This is going to be my first review on the site, and seeing as most other Who albums have been done several times or in such a way that any attempts by me to review them would prove futile, I decided to post a review on one of my favorite and, in my opinion, most underrated Who albums.
After the massive consecutive successes of Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia, the fame was beginning to take a toll on Pete Townshend. These feelings came to a head at a show for the Quadrophenia tour at which fans called for Pete to "jump, jump!", but Pete no longer felt inclined to. The Who By Numbers, released 1975, is Pete's most personal Who album, one on which he glances inward at himself and produces some of the most beautiful works of the Who's career.
The album kicks off with Slip Kid
, an enjoyable rock song that gives you promise of a fantastic album. Pete Townshend has described the song as "a warning to young kids getting into music that it would hurt them". One thing you will notice immediately at the start of the album is the rawness of it all. While the last album, Quadrophenia, was extremely well produced and features horns and keyboards and all sorts of fun stuff, The Who By Numbers is mostly guitar, bass, drums, and piano.
Following up is However Much I Booze
, which I feel is the weakest song on the album. This song is one where Pete gets very personal, and Roger refused to sing this song because of this. The lyrics describe that no matter how much Pete might try to drown his problems in alcohol, he always seems to find himself in the same problems at the end of the day. Rather depressing, really.
Luckily, the album's biggest hit and most fun song comes up next. Squeeze Box
is the only song (besides Dreaming from the Waist) to make it into The Who's live set frequently. Pete wrote the song as a dirty joke, and didn't expect it to be put on the album at all, and was even more surprised when it became a single. Little doubt is left to the meaning when Roger sings "she goes in and out and in and out". The music itself is a lot of fun, driven by Keith, who gives us his last great performance on The Who by Numbers.
What comes next is possibly my favorite song on the album, Dreaming from the Waist
. This track is most famous for showcasing John's extraordinary bass playing. As pointed out in the liner notes, this is one song on the album that is on par with Quadrophenia material. The live version of this song included on the remaster is a great treat to listen to.
Imagine a Man
is an example of the beautiful songwriting that Pete demonstrates on this album.The lyrical quality of this song is excellent. Gone is the "wall of sound" created by John and Keith, which gives way to a much softer Who sound. Roger Daltrey really shines throughout this song.
John Entwistle's only composition on this album, Success Story
, isn't what you'd expect. Instead of providing a quirky tale which would be welcome in lightening the mood, Entwistle's tune provides a history of sorts of The Who. Roger actually sings in much of this song. Although a lot of Who fans like this song a lot, it really doesn't stand out all that much to me. It seems that John shares Pete's despair in fame.
Up next is They Are All in Love
. Roger nearly refused to sing this one, too, but it's a good thing he chose to sing it, because he does another outstanding job. It really shows Pete's lyrical skills how, even stripped of a rock opera as a vehicle to convey his ideas, he can come through with some extremely skillfull songwriting.
The first time I heard Blue, Red, and Grey
, I didn't care for it all that much. The entire song is Pete Townshend on vocals accompanied by Pete Townshend on ukelele. Pete himself didn't even want the song on the album, but producer Glyn Johns demanded that it be included. It is actually popular with quite a few Who fans i've talked with, but for me it is only good for the occasional listen.
The second best song on the album in my opinion, How Many Friends
comes in the wake of Blue, Red, and Grey. The song, as you may guess from the title, deals with the doubt of how true a star's "friends" really are. Pete doubts the motives of the people who claim to be his friends. Roger does another outstanding job on vocals, switching between soft, heartfelt singing, and a more bombastic chorus, and you won't be finding loud power chords in this song.
Unfortunately, the album closes on a weak note. Finishing off The Who By Numbers is In a Hand or a Face
. The song actually pulls you in with the beginning, powerful guitarring from Pete and typical power from Roger through the verse. But then comes the dullest part of the song. Repetition at its worst, of the lines "I am going round and round". Overall, the song doesn't live up to the quality of much of the rest of the album, and leaves the album without an epic closing song that the last three Who albums had had (We're Not Gonna Take It/See Mee Feel Me, Won't Get Fooled Again, and Love Reign O'er Me).
Dreaming from the Waist
How Many Friends
The Who By Numbers contains by far Pete's most personal work, and although it was dismissed by critics as a "suicide note" from Townshend, it is great for what it is. Some of The Who's most beautiful pieces are included in this album, and although not all the songs are instantly recognizable, and not all of them are on par with The Who's previous efforts, most of them are fantastic. If you are a fan of The Who's epic rock operas or synthesizer-soaked, power-chord dominated noisefests, this album will really be something different for you, but if you give it a chance and ignore what people say about it, you might find that The Who is still alive and kicking on this album, and I would wager a fair bit that you'll find at least a few songs that you can really enjoy on here.
Thanks for reading, and I'd be happy to hear some feedback.