Review: The Who - "Endless Wire"
The Who: Endless Wire.
First of all, this is not, as has been commonly reported by music journalists who really should know better, the first new recording by the Who since 1982. They recorded two songs for a compilation a few years ago, they recorded "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting" for Two Rooms, and they recorded two songs for Townshend's rock opera The Iron Man.
The obvious joke here, with the recent passing of bassist John Entwistle, is to refer to this Townshend-Daltrey collaboration as The Two, and there's some truth in that. Townshend, in particular, plays an awful lot of instruments on this album, including more than a few drums, and Daltrey has been very open about his desire to sing anything Townshend-penned. But in the final analysis, this is a much more fitting "last" Who album than 1982's It's Hard.
The songs range from the sublime ("In the Ether") to the disposable ("Black Widow's Eyes") on an album that unfortunately opens with a completely forgettable track, "Fragments," which itself opens with a weak-sounding reprise of the "Baba O'Riley" opening. But this is overall not only a very good album, it's an above-average Who album, which is high praise indeed. Its introspective moments are reminiscent of the best of the underrated The Who by Numbers, and the mini-opera "Wire & Glass" which concludes the disc have moments that recall the energy and innovation of Quadrophenia.
As with the last two decades of Townshend's songwriting, even the hard rockers are intimate and confessional in nature. Most interesting is Townshend's fixation on issues of faith and religion. "Two Thousand Years" and "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" are gorgeous acoustic questions, but the album's real gem is "A Man in a Purple Dress," which castigates high-church religion with derision and affection. And the tiny little "You Stand By Me" reads as a love letter from Townshend to Daltrey, who supported him through recent allegations of child pornography (for which Townshend was eventually cleared).
Townshend's acoustic guitar playing is the best it's ever been, and he spices it up with touches of mandolin here and there. Daltrey sounds old in places, but still has that growl, and I'm pretty sure he could kick my ass all over the place. The production qualities are something of a disappointment; there's more hiss and noise on this CD than on the album I just recorded in my spare bedroom. But it all combines to reveal Townshend as a flawed, broken man, vulnerable and divided by ego and self-loathing, surety and doubt. This is what all of the best Who albums do. In all, Who fans should not be disappointed--at least once they get past that weak first track.