This is long-overdue. Meaning my review and, in the grander scheme of things, the most recent offering from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, still trading under the name “THE WHO”. The last release under their collective moniker, Endless Wire, came in 2006; this album was delivered in December, 2019 – and somehow, I managed to not jump on this as soon as it was released. So I’m here to rectify that mistake now.
Start with the album cover: it screams of “vintage” Who-style, designed by Peter Blake, who did Sgt. Pepper…, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road and The Who’s own Face Dances, among others. That automatically wins brownie points with me. Seeing the good old Polydor label also gave me that hopeful twinge of nostalgia – that they took a step back to their prime years – even though that’s an impossibility without John Entwistle and Keith Moon. And then there’s the music…
To be fair and clear, I liked Endless Wire. Certainly a lot more than 1982’s It’s Hard, the previous “last official Who album” – that’s one that I’ll never digest properly. I even like Face Dances. But this new one, with the eponymous title, has a bite to it that’s been missed for a long time from Townshend’s songwriting. And Daltrey, who is 76 years old (75 at the time of recording/release), seems to have a vocal revitalization – which was very evident on his incredible “duet” album with Wilko Johnson, 2014’s Going Back Home. And it has to be said, I’ve seen The Who in concert over the last few years, and Daltrey’s sounding just as good and as powerful as ever (albeit no longer able to scream like he used to, which really isn’t a necessity).
Nonetheless, the songs on Who have a liveliness that they haven’t had for (at this point) decades. “All This Music Must Fade” has a melodic thread that immediately recalls “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and I don’t have a problem with that; the lyrical content is a perspective of what’s wrong with current music and even cleverly puts forth the line “I don’t mind other guys ripping off my song”, which (of course) is a bastardization of “I don’t mind other guys dancing with my girl”, from “The Kids Are Alright”. It’s brash, unapologetic and calls it like it is – music no longer has the ability to change anything, as it once may have had the power to do. And the song closes appropriately, with the spoken “who gives a fuck?”. “I Don’t Wanna Get Wise” is a very Who-circa mid-’70’s kind of uptempo piece, with shades of Quadrophenia and Who By Numbers in its structure; “Detour” sounds like something that would have been done by the band in the ’60’s (I’m guessing this was titled after the band’s original name), with a quasi-Bo Diddley beat on the verses and handclaps, which is a nice glance backwards.
“Hero Ground Zero” is a dramatic, eloquent moment; orchestral accompaniment and a powerfully emotional Daltrey vocal; “I’ll Be Back” is a jazzy/easy-listening acoustic-based Townshend lead vocal. A heartfelt love song, Pete’s singing is better than I think I’ve ever heard him. “Break The News” is a jaunty acoustic track with some slight country flavors – Townshend’s finger-picking style (a la “I’m One”) carries this warm standout, along with very sympathetic piano touches and “She Rocked My World” is a samba-like acoustic shuffle, which is a surprisingly low-key way to end this album, and it works. Daltrey’s vocal is low, sly and is one of his best deliveries on this collection.
You may dismiss this out of hand, since “The Who” have been truncated without Entwistle and Moon, but I can say as long as Pete and Roger continue, I will give them the time of day and any new material a chance. Which is fair, since this is quite good in the canon of Who material. Give it a listen and let it sit with you for a while. It’s a grower, but a strong one.
WHO is currently available