Who's Next

The Who

MCA Records, 1971


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


A couple of months ago, when I reviewed The Who's It's Hard on these pages (and subsequently tore it to shreds), devoted reader and admitted Who fanatic Andrew Santoni wrote to me, wondering why I chose that particular album over others that are considered classics. So, Andrew, this one's for you...

After the breakthrough success of Tommy for Pete Townshend and company, the band began to gear up for a repeat rock opera, a project known as Lifehouse. But for reasons known only to the band, the project just never came together like Tommy did. The music that was to have been the core of that project, as a result, became 1971's Who's Next, quite possibly this band's best work.

(Side note: You all can thank my almost-two-year-old for today's review. I asked her the other night if she wanted to hear a record, and she said, "Yeah." I asked what she wanted to hear, and she said something that sounded like "Who." I really wish I had a video camera, and had caught her on tape dancing to "My Wife" - you know damn well I would have posted it here.)

Frankly, I'm glad that Lifehouse fell apart, for the simple reason that any time you try to capitalize on a successful project, the second effort always seems to fall flat. Jethro Tull learned this the hard way, following up my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Thick As A Brick with the horrible A Passion Play, an album I'm committed to staying away from as long as I can get away with it. But anyway, back to The Who...

Over 25 years since its release, only a few of the album's nine tracks aren't heard regularly on classic rock radio - and the overplaying of some tracks is actually hurting Who's Next. Sure, I love "Won't Get Fooled Again", but do I really need to hear it every frickin' day?

Fact of the matter is, when heard as a whole, all the overplayed singles sound at ease with the entire flow of the album. The lead-off track, "Baba O'Riley," is example of this. Another track beaten into the ground by radio, it is an appropriate way to kick off this album. The lead-in to each track is short, but sounds like it is a natural progression for the whole album. Coming out of the John Entwistle track "My Wife" (undoubtedly one of The Who's hidden gems) right into "The Song Is Over" is perfect.

Each song seems to take on a whole new life when Who's Next is played in its entirety. The closing of the whole project with "Won't Get Fooled Again" seems to tie everything together into a nice neat package. "Behind Blue Eyes" rarely sounded better - hell, even "Goin' Mobile," a track I absolutely hate hearing on the radio, almost sounds good.

Townshend's expansion to keyboards (besides his guitar work) is a surprising change of pace, while Keith Moon's drums were the most subdued he had ever played them up to this point. Before, Moon would thrash about on the kit, hitting everything in almost haphazard fashion. On Who's Next, you can actually hear some technique to his skin work. Of course, we can't forget Roger Daltrey, whose vocal work on this album could easily go from gentle purring to the ferocity of a lion, as on "Behind Blue Eyes".

There's no denying that Who's Next is a great album that belongs in everyone's collection. But the question has to be: Why has classic rock radio latched onto this album so strongly, and left others in The Who's discography almost orphaned? For every thirty times I hear "Bargain" on the radio, I would say you're lucky to hear something like "I Can't Explain" or "I Can See For Miles".

And let's admit it: Had Lifehouse actually been seen to completion, I highly doubt we'd worship these songs the way we do now. I can't give you a good reason why I feel that way - just instinctive.

Who's Next showed that The Who were hitting their creative peak - something they were about to lose focus of for a time. If you could only own two or three Who albums, choosing this one is a no-brainer.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.