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The Who - Who's Next CD (album) cover


The Who



4.41 | 561 ratings

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5 stars This killer album presents yet another in a series of reasons why The Who is a comfortable fit on this website. While most groups following overwhelming success and universal accolades for a groundbreaking double LP would have greedily tried to produce more of the same, Pete Townsend & Co. took their music to places nobody expected them to. In other words, The Who weren't happy or content to stand pat with the status quo. They wanted to add new instrumentation like synthesizers and violins to their sound. They wanted their writing, their performing, their studio abilities and, most of all, their art to progress. And that's precisely what we're all here to celebrate, right?

Townsend really intended to top "Tommy" by putting together a very ambitious musical movie tentatively called "Lifehouse" but, after several months of unproductive recording sessions in New York with their manager/producer Kit Lambert, the contempt that familiarity breeds forced them to abandon the project with him and start over again in London with Glyn Johns. What Johns brought to the group besides a fresh outlook was his skill as a cutting-edge recording and mix-down engineer that would enable them to keep pace with the constant improvements in consumer audio systems.

Every Who fan in the world was shocked when they heard the first thirty seconds of the album that consisted of electronically sequenced notes from a synthesizer. "This is the WHO?" we exclaimed en masse. And certainly no one on the face of the earth was prepared for the incredible grandeur of "Baba O'Riley." As soon as those gargantuan chords were pounded out on the piano, Keith Moon slammed wholeheartedly into the beat, John Entwistle lowered the boom on bass and Roger Daltrey boldly sang "Out here in the fields I fight for my meals" we all knew these guys were making history again. Even today few songs build dynamic tension layer upon layer as well as this track and when Townsend's enormous guitar crashes in after the first verse the tune levitates to one-of-a-kind progressive rock. And the improbable ending with Dave Arbus sawing on the violin doesn't seem like it has any business being there but it is an inspired moment of transcendent brilliance that works flawlessly. This is the kind of rock & roll that literally takes my breath away and I never, ever get tired of hearing it.

It's tough to follow an opening like that but "Bargain" does a very good job of it. Showing their exceptional ability as an ensemble, the song is tighter than a lug nut and it demonstrates their control over the kinetic power they possessed. Townsend's room-filling block chords, John's melodic bass lines, Keith's unique drum fills and Roger's charismatic vocal delivery make this song about unequivocal longing for spiritual enlightenment the classic that it has become. It's got everything that made this band one of the greats. Next comes the weakest and thankfully the briefest cut, "Love Ain't For Keeping," a number that might've fared better if it weren't surrounded by titans. Their usual irrepressible sense of humor is in short supply on this album but Entwistle's witty "My Wife" is the obvious exception. I love the horns and the droning feedback that give this simple song a real backbone and bite.

"Song Is Over," which features the talented Nicky Hopkins turning in a stellar piano performance, is one of the most beautiful and moving rock anthems you'll ever hear. Here the synthesizer is used as a complement to the melody rather than as a novelty gimmick (as many pop stars were doing at that time) and the flowing arrangement provides peak after peak of musical climaxes that are exhilarating. It's also another tune lifted from several intertwined "Lifehouse" songs that easily stands on its own. The surprisingly poignant "Getting in Tune" reveals just how mature Daltrey's voice had become and once again Hopkins' deft piano adds just the right touch to this often-overlooked jewel. While not necessarily intended to be funny, the joyous levity of "Going Mobile" fits perfectly here. Pete was always experimenting with different guitar effects and he uses something called an envelope follower to create an interesting sound that adds to the irresistible bounce of the tune.

The unpredictable, contrasting musical journey the group takes the listener on would've made "Behind Blue Eyes" a classic even if it didn't contain some of the most arresting and disturbing words ever to appear in rock. The lack of remorse from the troubled, rough-edged and low brow protagonist as he makes a plea for sympathy creates a true conundrum and a difficult pill to swallow. It's almost as if he's saying "Do you think it's easy being a bastard like me?" It gets me every time. In light of the semi- serious "we can change the world" movement that had sprung up during the idealistic 60s Townsend seems determined to bring everyone back to reality with the immortal rock anthem that is "Won't Get Fooled Again." Using common chords that every neophyte guitar player can master, Pete composed what may be the perfect rock song. The stabbing, pulsating synthesizer that sets the urgent tempo at the beginning; Entwistle's unbelievable bass lines (just listen to what he's playing underneath the next time this tune comes on your radio); Moon's ferocious, attacking style on the drums; the glorious, arena-sized guitar that Townsend wields like a scythe and, of course, the hall-of-fame, bloodcurdling scream from Roger that can wake the dead make this song blaze hotter than the noonday sun. I know the famous line of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" will be as relevant 200 years from now as it is today and so do you.

These four hard-rockin' musical explorers made a lot of amazing albums in their career but it would be unthinkable to tell anyone who wasn't familiar with them to start with any other record. If they aren't impressed with this one then they should try listening to something other than rock altogether. There's probably not a prog musician alive that hasn't been encouraged and inspired by "Who's Next" to some degree because it has every ingredient necessary to make you think, dance, windmill an air guitar and headbang with wild abandon. This monumental album set the confused, where-do-we-go-from-here world of the early 70s on its ear, announced that rock & roll was alive and well and made damn sure that The Who will never be forgotten. Never.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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