It had been three years since The Who realeased their last album, and the amount of tours they were doing were dwindling each year. Keith Moon, rock ‘n roll madman, had lived such a rock ‘n roll lifestyle that it was taking a toll on him: mentally, physically, and even in his playing. However, one more album had to be made, and it was made.
This album was very different than other Who material (described during the song by song breakdown). It is also the last Who album that has Keith Moon behind the drumset. Around the time of the album’s release, Moon died by an overdose of drugs that would help in cope with his alchoholism. In yet another irony, on the album cover of Who Are You, Moon is sitting on a chair that reads “Not to be taken away.”
This is Moon’s farewell album, yet he doesn’t shine anywhere near like he used to, until the final track where he gives it his all. However, in this CD issue, there are numerous bonus tracks that follow the title song, which on the original vinyl release was the last song.
This song reminds me of a 70s TV show theme song at some parts. Synthesizers dominate the track, and even though Entwistle does lay a nifty bass track, the guitar and drum work seems mediocre compared to regular Who standards. A good song to open the album, considering what the rest of the album is like. The half-time sections are highlights of this sub-par tune.
Even though it maintains the 70s synthesizer feel of New Song, this song has more of The Who feel to it. It feels more intense, has better playing by Moon, but still seems cheezy and dated. The middle section between verses again feels like a TV show theme song, probably reinforced by the strings.
Finally there’s some synthesizer action that sounds cool. An Entwistle tune, this song completly overshadows its predescors, and has a cool rock ‘n roll feel lacking in the previous two songs. ven though its more simplistic instrumentally, the overall feel just makes me bob my head constantly. The vocals (which sound like Entwistle’s) are better then what Daltry has provided thus far on the album.
The Who + Disco = Somewhat okay, but should never be done. Even though its still better then many other songs of the era, it just isn’t good material in comparison to past albums. Synthesizers and strings completly dominate this tune over Who instrumentation. The bass and drums feel flat in this song, but Daltry does provide some good vocal work.
Music Must Change
A cool bluesy groove is established at the beginning, reinforced by some smooth vocals. Synthesizers don’t come in for quite some time, and don’t distract. Despite not being as powerful as earlier songs on this album, its an overall decent tune.
Trick of the Light
Probably the most out of place song on the album, and that’s a good thing. Trick of the Light is easily the best song on the album, and I believe one of the greatest Who songs of all time. Its driving, energetic, has awesome guitar, drum, bass, and vocal work, and features Entwistle playing a distorted 8 string bass that provides the sweet riff that appears throughout the song. Odd how the two best songs on the album are Entwistle’s compositions.
Guitar and Pen
A very smooth melodic introduction transfers into an upbeat verse. For once Townshend does some guitar work that actually stands out. Not as much synthesizer as in other songs; the instrumentation is emphasized more on piano and guitar. Even though the beginning seems sub-par to me, as well as the chorus, the rest of the song is actually pretty decent.
Love is Coming Down
I believe that complex string orchestration and The Who shouldn’t really mix. The intro and verse has good chord changes and outstanding Daltry vocals, but the strings distract me from the rest of the song.
Who Are You
The title track of this mediocre album is in no way medicore. You might have heard this song on Gateway commercials about 5 years ago, or as the theme song for the original CSI. Finally Townshend has done something right on this album, and I believe this is one of the better Who songs in their entire discography. Its well composed, has multiple, differing sections, good balance of synthesizer and guitar work, and one of the best Moon drum tracks of all time. Great vocal work by all 3 singers, but my only beef is that Entwistle doesn’t shine as much as he should on a song of this calibre. But otherwise great song.
No Road Romance
A ballad emphasizing on piano and what I think are Townshend’s vocals. Not typical Who material, but decent nevertheless. Virtually non-existant drums, some kinda cool bass slides, but no special contributions from the other members. In fact, I just read the booklet, and its pretty much a Townshend demo with his overdubs.
This is another Townshend demo (later recorded for his solo albums) with overdubs by Moon and Entwistle. Townshend’s vocals are pretty weak on this song, and other than the bass guitar work throughout, including the harmonics in the intro, this is another weak song.
Guitar and Pen (alternate mix)
Practically the same song as before, but with much more prominent guitar work. Sometimes the guitar seems to be overbearing on the vocals, but I think that the added boost in the guitar track makes this mix a better version.
Love is Coming Down (early mix)
A cut made early in the mixing process. Slight differences here and there, but nothing of substantial difference to the rest of the song.
Who Are You (different 2nd verse)
The same exact song with a different 2nd verse. Frankly it doesn’t make a difference to me, so I won’t rate this version.
OVERALL: Who Are You has not aged well. Even the older mod era Who of the mid 60s sounds more modern than most the material on this record. For a fan of that 70s disco, synthesizer-laced sound, this is probably the best record you can have in your collection. For your typical classic rock fan, you might not get into it at all, but at least there are some rocking songs on here that would suit your tastes. A definite album for any avid Who fan, but you should probably pick up their earlier albums first before you invest your money in this. If you want to get into The Who, this is not a good gateway album.
Some really rocking tracks (Trick of the Light, Who Are You, 905)
Entwistle really shines as a composer
Very different sound, not regurgetated Who material
The bonus track demos are weak
Very dated sound
Almost over-produced with strings, horns, and synthesizers
Moon’s performance is very substandard throughout (with the exception of the title track)
If we talk of controversial albums as those that run the biggest gamut between ‘beloved’ and ‘despised’, Who Are You is certainly a worthy candidate for the most controversial Who album ever recorded, as its evaluation varies from ‘magnificent, fully confident and profound return to form’ to ‘tired rehashing of past glories with the band dying out more and more on every following track’. Now while I usually straddle the fence in such cases, Who Are You is one of those cases where I’d rather be agreeing with the former camp. If you ask me (though why should you), this album shows that these guys can have personal problems and write great music all in one time.
Yes, Pete has returned to his deeply treasured synthesizers again, but this time, his synthesizers probably said something nice to him, so he suddenly came up with a patch of beautiful musical ideas just when nobody was probably expecting anything else out of him. While there are no gorgeous synth landscapes of the Quad type any more, Pete is still the master of ‘creative loops’ and ‘epic panoramas’. It’s not that this album is good from head to toe, mind you. A couple of tracks still seem incredibly dull: ‘Love Is Coming Down’, for instance, is a major stinker, a rather unconvincing ballad which suggests that love was not the only thing coming down at the time. Sloppy and diluted, and pompous at the same time, I would have expected a song like that to come from Billy Joel, or a particularly uninspired Elton John, at least; what happened to the tight and precise memorable balladeering melodies of old?
Some other tracks have strange moments of dumbness – ‘905’, for instance, an Entwistle sci-fi tale of a robot which was intended for a soundtrack and it should have stayed right there, ‘cos it sounds like belonging to a fantasy movie and not to a Who album, or the Gilbert and Sullivan parody ‘Guitar And Pen’, even though the latter does feature Daltrey quite prominently and has an overall nice melody. Rid it of the corny falsetto ‘your guitar and your pen, your guitar and your pen’ chorus and you might just have something there. Even so, only ‘Love Is Coming Down’ is a definite stinker, as the melodies on these other two songs are still way too good for me to bash ’em into the Panzer tank.
But the rest is a definite upgrade (update? upstate?) from By Numbers, in so many senses: songs where Pete basically comes to his senses and preserves the pessimistic, depressed spirit of that record, but adds batches of memorable riffs and choruses and a couple exciting gimmicks along the way. Near-perfect balance, people! The title track is an absolute Who classic which is not that banal, by the way, considering they didn’t have no classics since Quad, and that was already five years ago. You know what the lyrics relate to, don’t you? It’s all about Pete’s unhappy encounter with the police after a particularly rowdy night at some club or bar where he’d been said to encounter a couple Sex Pistols members… Spooky.
And don’t forget ‘Sister Disco’ which isn’t an epithet for Donna Summer but is rather a rude name for braindead fans. (Ooh, I can relate, ooh can I relate now! Please let me relate, let me relate, let me relate!) And what about ‘Music Must Change’ – a creepy little jazzy tune on which Keith couldn’t play drums because it had too unusual a tempo (although, to be frank, I don’t think that tempo is that complicated – maybe Keith was just seriously stoned on the day of recording?), so they had to record Pete’s footsteps instead? Note, though, that Kenney Jones mastered it quite well in concert; be sure to check out the live version on 30 Years of Maximum R’n’B, almost entirely different from the studio one – rowdier, mightier and with a powerful instrumental midsection that comes about as close to imitating a ‘musical thunderstorm’ as the Who ever did.
And Entwistle’s two other contributions are probably the last good songs he ever wrote, and I do mean both the overorchestrated ‘Had Enough’ and the overmetallized ‘Trick Of The Light’. Where’s that black humour, though? Instead of these jolly spiders and old misers and whiskey people and pervert uncles we get a robot and a guy trying to find out how good he is in bed. Berk! The only master of black humour in rock, and he threw it all away. Come to think of it, I don’t think black humour is that prominent in rock music. It’s either bright humour or no humour at all. Maybe they should start to put limericks to rock music? Why not? Oh, well, sorry for digressing, I just wanted to finish this little review of mine by saying that this was the last album they ever did with Moon. SPECIAL NOTE FOR ALL THE FREEDOM-LOVING PEOPLE: Keith Moon died of an overdose of sleeping pills, whether intentional or accidental, nobody is sure (just like nobody is sure about Hendrix or Morrison). Please don’t spread the rumour that he choked on his vomit or drowned in a swimming-pool. You might get arrested for slander. And don’t say I didn’t warn ya!
Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you, actually, why this album is better than the previous one. It’s because Pete bothered to write some melodies and managed to stay away from at least some of his personal problems, concentrating more on the general philosophic state of things. You know, the usual stuff people begin meditating about when they enter the mid-life period: where are we heading to, what’s gonna happen to our musical legacy, what’s the meaning of life in general. But then again, where would we be without Pete’s personal problems? We wouldn’t have no It’s Hard, that’s for sure!
The more recent CD re-issue has a bunch of bonus tracks that are nice, but not particularly classic: ‘No Road Romance’ is a very complaintive, humane ballad with Pete taking lead vocals, but I’ve never been a great fan of Pete’s title track to his solo album Empty Glass, and this group version doesn’t look any more prominent to me, although the choice of instrumentation, with that crazy phased rhythm track, can be seductive. You also get alternate mixes of ‘Love Is Coming Down’ and ‘Guitar And Pen’ (the weakest tracks! go figure!), and a special ‘lost verse mix’ of ‘Who Are You’ – featuring a ‘lost verse’, sure enough. Important for completists, but casual fans might just stick to their old vinyl versions if they have ’em.