What does it sound like?:
First things first…I am a huge Who fan. I remember hearing I Can’t Explain blast out of Radio London in 1965 and I was hooked from then on. An older friend was a jazz fan and hated my pop music, but he had encountered them at the Marquee in late 1964 or early 1965 and even he loved them. My first love were the Beatles, but this was something else – visceral and it hit different nerves. They were the first ever band I paid money to go and see (June 1966, The Edmonton Regal) and they are probably the band I have seen most often since then and they still thrill me as a live outfit over 50 years later.
Let’s get that out of the way, because being a huge fan of a band makes reviewing new material a challenge – your perspective is different, your expectations tempered by past disappointments – it is hard to come with an open mind….so I probably won’t.
If you have even a passing interest in the band then you will have already read good reviews of the new album and one or more of Pete’s interviews – positivity abounds, but, God, I’ve been here before wanting to love something by the Who and having those hopes crushed. I replayed the last album ‘Endless Wire’ the other day; this was greeted with 4* reviews, but my word that album is a struggle – two or three tracks in you feel this is OK and then they hit you with the unlistenable ‘In The Ether’ and there is another flippin’ mini-opera – nonsense lyrics and bits of songs that don’t seem to fit together – not too much of that album in the current live set.
The version of WHO I got to review was the 11 track version and it was a download rather than just a stream, which was nice. Looking at what is available, there is a also ‘de-luxe’ version with three extra tracks and I haven’t heard those (one of them is called ‘Danny And My Ponies’….yes, really…can’t wait), and it comes in a multiplicity of formats – deep breath…you can get it on standard CD, deluxe CD, softpack CD, standard vinyl LP, picture disc LP, cassette, audiophile triple vinyl, completists set (CD, audiophile vinyl and cassette), analogue set (audiophile vinyl and cassette), classic set (CD and cassette), audio set (CD and standard vinyl), and deluxe audio set (audiophile vinyl and deluxe CD…I think). I thought physical product was dying?? Download and streaming is available too of course.
So, is it any good? Firstly, there isn’t an opera or concept in sight, which is probably a good thing on the whole. The first two tracks have been previously released as ‘singles’ and are probably familiar already – ‘All This Music Must Fade’ is all crunching chords, a great lyric and Roger is in fine voice (as he is throughout this set…mostly) – classic Who, this will be good live and sounds like one that will last. ‘Ball And Chain’ has a start very reminiscent Baba O’Reilly, which Pete also did on the last album on one track, and that feels like a bit of a cheap shot. This was originally called ‘Guantanamo’, and I don’t really get the lyrical content here. It is saved by Roger’s performance, some great playing, and the hook is good. The third track is also the new ‘single’ – ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Wise’ – and has a sort of autobiographical lyric. This could have come from Quadrophenia. Hmm…so far so good, hopes raised….wonder why the first three tracks are the singles..?
The fourth track is ‘Detour’, a title that is presumably a nod to that early Who name, and this starts a bit like their early R&B stuff. It’s a bit all over the place – not bad, but ends with that Baba O’Reilly type riff again! ‘Beads On One String’ is a song about how we must all come together (like in Brexit, eh Rog?) – holds it’s own, perfectly listenable, but starts to take shape a few listens in.
What’s this ….strings?… ah, crunchy crunch goes the riff! ‘Hero Ground Zero’ has another great hook (this album is rather full of ‘em) and I really like this. There is some great orchestral stuff going on in the background and I played this a few times in succession on first hearing I like it so much. ‘Street Song’ is serviceable Who – well played, some un-Pete like guitar and Roger’s vocal just soars – could be a grower, but it seems to go on a bit.
Oh, have I switched to another record..? I genuinely thought that at first. A harmonica intro sounds a bit like the Midnight Cowboy theme. This is a weird one – it’s called ‘I’ll Be Back’ and is….well…a bit soppy really. They share the vocal and Rog seems to struggle a little here, and I don’t blame him as the melody is strange. I don’t think too much of this. The next track (‘Break The News’) sounds like Pete has been listening to Mumford And Sons – it is again a great hook, mostly scrubbed acoustic guitars and Roger is much more comfortable with this and it’s OK….oh, Baba O’Reilly again at the end though…
Now things turn seriously odd again at the start of the next track – a piano opening, but then it picks up nicely with Pete singing (very well) and he’s in introspective mood from what I can pick up….being out on the margins, being past his prime and so on, you know how he goes on about being irrelevant – it’s called ‘Rocking In Rage’, but it is pretty good and I suspect another grower.
The final track is ‘She Rocked My World’ and is another piano led track over a shuffle samba beat – it’s an odd way to end the album as it’s the most Un-Who track ever and leaves you wondering what the hell that was there for. Not their finest hour, I can’t think what made them sequence this at the end of the album – maybe it works better on the longer ‘de-luxe’ version.
Getting this on a download meant I could stream it through the hi-fi and sonically it sounds a terrific production – full of textures and touches that keep you engaged, and it’s definitely one for windmilling to when you turn it up. The lyrics…? Well, you know Pete….just listen to the guitars.
A word about the cover art – a rather spiffing montage by Peter Blake with lots of Who references to decipher, they have rather pushed the boat out with this release. Does it stack up to the hype? WHO definitely isn’t the worst Who album ever made by any means (I’m looking at you Endless Wire, Face Dances, It’s Hard, By Numbers, Who Are You), so definitely worth exploring if you have even a passing liking for the Who. Their imperial period (Sell Out through to Quadrophenia) remains unsurpassed and unthreatened, but this will definitely be a regular play and at this stage it could well be my favourite since Quadrophenia.
Now….which version to buy??!! Probably not the cassette…
What does it all *mean*?
The Who are still a great band – good on them!
Goes well with…
Being slightly refreshed.
Might suit people who like…