Review Summary: "I don't mind other guys ripping off my songs."
The Who, in the year of our Lord 2019, have released a new album. On its face, after just one or two listens, we hear some catchy songs, memorable lyrics, unique production, and the intriguing vocals of the aged Roger Daltrey. First, however, I think we need some background information about The Who to put this fascinating piece into context.
Even from the very beginning, the genesis of young British pop groups, The Who have stood out with their own unique sound. In 1959, the Detours were formed by Daltrey. Eventually, John Entwistle and Pete Townshend were added (among others), and Daltrey chose to change the group’s name to The Who. At some point, Keith Moon joined the band, and they were ready to record “My Generation,” their first studio album. “My Generation” was released in 1965.
The Who are notable for being able to change their sound over time, not only hopping between genres, but also applying their own unique sound to each project, changing genres and arguably forging their own. “Who’s Next” in 1971 changed classic rock forever with the electronic bleeps of “Baba O’Reily” and the lengthy epic “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It is also worth noting The Who’s success with progressive rock, with the release of the rock opera Quadrophenia in 1973, years before Pink Floyd’s 1979 release of “The Wall.”
Between now and then, The Who sadly lost members Moon and Entwistle. Moon died in 1978 from a prescription drug overdose. Entwistle died in 2002 of a heart attack, probably due to cocaine. For this album “WHO,” the members are Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Interestingly, Townshend said in a Rolling Stone interview that he is glad that Entwistle and Moon are gone because they were “difficult to play with.” What is also crazy is that Daltrey and Townshend were never in the same studio while recording the album. They made their parts separately, at least partially because it would be difficult for them to get along if they recorded together.
For all of the tragic divisions the band has endured, this album contains many nods to the past, encouraging messages, and its share of what can only be called love songs. In 2019, Daltrey is 75 and Townshend is 74. I have been listening to The Who since my early years of high school, choosing them as my number one band right after the Pink Floyd phase. I would like to share why this album, recorded in two separate rooms by two old men who are glad to be rid of their tragically passed bandmates, is important to me.
I am a fan of the first four songs. The opening track is engaging from the first second of the first listen. I especially appreciate “The Kids Are Alright” reference, which is what we hear sampled in Quadrophenia. The second song “Ball and Chain” is actually based on an older song called “Guantanamo” by Townshend. Daltrey’s vocals on this track are amazing, with his rough, gravelly old man voice actually adding a whole nother dimension to the lyrics. The next song “I Don’t Wanna Get Wise” is a rocking nihilistic look at the past and the unlikeliness of The Who’s success. The song at certain points sounds like it was produced by modern day Jeff Lynne (but it wasn’t – actually Townshend and Daltrey have their own personal producers). The fourth song “Detour” is more loud-pop leaning, but is still entertaining for many listens. I believe the title is double entendre referring to the bands original name, as well as urging people to change their modern unsustainable or unaccepting behaviors.
The middle tracks are weak, to the point where I have not been able to listen to them more than a few times. You can form your own opinion. Skipping these. “I’ll Be Back,” a Townshend sung track, is gentler and begins a transition to the albums more mature themes about monogamy or friendship or whatever else old men think about. There is an elusive and mature theme to the song, which separates it from other regular love songs. “Break the News” was written by Townshend’s younger brother and is sung by Daltrey. This track speaks to me personally as a 20 year-old. It is interesting to hear an old man reflect on young love. I also like “Rockin’ in Rage,” after taking a few listens to get used to it. The last official song on the album is “She Rocked My World,” which is slow and not very interesting. Maybe I need to listen to it more times.
On Spotify, you will also see the bonus tracks “This Gun Will Misfire,” “Got Nothing to Prove Anymore,” and “Danny and My Ponies.” The most interesting of these is “Got Nothing to Prove Anymore,” which was recorded in 1966.
Here is The Who at the best they have been in decades. This album is clearly not aiming to put out a few songs that can get airtime on the radio. This album has depth, high listenability of multiple tracks, its share of catchy songs, and a certain mature emotion that we have not seen from these guys before. While it may be upsetting that the band is only half of its former size, and that the remaining two members struggle to get along, the album contains many memorable moments that will make fans happy, like references to past work and mature old man themes. This observation aside, the album does not rely on the band’s past. There is content on this album that is completely novel and worth its weight in modern day musical megabytes, just as The Who have been known produce in their prime.