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Album Review: The Who - 'Who'

Daltrey and Townshend don't have much to show for first Who album in 14 years.

By Anthony NastiPublished 4 years ago 3 min read

Despite their many accolades over the years, The Who occupy a somewhat curious place in the rock and roll realm. There is no doubt that at least three of their albums (Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia) are among the best rock and roll albums of all time, or that songs like "Pinball Wizard," "Won't Get Fooled Again," and "My Generation" are indisputable classics, or that guitarist Pete Townshend is one of rock's most revolutionary players and songwriters, and vocalist Roger Daltrey one of its most powerful singers.

Still, they don't seem to have the ubiquitous recognition or continuing relevance of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, among others. The Who aren't able to sell out mega-stadiums or score chart topping albums like Sir Paul McCartney or the Stones. While this may seem curious at first, a quick look at their overall history reveals why: for nearly 40 years, The Who have done precious little to add to their legacy.

To find the last truly great song they ever did, one has to go back to 1981's "Eminence Front" from the otherwise subpar It's Hard. Before that, their last great full album was 1975's The Who by Numbers (though 1978's Who Are You? has its fans, as well as one of their most enduring anthems in the title track). Since their initial farewell tour in 1982, The Who have put out two albums in the last 37 years, 2005's "Endless Wire" and this, their self titled probable swan song. That means they went 23 years without new material, and then another 14. During that time, they toured sporadically every five or six years before fully reuniting in 1999, and touring consistently since the death of original bassist Jon Entwistle in 2002. They've mostly trotted out their old hits, quickly casting any new material to the side in favor of capitalizing on their past glories, such as touring entirely on the concept of playing Quadrophenia in full back in 2012, or their 50th anniversary tour which was a 'greatest hits' run in its most pure definition. Why now, in 2019, do Daltrey and Townshend feel the need to suddenly come out with new material, and more importantly, what does it have to offer to their history?

The answer, unfortunately, is not much; while there are some surprisingly fresh and memorable moments peppered on Who, the album ultimately peters out into forgettable territory just as it starts gaining some steam.

The album's opening cut and second single, "All This Music Must Fade," actually really gave me hope for the album; it's never going to be a showstopper, but it's a solid Who rocker with Townshend's signature wit and cynicism on display in the lyrics, and a crisp, powerful vocal from Daltrey (though those who've seen them live recently know that he is not nearly as robust as he sounds here). The next several songs all have something going from them, especially the reflective and rebellious "I Don't Wanna Get Wise" and the catchy, "Magic Bus"-esque "Detour," but things hit a wall with Townshend's too long and too weird spiritual love song, "I'll Be Back," which combines Stevie Wonder R&B complete with harmonica with musings on reincarnation and other existential subjects that don't do anything to create a consistent or coherent picture. "Break the News," "Street Song," and "Rockin' in Rage" sound like a lesser band trying to do their own Who song, and "She Rocked My World" is an embarrassment, with bizarre foray into bossa nova and a vocal that sounds like Daltrey recorded while having been awake for about three minutes. The album's closer, "Danny and My Ponies," is an undynamic snorefest that may likely close out the band's career.

Production wise, Who is ambitious and sprawling, with samples, electronic loops, sweeping orchestras, and other hallmarks of Townshend's versatile sensibilities and never ending search for new sounds, and it's a shame that the songs themselves don't match up to the impressive aural landscapes they occupy; with stronger lyrics, a coherent theme and perhaps a bit more commitment from both Townshend and Daltrey in all areas, Who could have really seen the band go out on a high note (it's not confirmed that this is their last album, but let's face it, their track record when it comes to churning new releases isn't promising), however it instead continues the trend of depressingly uninspired releases, sporadic as they are, that has plagued the band since they lost Keith Moon.

To quote a previously referenced fellow set of septuagenarians still making music, "what a drag it is getting old" indeed.

album reviews

About the Creator

Anthony Nasti

Aspiring music journalist, occasional dreamer. Searching for the secret looking for the sound.

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