The Who

Polydor, 2019


REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


I can’t overstate the influence that The Who have had on my musical taste and, to be honest, my approach to life itself. On the cusp of 50, it’s perhaps debatable whether that’s been for better or worse. (That’s a joke! They were a godsend to an already disaffected pre-teen. I don’t blame them for what will likely be a dodgy retirement.)

Anyway, despite the band’s many ups and downs, I’ve remained interested and engaged, buying the records and reissues, reading the interviews—$16.99 for another issue of Mojo?! Alas! —and have paid more for a good seat to see Daltrey, Townshend, et al, than for any other band. Which is also to say that I know enough to temper my excitement when a new album is announced. But I’m certainly going to give it a good listen. Probably many listens, in fact. Even when the tunes don’t quite grab me.

And such is the case with Who, the first band’s proper album since 2006’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Endless Wire. Largely panned by… almost everyone, Endless Wire grew on me over time until I became pretty fond of it. Maybe the same will happen with Who, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.

Things start out promisingly enough with the stabbing “All This Music Must Fade,” containing the (re)statement of purpose “I don’t care / I know you’re gonna hate this song / And that’s fair / We never really got along.” A bit of a return to form then both musically and philosophically. “Ball And Chain,” about the Guantanamo Bay prison, is also quite good. But then things get bumpy.

Midway through side one the funky “Detour” doesn’t quite grab, but the swelling “Beads On A String” is an improvement. “Hero Ground Zero” comes across as a good song that’s been strangely muted, despite some excellent Who-type drumming in the middle by Matt Chamberlain and NOT by Zak Starkey, the band’s longtime semi-permanent drummer and Ringo Starr’s son.

Side two wavers immediately, with the auto-tune on Townshend’s backing vocal on “Street Song” raising an eyebrow; I love Townshend’s voice and don’t want it to resemble HAL. Some less intrusive modulation colors “I’ll Be Back,” on which Townshend sings lead. It’s just a little too yacht rock for my taste. “Break The News” is better, a playful romp with a sympathetic vocal by Daltrey. And, say what I may, Daltrey sounds great on this record, as he still does live. All the years of not partying and opting for tea over Courvoisier would seem to be paying dividends. 

“Rockin’ In Rage” sounds starts off fairly theatrical (imagine that!) before kicking into a classic bit of rhythmic Who riffing, the latter approach being more gripping than the former. The wind up, “She Rocked My World,” employs a bit of Latin flavor but takes things out with a bit of a whimper.

Listen, I still love these guys, and the fact that they’ve put out a clearly honest, relatively non-commercial record still goes a long way with me. If you’re a fan, you’ve probably already heard the album, and your mileage may vary. As for me, I’ll throw it on every now and then, but after the record is over if you ask me to tell you what I just heard it may be awhile yet before I can tell you. 

Rating: B-

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