New music from The Who is not something one would expect from a now part time rock n roll band with a rhythm section that is long passed away and its two surviving members well into their early sixties in age. And new music this energetic and fresh sounding is certainly not what many would anticipate from two guys reaching retirement age with a band of capable but hired hands backing them on record. But as it turns out Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey haven’t forgotten what it means to be The Who. And with Wire And Glass The Who is exactly what we get. Dead drummers and bass players notwithstanding.
Wire And Glass is a six song mini opera comprised of six songs and pieces of songs from the upcoming full length album tentatively titled Who 2. The reason these tracks were chosen to be released as the maxi-single is they are taken from and inspired by a much larger literary and musical work called The Boy Who Heard Music, a semi autobiographical/rock n roll fantasy story about a young band, the internets, and rock n roll dreams come true. Hatched from the mind of guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend who has made difficult concepts come to full life in the past with his rock opera Tommy, concept album Quadrophenia, and his still seemingly unfinished Lifehouse project (which was scrapped back in the day and quickly devolved into the classic Whos Next album) , Wire And Glass is thankfully just as Townshends past story pieces in that it is unpretentious and leaves room for the listener to make what they want of each individual track. Never suffocating or dogmatic in anyway, it simply moves along nicely as Who records usually do.
The nearly twelve minutes of music kicks off with the fast and rocking Sound Round and it’s apparent from the start this group of Pete, Roger, longtime Who keyboardist John Bundrick, drummer Zak Starkey (with the excellent Peter Huntington sitting in for him on some tracks) and bassist Pino Palladino are serious about being The Who. Striking and hard Sound Around is at first listen a bit of a mess, just like so many Who songs gone past. And it works great as a 1:22 opener to announce the return of this band. Im young in my camper van/ The world feels old and new/I fear the future as I take in the view/Dont know where to head to now, Roger sings as the band explodes behind him. And it’s clear from the start Pete hasn’t lost anything off the top of his songwriting skills musically or lyrically. The equally short Pick Up The Peace comes along next and it flows nicely from the last song giving this EP the required mini opera/short story feel that was intended. Endless Wire is the next mini track up and it is with this song the listener begins to realize this is indeed The Who, resurrected and alive and well, vibrant as ever. With Pete taking over lead vocal duties on this little ditty about music and dreams carried by the internets (the endless wire of the title) and the band playing a mid-tempo melody alongside him, Endless Wire has all the melancholy and drama you would expect of a Townshend tune in this or any other era as he lends the song his graceful and knowing lyrics and almost humble vocal delivery. And it settles this brief six song set into place as a beginning, middle, and the soon approaching end start to take shape.
The most Who like track is up next in the too brief snippet of a song We Got A Hit. Easily a song that would have been right at home on The Who By Numbers album of 30 years ago, this 1:30 track came and went too fast for this reviewer as the ghost of Keith Moon and John Entwistle would seem to be present and accounted for on this song, all riled up and ready to go. It’s a spirited number that sounds as exciting as its title suggest. And if any band ever wrote a song about having a first hit single, well this exuberant tune might be exactly what it should sound like. And finally after the very Townshend solo like They Made My Dreams Come True and just 7:10 after the EP opener, comes the only real fully offered song of the set with the 4:15 Mirror Door. Kicking off with a recording of a live audience the track is stimulating from the start, again with strong songwriting from Townshend on the musical and lyrical front and a great performance from the new Who band he and Roger have assembled. Who will walk through the mirror door/Will there be music or will there be war/Will we be rich or will we be poor/Who will walk through the mirror door, Roger sings as the band lays down the thunder behind him with Pete power chording, Starkey pounding the skins, and Pino Pallidino laying down a strong foundation. Its a compelling number and as with the rest of this record gets better with each listen. And that’s a good sign no matter what you call this band of aging rockers and hired hands.
So is this The Who? This reviewer can assure you it most certainly is. With the two principle members in fine form, a drummer who has been playing with them 10 years, a keyboard player who has been in the fold for nearly 30 years, and an excellent replacement for the deceased John Entwistlte in Pino Palladino, this band roars, rocks, and rolls with the enthusiasm of a band less then half their age and
the grace of mature players who have been around the block a time or two. With Townshends strongest songwriting in years, excellent modern production, and his old friend Roger Daltrey giving it his all, this is not the sound of a band born anew but rather the sound of a band that never really went away. John Entwistle is the only recent piece of the puzzle missing here. And as good as he was, without him he is not really missed on this record. Fresh, striking, and unyielding in its artistic and musical vision, Wire And Glass is a welcome return to form for a band that last left us 24 years ago with the abysmal Its Hard album. And these small samples only leave this reviewer chomping at the bit for more.