Review Summary: While this album wasn't particularly successful when it was fist released in 1982, its reputation has improved over the years with critics and fans alike.All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
was released in June of 1982, nearly four years after the death of Who drummer Keith Moon, and just three months before the release of It's Hard
, The Who's last studio album (at least until 2006's Endless Wire
.). It was a time, then, when the band's three surviving members were all starting to transition into solo careers, and in fact, some critics who didn't like It's Hard
accused Townshend of holding back his best new material from The Who in order to stoke his own solo career. Cowboys
didn't do that great at first, either sales-wise, or with the critics. It only reached the #32 position on the UK charts, and the #26 position on the U.S. charts (as opposed to his previous solo LP Empty Glass
, which got as high as #11 and #5, respectively). There were also no successful singles on the album. Nevertheless, the LP's reputation has grown in stature over the years, and it's now considered a pretty solid effort by most critics and Townshend/Who fans alike.
You can't really review the album in 2018 without commenting on the incredibly insensitive (by today's standards) nature of the title. In a 1982 interview with Rolling Stone
, Townshend explained that the title referred to the way American movie western heroes such as Clint Eastwood and John Wayne were famous for the steel-eyed squints they gave off as they blew multiple people away, but then went on to add that it also referred to how different ethnic and national groups such as Americans, Russians, Chinese, etc. tend to stereotype one another and view the other groups as evil. Old Pete could always dissemble with the best of them. All I can tell you is it was 1982, and the rules of what you could and couldn't say were a little more relaxed, or at least less explosive, than they are today. I fully expect that sometime soon, they'll be burning this album on the same pile as copies of the Huckleberry Finn
novel. When they do, please don't tell them I own this on CD. I'm not giving my copy up.
The sound here is, as you would expect, is much lighter and poppier than that of the average Who album. There's none of Entwistle's booming bass, or (of course) Moon's whirlwind drums. Instead, the album relies largely on Townshend's acoustic guitar and synthesizers. While there are no singles here that charted as well as "Let My Love Open the Door", or even "A Little Is Enough" from Townshend's previous LP, there are some solid and memorable songs. The best of them might be "Slit Skirts", the album closer, which seems to be mostly about the disappointment inherent in a mature long-term relationship. However, "Face Dances, Pt. 2", which is an upbeat little electropop number, and the spiritual and triumphant "The Sea Refuses No River," aren't far behind. I'm also fond of "Somebody Saved Me", which seems to be a song in praise of, umm, shall we say sexual obstructionism (and which also reminds me of that one Elton John song, only without the "sugar bear"s), and "North Country Girl", an alternative version of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country".
Although I'm sure I'm in the minority here, this is actually my favorite LP overall out of Pete Townshend's solo albums. Pretend the full title is simply All the Best Cowboys...
and enjoy it for the music, or burn it if you must. Admittedly, Pete Townshend has said, done and written some questionable things throughout his career. He sure has made some great music, though.