Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Review: The Who - "Endless Wire"

I've got to get some back-burner stuff out of the way before my thoughts become completely irrelevant. Here's a bone for readers who are sick of all the NFL stuff.

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.

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  • At 1/22/2007 7:02 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    Didn't they have a few farewell concerts back in the day?

  • At 1/22/2007 8:34 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    They did indeed Joey. Then-girlfriend/now-wife Carol and I saw them in '97 at the Virginia Beach amptheatre(God! Ten years ALREADY?)

    Now, I've seen the Stones (twice). I saw McCartney during the "Wings Over America" tour (1975). I've seen Joe Cocker and Joe Jackson (yes Andrew, it was absolutely sublime). But the Who, doing Quadrophenia as a piece of avante-garde multi-media theatre concert, might possibly have surpassed them all. Right from the start, as the band hit the stage full ablaze with "The Real Me", you KNEW you were in for a very, very special experience. Daltrey and Townshend? Incredible! But for my money, the late Entwistle was the best bassist in the business. And on drums...none other than Ringo's boy, Zak Starkey.

    I could go on. But why? You had to be there. God, am I glad I was.


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