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The Who Who’s Next (1971)

untitledFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

To put it mildly, Tommy was a huge success. Not only did it give the band greater exposure than ever before, but in the eyes of many it lifted Pete up from being a mere rock writer to a full fledged composer. Along those lines, it diversified their audience, as rich and upper-class people from all over wanted to go see “the rock opera.” Unfortunately, the success of Tommy soon became more of a burden than a benefit. Supposedly, many a new fan thought that the album was called The Who and that the group’s name was Tommy. This was a major reason for the release of Live at Leeds in 1970; the group desperately wanted to remind fans who the real Who was (loud hard-rockers). In short, Tommy had become bigger than The Who themselves, and this bothered Pete much more than it pleased him. He desperately wanted to come up with a concept album greater than Tommy in the eyes of the public.

In trying to come up with this new concept, called Lifehouse, Pete pretty much crossed the line from genius to insanity. The general storyline was that in the future, when everybody lives in virtual reality and is controlled by a Big Brother of sorts, somebody discovers that once upon a time there was something called “rock music.” Eventually, he gets a band together and they hold a concert as they try to discover the “lost chord” that will free people and bring them to a Nirvana-esque reality. So basically, it’s The Matrix crossed with rock music, with conceptual themes largely ripped off by Rush for their 2112 suite. Beyond the plot, though, Pete had the idea of the music culminating in an actual transcendent note, and to create this note using astrological and physical data (fed into a computer) of members of the audience where the band would play its shows. Naturally, neither the other band members nor the audience members had patience for this, and Townshend’s failure to make anybody else really understand his ideas helped contribute to a nervous breakdown. After he recovered, the band essentially decided to strip out the conceptual element of the sessions, and pared down what was easily a double album’s worth of material to a single album. The result was a critical and commercial smash, and one of the most beloved albums in classic rock history.

While I certainly don’t have any particular attachment to the concept of Lifehouse, I really feel that the decision to make this into a single album is the album’s greatest weakness. The first two tracks sure feel like the beginning of a big epic musical journey, and the last two tracks sure feel like the end of a big epic musical journey, but the middle feels to me like a jigsaw puzzle where you’re only given a third of the pieces. I guess the end goal was to make the middle portion as close to a representative sample of the rest of the sessions as possible, with a single allusion to the central concept courtesy of The Song is Over, but I’m not convinced they made anywhere near the best possible sampling of the available material. Plus, I can’t totally get over the idea that they’d include half of the two-track centerpiece (or so it seems) of Lifehouse, which directly QUOTES the other half, and then throw the other half (Pure and Easy) into the outtakes pile (especially when I really think it’s the better of the two, and musically near the top of the band’s catalogue, even if lyrically it’s weird and flaky). Point is, it’s very hard for me to ever think of this album as anything but a single LP teaser of the sessions (which it basically is), and it’s no coincidence that when I listen to tracks from this album, it’s almost always in the context of a larger sequencing of tracks from most of this album’s material and some of my other favorite material from the sessions (and some that wasn’t recorded until later, but was supposedly part of the original conception).

All that said, while my theoretical double album version of these sessions would fall into my overall top 5, this single album version still falls squarely in my top 40 or so. The thing that jumps out the most in listening to this is just how BIG the sound is; the band has left the days of 60’s power-pop completely behind, and in its place is an approach that’s noticably slower but also noticably thicker. As I said in the overall introduction, this is one of the quintessential 70’s classic rock albums, and that comes just as much from the dense (with layers of guitars and various keyboards piled on each other in places) arrangements as from anything else. Of course, it can be argued that, with this album, the band lost much of the charm that had made it so interesting in the first place, and some moments certainly veer a little too solidly into mid-tempo sludgey macho rock territory, but on the whole, I find this new-look “mature” Who just as interesting as the 60’s version of the band ever was.

Plus, Pete’s songwriting was still functioning at a ridiculously high level. The only track on here that I ever tend to skip is Gettin’ in Tune, and even that starts off as a very nice piano-driven ballad (and there’s something quite nice about the lines, “I get a little tired of having to say “Do you come here often?”/But when I look in your eyes and see the harmonies and the heartaches soften”). The problem with it is that, around the 1:40 mark, the pretty piano ballad basically evaporates, and in its stead comes a head-smashingly sluggish guitar-led song with Roger and Pete singing “Getting in tune with the straight and narrow” for what seems like an eternity. Yup, if there’s a single reason, circumstances surrounding Lifehouse aside, that this album could never get the mark of the band’s best work, this track is the reason.

Other than the slightly throwawyish, but still nice Love Ain’t For Keeping (it’s a two minute acoustic track here, but there’s a much better four minute version with Pete on vocals), the other “middle” tracks are all more or less terrific. The chorus to The Song is Over is ridiclously overblown, and I do feel a little silly singing along with it, but it has enough legitimate power that I sing with it nonetheless, and when it’s focused on its piano-ballad (with effective guitar for color, and a rousing solo in the middle) aspects, it’s totally ace. My Wife is a fun Entwistle-penned mid-tempo rocker, with lyrics about what he’ll need to survive now that his spouse is going to kill him, and Goin’ Mobile is an up-tempo acoustic-based rocker about, well, living in a mobile home and going wherever you please. It originally annoyed me a bit, but it adds a nice bit of hickish levity, and the combination of the nice subtle synth underpinnings and the bizarre effect Pete uses on his guitar makes it a near classic.

The bulk of the album’s reputation, though, stems from the track pairs that open and close the album, and rightly so. Baba O’Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland) has to be considered one of the great album openers in all of classic rock; from the amazing opening synth loop (that persists through the song and plays along with the rest of the band), to the three piano chords that say as much as any three chords ever have, to the lyrics that summarize Pete’s rejection of his pointlessly rebellious generation, to the fiddle-driven conclusion (Keith’s idea), it’s no wonder this became one of the band’s calling cards. Bargain may have later ended up getting used as a cheap advertising jingle (with its “I’d call it a bargain, the best I ever had, the best I ever haaaaaaaaaad” chorus), but here it’s essentially just a love song, and one of the most powerful ones I’ve ever heard. Lyrics aside, declaring that it would be worth it to do all sorts of bad things if it meant winning somebody’s love, it’s full of great, thick guitar sounds, a great synth line at the end carrying the main chord sequence while guitars are piled around it, and fantastic vocals from both Roger and Pete. Behind Blue Eyes, the album’s penultimate track, starts off as a lovely downbeat acoustic ballad, then turns into a bit of a generic arena rocker, but overall the song still holds up as a classic.

Finally, we have the album’s most infamous track, the closing Won’t Get Fooled Again, an anti-anti-establishment anthem (and a fine compliment to the similar sentiments of Baba O’Riley) that’s simply one of the greatest rock songs ever written. From the nagging synth line (which opens the song, lingers in the background the whole time and then moves to the forefront again near the end), to the slashing guitar lines, to the controlled chaos of the drumming, to Roger’s “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!” scream near the end, every bit of the song rouses, entertains and impresses the hell out of me. You know what my favorite little detail is? It comes when the main instrumentation disappears near the end, leaving the synth line by itself (with only a very quiet acoustic strumming buried in the mix); the right channel holds the upfront mix of the synth line, but what I often prefer to listen to is just the left channel, which has the very quiet “echo” of the line. That “echo” sound is INCREDIBLE, and without it the synth line would sound like listening (in general) to a 5.1 audio mix without plugging in the rear speakers. In any case, I know there are some who find it overlong, but I think it deserves every second of its 8+ minutes.

In the end, whatever complaints I might have aside, this is a totally first rate album. In the end, it has Roger putting on his first truly powerful studio performance; it has Keith with a cooler drum sound than ever; and it has Pete near the peak of his arranging and song writing prowess. And it has the guys walking away from a giant bathroom on the cover! I wonder if the “outhouse” on the cover is symbolic that the album is essentially the leftovers of “Lifehouse,” or if I’m just reading too much into it…

April 25, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next (1971)

untitledFrom sfloman.com

After Leeds Townshend was in full rock-opera mode again, but his ambitious Lifehouse project was ultimately aborted. Tensions from the sessions resulted in a falling out between Townshend and producer Kit Lambert, who had basically served as the unofficial fifth member of the band and who was a great “ideas guy.” Fortunately, producer Glyn Johns was brought on board and he did a bang up job, and Townshend’s release of the Lifehouse concept enabled him to focus on a concise all-killer, no-filler 9-track album.

The album, which many including yours truly consider the band’s best, is notable for several things. For one thing, it’s bookended by arguably the band’s two best songs ever, “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Also, Johns delivered a cleaner, more polished arena rock sound that didn’t sacrifice any of the band’s legendary power, Townshend masterfully integrated synthesizers within said full-bodied sound, and Daltrey comes of age on this album, singing not only with his usual cocksure swagger but with a tenderness as well; this album established him once and for all as one of rock music’s finest singers. As previously noted, the album starts with “Baba O’Riley,” one of the best rock anthems ever (as per usual, a “teen anthem,” Townshend’s specialty).

Just thinking about the looped synthesizer intro leading into those dramatic da-da-da piano chords pumps me up, and when Moon’s drums kick in I can’t help but play along. Amazingly, the song gets even better, Daltrey’s masterful “out here in the fields” vocals being the icing on the cake (this is where he became Rock God Roger).

Of course, Pete sings the more sensitive “don’t cry…” section before Keith kicks the song into overdrive along with Pete’s propulsive power chords before a final “teenage wasteland” chorus leads into the fast-paced drums/violin (the latter courtesy of Dave Arbus) duel that provides a scintillating climax to an all-time classic. Whew, I’m tired just writing about that one, but damn it if “Bargain” isn’t almost as great, albeit in a much more low-key way. According to Pete, “this song expresses how much of a bargain it would be to lose everything in order to be one with God,” but more important than any meaning is the song’s delivery.

You just gotta love those mournful synths, which give the song a wistful flavor, and Moon and Daltrey in particular are at the top of their game. Like several songs here, this one is part ballad, part hard rock, but few of the band’s songs have ever come together so perfectly. The short, simply strummed acoustic tune “Love Ain’t For Keeping” is also good but comparatively modest, while “My Wife” is a classic John composition, arguably his best what with its butt kicking groove (as per usual led by Keith), strong riffs, humorous lyrics (a John trademark), and even some well-placed horns.

The next few tunes are less impressive but still enjoyable: “The Song Is Over” is a bit corny perhaps but it’s still a pretty, melodic, and powerful semi-ballad, “Getting In Tune” also features Nicky Hopkins on piano and is another half-ballad, half-rocker with a catchy chorus, more commanding lead vocals from Roger along with some cute backing vocals from the others (another band trademark), and some good soloing, while “Going Mobile,” featuring Pete on lead vocals, may be a minor pop song but it’s an enjoyable effort nevertheless due to its catchy acoustic melody, some wah wah soloing from Townshend, a fun jam ending, and more effectively used synthesizers.

Lest this review get too long, suffice it to say that “Behind Blue Eyes” and especially “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are additional all-time classics, joining “Baba O’Riley” and “Bargain” but perhaps providing an even a better 1-2 punch. OK, what the hell, I have to describe these two as well. I mean, you really feel for the sad soul “Behind Blue Eyes” during the ballad parts, but then it’s air-guitar time during its blistering balls out rock section (i.e. “when my fist clenches crack it open”…), with some great fills from Moon (his specialty) and one of Daltrey’s most vulnerable vocals topping it off. Last but certainly not least is “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the progressive 8+ minute epic that inevitably provided the finale to many a concert.

The song’s most notable attributes are its haunting keyboards, Pete’s raging power chords (particularly on the intro and outro), it’s catchy chorus and political lyrics, and several solo sections, all of which lead into the greatest scream in rock history and a dramatic overall finale to rival “A Day In The Life.” Anyway, I’m not sure why I went into such detail with this review, most of you who own a radio already know most if not all of these songs, but I guess I got a bit excited. You see, this has always been and always will be one of my favorite albums, it’s the Who album I grew up with and I don’t think they ever topped it.

Although many people prefer their concise, energetic raw early singles and others cite their rock operas as the band’s most “important” contributions to rock’s evolution, I believe that not only is Who’s Next the greatest Who album, but that it’s one of the absolute peak recordings of the rock era. Simply put, this focused masterpiece showed that when The Who put it all together they were an awesome force with few equals.

April 2, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next (1971)

98zfFrom sputnikmusic.com

It is my absolute pleasure to take the time to review what is simply put, one of the greatest albums in the history of rock n roll. My name isn’t Entwistle for no good reason. The Who are my biggest influence and I’m proud to say that I was thoroughly amazed at the songwriting on this album. That’s the beauty of this band. They don’t need to put their chops in perspective in order to write great songs. They just make it happen with a flow unlike anyone I’ve heard (with the exception of VERY few other bands). Pete, John and Roger had met in Grammar school as teenagers. After John and Pete had played in Jazz band together, they joined a band where at the time, Roger was on guitar. After making the switch to vocals, Roger invited the two, as well as recruiting Keith Moon to play the drums. After a year together, the band had finally settled on a name; The Who. Enough of me preaching how good The Who are. Let’s get to the review of the album.

So, Who’s Next?

The album shifts into gear with one of its more memorable tracks. Baba O’Reilly is unlike anything I’ve heard from the band, but it’s not a bad thing at all. A toy-like synthesizer tracking let’s you know that this song stays true to its folk roots. The three note bass riff that makes this song famous follows the synths. Three notes have never been so catchy. After the ridiculously catchy bass hook, Keith’s drums and Roger’s powerful voice comes booming in. “Out here in the fields I fight for my meals. I get my back into my living.” This epic was dedicated to Pete Townshend’s spiritual advisor at the time. The powerful drum beats and fills give way to a sudden break in the music where Pete gracefully chants the lyric that everyone will hum after this song. “Don’t cry, don’t brace your eye. It’s only teenage wasteland.” At this point, the synth melody has changed to a more upbeat, major key. The hook goes on until a pretty little guitar interlude gives way to a jittery violin solo. (Live, Roger solos note for note on harmonica.) Until the tempo builds up to end the song. This was one folk masterpiece.

The CD doesn’t let up on you afterwards. We’re in for another hit off the album, Bargain is probably the lyrics that everyone knows. It starts with a mellow acoustic guitar riff until the crazy drum fill kicks into a rockin guitar and great vocals. The verses are quite short, but the choruses are what catches peoples ears. “I call it a bargain, the best I ever had.” The drums are quite nice here and the bass is wonderful. About 2 minutes in Pete starts to sing with John playing a wonderful little lick behind him and Keith pounding with his signature out of place crazy fills. The verse comes back in along with the high energy choruses. The guitar takes a tiny solo afterwards until the dynamics of the verse riff build up to release into the acoustic riff outro.

The next track, Love Aint For Keeping is a shorter, blues oriented song with a lighter feel to the acoustic/electric guitar combination. Roger’s voice is much lighter and heartier than previously. Another song that has out of control drums, and some nice guitar riffage. The length of the song kinda turns me off though. It’s too short and could’ve opened up into a great song if they had worked on it a bit more. But, it’s still okay while it lasts.

This next track is unique from all the others in the fact that the entire song was written by none other than the Ox himself. Correct, Entwistle wrote the catchy number entitled My Wife . Surprisingly, the song isn’t bass driven. It features a cool bassline, but nowhere near bass driven. The hook of the song is probably the brass showcase and the jokey lyrics of adultery. This was another good song that was cut off by time. But the brass was awesome as well as the vocal performance. Okay song, nothing too spectacular.

A drastic change of pace follows. The Song is Over seems almost like an Elton John ballad in the beginning, with the piano and Pete’s mellow voice. But after a minute and a half, Keith and Roger come thundering in, with soaring voices and wild drumming, with a deep bassline. The Elton John persona comes back after a bit, changing back and forth between tempos here and there, with Roger and Pete trade off the spotlight. The bassline is almost percussive, at how well it works with the melodies. The first lyric of the song ends this different, yet cool track.

The next recording, Getting In Tune , is very cool with mellower drumming than the other tracks and very strong voices from Mr. Daltrey. The lyrics are a bit darker and much more heartfelt. The heavier feel of the song is done very tastefully and features a great guitar performance and a counter-melody bassline. The drumming, as a result of being more grounded, keeps the groove there the entire time, which is a reason why I like the song so much. The groove doesn’t let up at all. They combination of drum fills, guitar soloing, and keyboard winding is very cool while Roger wails the title. Awesome song.

Another bluesy song, Going Mobile follows up. This song features Pete singing all the way through and a nice clean electric/acoustic guitar blend of riffing patterns during the verses. It also features some experimenting with effects on guitar in some parts. You can hear the wah and filters buzzing during the quiet interludes. This song seems to have gotten it’s origin from the do-whop era in the late 50’s and the classic oldies. Another thing you may notice is how the drumming is relentless. It’s kinda weird. Calm song, crazy drumming. However, it seems to work well. Another cool, diverse song.

These next two songs are probably the best, as well as most famous songs on the album, beginning with this hit single, Behind Blue Eyes . If you haven’t heard this song, you were most likely born yesterday. It was a great song that was torn to shreds, and you can thank Limp Bizkit for their horrid cover of this. It starts with a light acoustic guitar melody and some emotional lyrics that everyone knows the words to. The chorus lyrics are gut wrenchingly heartfelt, with phrases like ‘And these dreams, they are as empty as my conscience seems to be.” Yeah, it’s a pretty song. About midway through, the tempo picks up with a bridge that just plain out rocks. Roger’s voice is on top form here until they quietly shift back into the final verse to fade out one of the anthems of the 70’s.

The final track on the album is definitely my favorite, and possibly my favorite song of all time. The song is none other than Won’t Get Fooled Again . This is 8 minutes of musical orgasms. It begins with a hyper synth tracking, up until the guitar and bass whistfully pull off a grand riff, roaring and thickly defining Roger’s wailing voice. You can’t exactly hear it, but you can certainly feel the bassline. If you ever get a chance to hear the bass by itself in this song, you will be in awe. I still wonder how John’s hands could’ve moved that fast. The drumming isn’t balls out at all, keeping the entire band sounding excellent. The choruses are energetic with some less serious lyrics and overall just fun feel. Don’t mention that counter melody bass. It’s just too good. There is an ambient section in this song, but don’t be turned off by it, it’ll just sooth you out until the band thunders back in with a rocket propelled performance. This is the Who at their finest. I simply can’t put it any better.

March 21, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next [Deluxe Edition]

untitledFrom musicbox-online.com

After decades of work, Pete Townshend independently released The Lifehouse Chronicles through his website in 1999. The package was a six-CD set that documented his efforts to craft a sci-fi rock opera that was intended to outshine Tommy. Over the years Townshend has revealed the amazing scope of this unwieldy project: It was to include a feature film, a concept album, and a concert performance — all tied together via a quadrophonic, audience immersion experience with the ultimate goal of showing how rock ’n‘ roll one day would save the world from ruin. (For more on this, see Who’s Next’s terrific liner notes by John Atkins, which explains the project in great detail).

There were many starts and stops along the way for Townshend, and he’s yet to realize fully his original objective. In the meantime, the songs were incorporated into several albums by The Who, most notably the classic Who’s Next. This legendary set proved to be one of the band’s better outings — some would argue that it’s the best — and as a testament to its endurance, the collection’s nine songs all continue to be staples of classic rock radio, an incredible 32 years after the fact. Since the advent of digital music, Who’s Next has been issued and reissued several times, but at long last, it has been given its proper treatment via a two-CD deluxe package that features the remastered album, selections from the original New York City recording sessions that were eventually scrapped, and a plethora of songs from a invitation-only concert held in April 1971.

The Original Album

Yes, Who’s Next has been remastered before, and that edition was a huge improvement over the original CD release of this legendary album. No matter which rendering of Who’s Next one happens to own, however, it just can’t compare to this latest outing. Unlike the previous versions, the deluxe package was remastered from the original master tapes, and the sound quality is absolutely stunning. Crisp and clean, yet rich and resonant, the album no longer sounds muddled, nor does it sound digitally sterile.

That’s a good thing, too, because Who’s Next is the studio album that best captures The Who’s concert sound. No, it’s not quite as rough and raw as it could be as there is quite a bit of studio polish contained herein. But the sheen tends to augment rather than diminish the potent assault that The Who was able to unleash in a live setting. That’s never been more clear than on this deluxe release. There’s Keith Moon crashing, bashing, and thrashing his drum kit to kingdom come; John Entwistle shooting off brightly bounding bass runs that take the lead rather than offer mere rhythmic support; Pete Townshend churning out windmill chords and blazing guitar licks with wild abandon; and Roger Daltrey singing far better than he ever did before.

For all its ambition, Tommy still found The Who toiling within a British Invasion blend of pop, blues, and psychedelia. Was it good? No doubt. But it was Who’s Next that found the band completely abandoning the styles of the ’60s to develop its own sound. At the time, Townshend had recently discovered synthesizers, and their groundbreaking usage forms the basis for many of the tracks on Who’s Next. Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again are the obvious examples, but the new technology also adorned other tunes such as Bargain and Goin’ Mobile. Add to this the ever-changing song dynamics — the subtleties of which are brought to bear full-force on the remastered deluxe edition — and Who’s Next suddenly springs to life after decades of the mind-numbing slow death bestowed upon it by classic rock radio.

The New York Record Plant Sessions

Tacked onto the end of the first CD in the deluxe edition of Who’s Next are six tracks taken from the original recording sessions held in New York City in mid-March 1971. Four of these were available as bonus tracks elsewhere, but each is given the same magnificent remastering treatment as the original album.

Getting in Tune — one of the two previously unreleased songs — is looser than the more familiar album version. The same is true of Won’t Get Fooled Again (the other previously unavailable track), which boasts a different synth loop. Both are terrific. Pure and Easy is one of those glorious songs penned by The Who that almost didn’t see the light of day. Excised from Who’s Next — one phrase is utilized in The Song Is Over — the tune first appeared on the Odds & Sods collection of outtakes. The version here is equally strong and fits in perfectly with the rest of Who’s Next, and damn, if it doesn’t sound as majestic as its title suggests it should. Baby Don’t You Do It is a monstrous jam on the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic, made famous by Marvin Gaye. Featuring Mountain’s Leslie West on lead guitar, this track positively smokes from start to finish. Love Ain’t for Keeping is the amped-up counterpart to the album version, and it winds up getting fairly raucous. Finally, Behind Blue Eyes finds Al Kooper sitting in on organ, adding a delicate underscoring to Townshend’s gentle acoustic strum and Daltrey’s vulnerably revealing vocals.

The Young Vic Concert

Live at Leeds was the first concert recording to be issued by The Who, and perhaps troubled by the inevitable comparisons — the collection is considered by many to be one of the finest live albums ever made — the band shied away from releasing documents of its performances. In recent years, however, that view has changed slightly: Live at Leeds has been expanded not once, but twice, and a nearly identical set list is featured on the equally strong Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. With its recent reissue, Who’s Next has been expanded to include a second disc of material — all of which was previously unavailable.

Taken from a show held on April 26, 1971 at London’s Young Vic Theatre before an audience that was specially invited to the event, the concert finds the band reveling in its new sound, roaming through country blues (Time Is Passing), introspective ballads (Behind Blue Eyes), and power chord anthems (Bargain). Indeed, the group focused heavily on the then-unfamiliar material, serving up five songs from Who’s Next as well as several that later appeared on theOdds & Sods set, though there were also a handful of already-classic concert staples included for good measure.

The sparks surely flew on Young Man Blues, but the first half of the set was primarily devoted towards building tension rather than releasing it. Song after song seemingly upped the ante, but during Getting in Tune, The Who took the title to heart, detonating a ferocious assault that continued for the duration of the show. Bargain was relentless, Water was savage and fierce, and My Generation was a three-minute meltdown of merciless mayhem. Just when one couldn’t imagine The Who having anything left to give, the group tore into Won’t Get Fooled Again with a vengeance.

In other words, fans seeking additional live material from The Who have reason to rejoice once again. Indeed, this isn’t simply the definitive collection of Who’s Next, it’s also an important document in the history of rock ’n‘ roll.

February 28, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next (1971)

untitledFrom Rolling Stone

The Who’s Next, regardless of what you may have been led to believe to the contrary, is neither the soundtrack to the realization of Pete Townshend’s apparently-aborted Hollywood dream, the greatest live album in the history of the universe, nor a, shudder, rock opera, but rather an old fashioned long-player containing intelligently-conceived, superbly-performed, brilliantly-produced, and sometimes even exciting rock and roll.

Having said which, I will digress . . .

If, instead of a Heavy!-loving barbiturated kid who discovered in the wake of all the jumpin’ and jivin’ that accompanied the release of their last two albums that the Who resemble Led Zeppelin and so on on a gross aural level and must therefore be far-out!, it’s an age-long admirer of theirs you are, you’ll doubtless have noticed that the Who’s stage act, snazzy as it remains, has toned down subtly over the last couple of tours.

Most noticeably, they’ve discarded the dazzling fop finery in which they first arrived on these shores for comfortable, functional clothing that’s easier to rampage about in, And recently they’ve given the impression of consciously attempting to complement one another’s physical presences, where in days past each strove with maniacal tenacity to focus the attention of every eye in the audience on himself alone —John Entwistle, for instance, has owned up that playing bass for the Who doesn’t bore him nearly so much as it once did and that he’s recently taken to pretending he’s bored on account of he reckons it looks nicest with him standing very still.

And, most important, Townshend, whose semi-psychotic need to brutalize his audience used to drive him to smash the shit out of his guitar at the end of every performance, has abandoned that mutually liberating strategy in favor of safer and saner climaxes during which he improvises on the ax long enough to render even a speeder comatose.

All those changes, it seems to me, derive from the group’s perception of a need to demonstrate themselves Serious Artists instead of gimmick-mongering punks — to make themselves a little more accessible and a little less offensive.

That same compulsion to selfvalidate that’s left their stageshow a four-stone apology for what it once was has also led the Who to tidy up their records to the point where they’re dangerously close to sterile. It’s a monumental testament to their greatness, therefore, that a lot of Next, their first studio album since self-consciousness set in heavily in the wake of so many people decreeing Tommy a work of genius, transcends its calculatedness to emerge mostly exciting as well as awesomely admirable.

It is to be borne in mind, of course, that a period during which they would concentrate on technique at the expense of the spontaneous expression of feelings was inevitable for the Who for a variety of reasons.

First, they must surely have gotten good and sick of having people dismissing them with a fast fart for having some terrific gimmicks but only minimal musical competence. Moreover, Townshend has surely been drooling with anticipation of the day that he could produce his own stuff, considering what a perfectly dreadful job Shel Talmy and other early Who producers did. And also, with all sorts of people in recent years, from Led Zeppelin to Alice Cooper, exploiting stuff they learned from them, it was only natural that the Who should want to make a clearly-defined stylistic statement.

They’ve taken care of all that business with Next. The musicianship is indisputably excellent, with Moon thrashing and bashing more precisely than ever before on record, Entwistle dreaming up all manner of scrumptious melodic and rhythmic flourishes (listen especially to what he plays beneath the chorus of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), and Townshend, be it with chunky acoustic rhythm, resounding monster chords of the classic sort, or cogent and lyrical soloes, playing with exemplary efficiency and taste.

As for the album’s production, Townshend has, with the able assistance of Glyn Johns in the dual role of engineer and co-producer, come up with one of the most masterfully-recorded rock records in recent memory. Whether so precise a sound as this record’s becomes the Who is, at this point, less relevant than the consideration that they’ve now satisfied their curiosity about whether or not they could be recorded as crisply as, say, Thunderclap Newman.

And with the long LP version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” an ingeniously — constructed panoramic view of methods of attack they’ve grown fondest of over the years, they’ve succeeded in committing to vinyl a comprehensive primer of basic Whostyle.

Such dynamics! The beautiful quietly lyrical moments of such selections as “The Song Is Over,” “Gettin’ In Tune,” and “Behind Blue Eyes” are juxtaposed with the thundering rock that is the marrow of those songs so that each is rendered even more poignant.

To further frost the confection, Townshend wrings more than his money’s worth out of his £14,000-worth of synthesizers, making, I daresay, shrewder at once more adventurous and better-integrated — use of them than any rock experimenter before him.

In “Baba O’Riley,” for instance, he sets the stage for the band’s dramatic entrance with a prerecorded VCS3 part he obtained by programming certain of his vital statistics into a computer hooked up to the synthesizer, then treats the part as a drone while the song’s two major chords are transposed over it, and later has the band playing against it (that is, piling a few gigantic chords on it while it keeps going “Meepmeep-meep-meep-meep …”) to lead into a solo by guest fiddler Dave Arbus.

Next, on “Bargain,” he uses his ARP both as a solo instrument and as a backdrop to his own beautiful guitar solo.

There’s just so much to be astonished and delighted by on this album once you get used to its kinda chilly perfection . . .

There’s Roger Daltrey singing, “And I’m gonna ‘chune’ right in on you,” during “Gettin’ In Tune,” which is so wondrous that it’s enough to keep the listener’s mind off the possibly unpleasant implications of “the straight and narrow” being what’s been gotten in tune to.

There’s Daltrey bestowing an excellent dramatic reading (note especially his intonation of the world “vengeance”) on interesting lyrics in front of the prettiest Who harmonies in ever so long in “Behind Blue Eyes.”

There’s Imbecile’s stupendously catchy and stupid “My Wife,” which deals with the danger of being both married and fond of lazing about in the boozer until all hours. (What a pity that The Ox’s pleasantly adenoidal voice is all but lost beneath the instruments “Can this be a result of jealousy on Townshend’s part?” you’ll long to know for sure.)

And, ultimately, there is “The Song Is Over,” one of a few survivors on Next from the recently-aborted Bobby project, an unutterably beautiful song in which Townshend sings exquisitely over a gentle piano background before and in between Daltrey charging in exhilaratingly over a hard part with breathtaking chord changes in the manner of the “Listening to you I hear the music . . .” refrain from Tommy. Definitely up there with “Rael” and “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m The Face” among their very best work is this one.

And, just to make it clear to any cretins out there in Radioland that this is just a plain old-fashioned long-player, there are a couple of throwaways: The faintly pretty but negligible “Love Ain’t For Keeping” (which most certainly does not deserve to succeed “Heaven And Hell” as the group’s stage-opener, unless they play it live about ten trillion times harder than they do on record), and the faintly inane “Goin’ Mobile,” which celebrates the joys of, ho hum, being free to roam the highways and byways in one’s trailer.

And there you have it, chums, an album that, despite a degree of sober calculatedness that would prove fatal to a lesser group, ranks right up there with David Bowie’s and Black Oak Arkansas’s and Crazy Horse’s and Procol Harum’s and Alice Cooper’s and Christopher Milk’s as among the most wondrous of 1971. In view of the fact that Pete’s resumed smashing shit out of his guitar at the end of performances and that they’ve hopefully now resolved all their anxieties about technique, it’s eminently reasonable to assume that subsequent Who albums won’t be no shrinking violets either.

February 28, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next (1971)

98zfFrom BBC Music

The Who’s fifth album is one of those carved-in-stone landmarks that the rock canon doesn’t allow you to bad-mouth. It was pretty rad for its day. Here’s the twist: it still sounds ablaze. As C.S.I. fans will vouch, there’s not much that isn’t thrilling about Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley, which howl and kick like they were born yesterday.

Like many near-masterpieces, it wasn’t meant to turn out like it did. Pete Townshend had one of his ‘futuristic rock opera’ ideas, and recordings began on a work called Lifehouse. It wouldn’t gel, so The Who made the most of the random songs that did. Upon release in 1971 it blew away critics and fans alike, bar a few Who diehards who thought larking around with things called synthesizers and modified keyboards was, like, selling out.

Glyn Johns had replaced Kit Lambert as producer. Still, the sleeve wasn’t exactly bland, picturing the foursome pissing on a slagheap. (Other contenders for the cover had included a group of obese naked women and a shot of Keith Moon in black lingerie. Be grateful for small mercies.)
Baba O’Riley makes a spectacular opener, its hypnotic drone disrupted by power chords that are parachuted in off the backs of meteorites. Dave Arbus’ subtle then frantic viola solo raises it another gear.

There has rarely been a more durably evocative refrain than “teenage wasteland”. As ever, Daltrey’s ragged voice brings humanity to Townshend’s over-thinking. Moon is typically hyperactive: any drummer playing like this today would be ordered to rein it in. Bargain floats on the tension between acoustic guitar and the brave new synth. Like most of the album, it’s melodramatic without – as with later Who – fattening into pomposity. The Song is Over oozes poignancy and Getting in Tune and Going Mobile are simply great songs. Behind Blue Eyes is a soul-searching ballad which bursts into belligerence, reflective then urgent.

The climactic (and how) Won’t Get Fooled Again stretches itself and chews its restraints until it becomes much more than a riff and a scream. It’s on fire. In “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” it nailed the bleeding heart of protest-pop. Who’s Next is The Who’s best.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment

The Who Who’s Next (1971)

MI0001537372From blogcritics.org

I believe song sequencing is a critical – and sometimes THE critical – aspect of putting an “album” (what exactly does that mean now?) together.

In this next mix-and-match phase of music consumership, sequencing will be strictly personal. Is this progress? Sure it is, but something is always lost in the great march forward. When there is no “official” sequencing of an album, we have lost another common experience.

Coincidentally, I just received the new, lavishly expanded Deluxe Edition of Who’s Next , and with thoughts of seminal albums past swimming in my head, spent last night checking it out – LOUD. It’s still nothing less than classic.

As a critic, collector and historian, the bonus tracks, alternate takes, and especially the live material on disc 2 from The Young Vic are edifying and fascinating, but my prejudice was also confirmed: there is magic in the nine songs in the original order, flowing, commenting upon one another, the succession of tracks building a cathedral, an indivisible structure most certainly NOT granular in its holistic majesty.

I can (and do, too often) hear “Baba O’Riley” “Bargain” “Love Ain’t For Keeping” “My Wife” “The Song Is Over” “Getting In Tune” “Going Mobile” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in all their anthemic glory on classic rock radio, but each is diminished in the absence of the other.

Taken separately, out of order, in alternate versions, the songs are a series of comfortable, upscale bungalows: taken together they unitarily reach and soar above the clouds, an edifice against entropy.

Keith and John: we miss you more than you’ll ever know, but we’ll never miss you as much as Pete and Roger do – without you, The Who are just a shadow.

February 21, 2013 Posted by | The Who Who's Next | | Leave a comment