The Who

Polydor, 2019


REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


Few bands can go 13 years between albums and pick up where they left off with a release that debuts at #2 on the Billboard charts. But The Who has proven itself a rare exception. Despite the absence of a legendary drummer and bassist in Keith Moon and John Entwistle, Who has a number of songs that chime with the unmistakable pairing of Pete Townshend’s guitar and Roger Daltrey’s vocals.

Does the album feature throwbacks to classics like “My Generation” or “Behind Blue Eyes? Of course not. And why should Daltrey and Townshend try to recapture their musical youth at this stage of their careers? They act their age on Who and it shines as a mature album of hindsight that packs some punch to show they’ve still got it after 50 years on the scene. 

The three singles from the album are solid. “All This Music Must Fade” packs some punch and makes for a good opener with the chime of Townshend’s guitar and Daltrey’s balance of calm and bellowing vocals. Their cynicism on the music industry is mixed with some tongue-in-cheek reflection on their troubled working relationship:

“We never really got along  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250
It's not new, not diverse
It won't light up your parade
It's just simple verse
All this music will fade”

“Ball And Chain” is a re-recording of a Pete Townshend solo number, and it makes me smile with a respect for the men. After 50 years and 12 studio albums, they’re still willing to stick it to the authorities on contemporary with lyrics such as “Down in Guantanamo / We still got the ball and chain / There’s a long road to travel / For justice to make its claim.” The third single, “I Don’t Wanna Get Wise,” is unspectacular but still gets some solid vocals from Roger Daltrey at the age of 75. One can only respect the performance.  

Arguably the best songs on Who are those buried in the second half of the album. “Hero Ground Zero” is one of the more melodic numbers and was well-received by the crowd when I saw the band play in Toronto in September 2019. “Break The News” is a softer one but probably my favorite. An acoustic number written by Simon Townshend, it has a certain stomp and simplicity to it that reminds me of Queen’s “’39,” with a touching vocal from Daltrey that has a bit of retrospect in its lyrics. “This Gun Will Misfire” is another standout. One of three bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the album, Townshend takes center stage with his growling vocals on the state of political affairs with clever quips such as:  “There’s a message in Afghanistan / Opium wins the toss / Charlie Wilson, the communists / They had to take a loss.”

Indeed, there’s still a bit of  rivalry between the last standing members of The Who. They wrote and recorded separately for the album, interview separately with occasional jabs, and rarely interacted when I saw them play a show in September 2019. But there’s something about a bit of rivalry that just adds to their songwriting. 

If there is one stain on Who it is the inclusion of “Got Nothing To Prove,” a shoddy demo from the 1960s reject bin, tacked on as a bonus track. Wedged between two original recordings on the deluxe version, it sounds like a reject from a Monkees album and only shows how far Townshend and Daltrey have come as songwriters. The clashing of new and old bonus tracks captures what I expect fans’ reception of album to be: those who bemoaned 2006’s Endless Wire and pined for the olden days will praise the demo as the lone standout on the album. Those of us who saw Endless Wire as an enjoyable maturation of the Townshend / Daltrey duo will quite enjoy this new one. 

Rating: B+

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