The Who – Who

The Who – WHO

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are the two surviving members of British institution The Who, and 13 years since they gave us Endless Wire, which in turn was after a 24-year gap, there is a new album. WHO misses out the interrogation point and simply makes its statement in what they want to do, which bellies the tail end of the 2019 release date where the charts were dominated by boy band debris, click track R&B, and raps about diss da Brexit innit bro, etc.

Straight off the bat, All This Music Must Fade has Daltrey’s leonine roar telling us “I know you’re going to hate this song” as if to stick two fingers up to anyone who would dare to criticise… we’re doing this anyway. However, debuting at number two in the US charts, abhorrence by the buying public was obviously not going to be a problem for certain members of the population starved of something decent for a change.

The Who, as a genre, has always been considered a rock band but there was always something divergent in the mix that would find their LPs in many different record boxes. From their earliest days, the sound was distinguished by lead drums, choppy acoustic and power chord electric guitars, busy bass lines, and the contrasting lead vocals of Daltrey with Townshend’s sweeter tones.

As keyboards started playing their part, then the music morphed into more proggy territory with Who’s Next and Quadrophenia cementing this notion that really started with the 1969 concept of Tommy. Keith Moon’s last foray was the excellent Who Are You but the band carried on with The Small Faces’ drummer Kenny Jones right up until 1981’s Face Dances. Bassist John Entwistle’s demise meant there wasn’t another album for nearly a quarter of a century but reminiscence aside, WHO is the subject here and the return of The Who’s latest package certainly packs quite a punch, not to mention a sleeve design by Peter “Sgt. Pepper” Blake.

Featuring an array of session musicians, including Gordon Giltrap on the slow shoe shuffle of She Rocked My World, which ends the album, with Zak Starkey and Roger Waters’ Joey Waronker on drums, plus no fewer than two blokes on handclaps.

Lyrically political in parts, especially Ball and Chain which highlights the continuing issue in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, this is classic Pete Townshend in the lyrics and the musicality department. Subtle organs, Mellotrons, and synths show that Roger Daltrey’s collaborations with Wilko Johnson were on a completely different (magic) bus as first and foremost this latest effort has “THE WHO” written through it like a stick of Brighton Rock stuck to the vinyl saddle of a Lambretta…

The aforementioned Ball and Chain has the musical rests filled with keyboard choir, sequenced piano, and keys which basically invade most the album as well, with even a tease of Baba O’Riley on Detour. This track also has Pino Palladino’s bass doing its best My Generation impersonation with yet more quintessential Who-ness happening with the arpeggio keys on anti-war song Beads On One String, where a heartfelt and gentler Daltrey choruses:

“This can’t go on forever
This war in a ring
Gotta bring us together
Like beads on one string.”

Tempo changes and a familiarity with Substitute‘s acoustic strumming nod a wink to their former oeuvre on most of the tracks here whilst orchestral tinged song Hero Ground Zero, based on a piece of music written for Townshend’s proposed opera The Age of Anxiety, is sung as if from an alter ego band. This has a warmth of acquaintanceship with the past but the most surprising and nostalgic song here is I’ll Be Back, a timeless and tender ballad with a great symphonic backing augmented by the best harmonica that Larry Adler never played.

Anyone who has previously bought into this band will not find anything astounding but will acknowledge that after all these years, they still have something to give and say which is relevant to the here and now but is still evocative of a long lost era. New music rooted in the past but brought bang up to date, a true case of an oxymoron but it works: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

01. All This Music Must Fade (3:20)
02. Ball And Chain (4:29)
03. I Don’t Wanna Get Wise (3:54)
04. Detour (3:46)
05. Beads On One String (3:40)
06. Hero Ground Zero (4:52)
07. Street Song (4:47)
08. I’ll Be Back (5:01)
09. Break The News (4:30)
10. Rockin’ In Rage (4:04)
11. She Rocked My World (3:22)

Total Time – 44:33

Pete Townshend – Guitars, Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals (tracks 8,12,13 & 14), Harmonicas, Percussion, Synthesizer tracks, Violin, Cello, Hurdy-gurdy, Effects, Orchestration (track 6)
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals (except 8,12,13 & 14)
~ with:
Pino Palladino – Bass (tracks 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,11 & 12)
Zak Starkey – Drums (tracks 1,2,4 & 7)
Simon Townshend – Percussion
Dave Sardy – Percussion, Mellotron, Synthesizer Programming (track 5)
Joey Waronker – Drums (tracks 5,8,11 & 12)
Benmont Tench – Organ, Mellotron
Gus Seyffert – Bass (tracks 3, 9 & 10)
Carla Azar – Drums (tracks 3 & 10)
Matt Chamberlain – Drums (track 6)
Josh Tyrrell – Handclaps (track 4)
Rowan McIntosh – Handclaps (track 4)
Martin Batchelar – Programming (track 6), Orchestration (tracks 6 & 8), Orchestra Arrangement (track 8), Orchestra Conducting (tracks 6,8 & 13)
Rachel Fuller – Orchestration (track 6)
Peter Rotter – Orchestra Fixer (tracks 6,8 & 13)
Bruce Dukov – Orchestra Leader (tracks 6,8 & 13)
Andrew Synowiec – Acoustic Guitar (track 9)
Gordon Giltrap – Acoustic Guitar (track 11)
Fergus Gerrand – Percussion (track 11)

Record Label: Polydor
Catalogue#: 0826465
Date of Release: 6th December 2019

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