track" idea - not here though, "She Rocked My World" (like "I'll Be Back") just sounds out of place on this album.
Nice enough, but sounds like it may have been a demo for a different album re-visited to fill the time.

My comparison to 'Who Are You' is based on the fact that like that album, as a whole it works.
Some very good tracks up against some (possibly) average ones.
I don't want to get all excited and 5 Star it just because it's the return The Who, but it does sit pretty well in their canon and contains at least 3 (soon to be) live staples if they keep touring
(Both Pete and Roger are in their mid-70s - health things are catching up with them - and Pete said recently that he doesn't really enjoy being on stage anymore)

But ... welcome back, and thanks for not just going through the motions, and actually delivering a fine album

"All This Music Must Fade"

"Hero Ground Zero"

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