Having made some of the most exciting and audacious rock n roll of the two decades prior to the release of this album, this, The Who’s 10th official studio release of original material and marking the end of one of rocks most explosive bands would surely not disappoint. Having lost Keith Moon a few years earlier and with the subsequent release of the promising but uneven Face Dances, certainly for It’s Hard, an album tied to a “farewell tour” that would see the band take this final album to stadiums full of adoring fans, would be a blast right out of the park. The ‘80’s were upon us, punk had brought new energy to rock n roll of the sort that used to be reserved for bands like The Who, and the boys were going out rocking for one last go around. So you know they were going to bring the goods, right" Um…right" Yeah…..
It’s Hard, released in 1982 to help mark the beginning of The Who’s farewell tour as a working and touring rock n roll band is just that. It’s hard to imagine, it’s hard to listen to, it’s hard to guess, and it’s hard to believe how unfeeling and lackluster this album is. Oh how the mighty had fallen. A poor album by almost any standard, and certainly less an album then a collection of afterthoughts and toss offs, this record is not something I would wish on the ears of my worst enemy. Bland, stale, generic, and at times just flat out silly, (and not in a good way, as some Who records are) this embarrassing, boring, and thoroughly disappointing album is worse then the sound of a band putting out a bad album. This is the sound of a band that has stopped caring, stopped trying, and have put out a bad album. What a shame…..
The album kicks off with a bit of promise with the lightweight pop of “Athena”, and although it’s lyrics are silly and the chorus is quirky, this is familiar territory for fans of the band and it’s tuneful melody gives one hope that things will likely get better from here. Well, they don’t. Up next we are treated to the generic rocker “It’s Your Turn”, a John Entwistle penned song that while lyrically interesting offers nothing by way of excitement or songwriting prowess. The song plunders forward for almost four minutes as Townshend doodles thin guitar work over the track and the added synths give an air of Who music gone past, but it’s really just smoke and mirrors. This doesn’t even sound like The Who. And it doesn’t sound like a new kind of Who such as we got on the interesting Face Dances album. It sounds like a band trying to sound like The Who. And not doing a very good job of it.
As if not wanting to waste time getting the garbage out, the next two tracks almost bury the entire album, and in fact do throw some early dirt on it’s grave. “Cooks County”, a synth driven, thin, silly song which reminds us “People are suffering / I’ll say it again” and continues to run off a list of societal woes goes round and round and round ad nauseam, and then some, before landing flat on it’s face almost four minutes later. The musical flourishes during the song and faux energy attached do nothing to help or save it, as the chemistry this band once had on record is clearly nowhere to be seen. “This song is so long / It ends up where it begins” Roger complains about societies woes. Well, he hit the nail on the head with that one. Up next is the title track of the album “It’s Hard”. "It’s very very very hard” Roger half-heartedly sings as the band plays half arsed riffs behind him and tries to get things rolling at the bridge with some up tempo playing. Unfortunately this track is DOA and nothing can save it. The sound of a band that has stopped caring" How about a band that were most likely not even in the same studio together at any given time during this recording. Meh….
The sole highlights of the recording are up next with another Entwistle penned tune leading the way with the fairly decent rocker “Dangerous”. Another generic tune at best, this track nonetheless moves along nicely and is unique in the fact it features not one guitar on the track. Loud synths, big drums, and most of all John’s thunderous bass are the order of the day here. And the song does indeed have the sound and power you would expect a track led by a bass player such as John to have, and a band such as The Who to deliver. With thoughtful lyrics about the human condition within us and the consequences of it, it’s a welcome breather from the suffocating Townshend tunes that had come before and is a nice lead in to the only real standout cut on the album, “Eminence Front”. With a Baba ‘O Riley like opening and a cool breeze of a riff flowing through it, this is one of Townshend’s better songs he had written for The Who in the later years of the band. With Pete laying down some nice guitar licks throughout and taking a turn at lead vocals as well, Eminence Front is a smooth, cool, very Who like tune in a sea of crap. And it would be the last time this band would ever shine on record as, well, a group that sounds like a real band and not a propped up shadow of past glories. If that.
Released at a time when albums were divided into two sides, and perhaps a shot at redemption was just around the corner on the next side to make up for a poor one, “side two” of this album is up next. This reviewer would just love to skip it offhand. But I’ll be as brief as possible to spare you the shame of reading it.
Kicking off with the six minute, dirge like “I've Known No War”, it’s dismal from the very start. This is a silly, uninspired swipe at social consciousness that fails from the start, lyrically and musically. Stale, bombastic, and stuck, this is a time waster like no other on the album. Simply miserable. Followed by the soft and disposable non-song “One Life’s Enough” and the once again John Entwistle penned “One At A Time”, and this album loses any semblance of cohesion altogether. Not a bad song, “One At A Time” is nonetheless most likely the least of the Entwistle tracks here and offers nothing by way to stop the bleeding. Followed closely by two Townshend tunes that sound like outtakes from past Who albums or his then recent solo work, and finally the respectable closer “Cry If You Want”, where the band turns up in force for perhaps just the third time on this album, and you have the makings of a shame, a shambles, and bore of a final album that finds The Who going out on record at the lowest point in their career. Cry if you want, indeed….
With Moon dead and the glory years of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s well past them, The Who were not a band at this point, but a side project. With all three surviving members having solo albums out at the time with more planned, and with Pete producing some of the best work of his career outside the band with his recent solo work, this album served merely as a contract fulfiller and a last gasp before the band would take a final breath doing what they do best, performing from the concert stage. An album that really rocks only on the Entwistle tunes, and with Pete contributing mostly leftovers from his far superior solo albums and a few substandard new tunes for good measure, it’s hard to understand why this once great band couldn’t at least try to finish on a bit of a high note, rather then go out with a whimper. Just one more time, for old times sake. It is in fact, very very very hard to understand. Ad infinitum….