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The Who - The Who Sell Out  CD (album) cover

THE WHO SELL OUT

The Who

 

Proto-Prog

3.52 | 148 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Radio London reminds you: a 4.5.

Okay, I know that I'm supposed to think of this as a Sergeant Pepper album, but every time I hear it, I keep drifting back to Stand Up. For one thing, it's as varietous as hell, but secondly, and more importantly, compare the album to the previous effort, A Quick One, and you will be totally blown away that this is the same band. A Quick One was fun and experimental (like This Was), but patchy (like This Was). The Who Sell Out is fun, experimental, and it kicks ass. A LOT of ass. Supposedly "I Can See For Miles" prompted the Beatles to do "Helter Skelter," but the main difference is that the Beatles have to want to rock, the Who can do it in their sleep. And for that reason, I will always like the Who more; the Beatles can keep their tireless experimentation and sparkling melodies, I want pretentious headbangery!

Oh. Sorry. That became a sort of Who defense/Beatles attack. Back to the album.

The Who Sell Out also reminds me of another Tull album, one Thick as a Brick. Much like good ole Thick, this is a fairly comical attack on the music industry, the listening public, and the band itself, all provided by the concept of the radio station. And, much like Thick, this concept really holds the thing together.

The first sound you're hit with is a radio station ID. If you don't like it, well, then you'll probably hate the album; Pete always has been infamous for playing up the whole "concept" bit of "concept album." But what follows is psycho rocker "Armenia City in the Sky." The melody is okay, but all those feedback noises backed with Keith's bashing? Cool.

"Heinz Baked Beans" is just plain awesome. It's hardly a highlight, of course, since it's just a "commercial," but it's hilarious having Entwhistle play the mother (and of course, you know it's the lads themselves playing the brass band). "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand" is an enjoyable folksy pop rocker. And yeah, it's about just what you think it's about.

"Odorono" is an okayish pop rocker that it totally made by the subject: it's a VERY thinly disguised commercial for deodorant. Hilarious lyrics. "Tattoo" is quite the opposite; despite the goofy lyrical matter, the tune turns out to be a very charming acoustic number. Everyone harmonizes with Roger to create a very pretty atmosphere.

"Our Love Was" largely what tattoo was; gorgeous atmosphere, except the tune is a little more thought out. And it's heavier; the guitar solo almost spoils it. Almost. But true heaviness is in the album's "classic" number, and probably the best song on it: "I Can See for Miles and Miles." That chuggin' intro is good enough, but the chorus with Roger wailing, Keith tearing his kit apart and Pete just banging out the same note over and over again? Fantastic.

"I Can't Reach You" though is not much worse; a gorgeous (and slightly heavy) piano rocker. There's true beauty in the descending chorus. "Medac" is an amusing, if throwaway, Entwhistle commercial. "Relax" is a fairly forgettable organ based rocker. There are some good ideas in it, but it's too repetitive for its own good. Another organ based rocker, the creepy "Silas Stingy" is an Entwhistle number. After goofy crap like "Boris the Spider," John doesn't disappoint; the chorus is surprisingly catchy.

The Pete solo number "Sunrise" is pretty, but it doesn't really do anything, pure atmosphere. I think it's okay, maybe you'll like it. Pete's second mini-opera "Rael" is a bit of a let down for me, at least compared to "A Quick One." It's certainly nobler, and the flow from tune to tune (movement to movement) is much more natural. But I just find it to be less memorable as a whole. Oh well, it's a decent album closer (I'm not saying it's evil or nothin'), and besides, some basslines got reused in Tommy or sumpthin'.

The little commercials within the songs are brilliant without a doubt; you'd hardly expect something so varietous to flow so well, but the ads create perfect little bridges that are, at the same time, enjoyable one their own ("Radio London reminds you...go to the church of your choice." Gets me every time!).

I still cannot believe that this album is another "Sergeant Pepper rip off." For one thing, it takes the concept seriously. A secondly, the concept. The company was ALWAYS after Pete to write something the public honestly wanted to hear, so this is effectively his way of saying, "Alright FINE! I'll give 'em a soulless pop album!" So the "Sell Out" part is both Pete's bowing to the company's desires, a hope for the fate of the album, and a serious insider joke. I mean, c'mon? The Who selling out? Never. Not a shred of artistic integrity is lost on the album.

And even if you don't like the music (which is...technically impossible, seeing as how there's so many styles explored anyways), you can't not love the cover. Roger in baked beans! Pete with a deodorant stick bigger than his nose! John in a jungle suit! The Dark Side of Keith Moon! Hmm...why does that sound so familiar...

(It seems that the lads recorded a lot more songs to fit into the concept, but not everything made it. The remaster is literally loaded with more songs and more commercials; the commercials are usually amusing (in fact, some of the "outtake" styled ones are downright hilarious), but the songs make it clear that (most of) the best stuff got on the album. Here we go. "Rael 2" is less than a minute long, but it somehow manages to be more memorable than the rest of the opera...why wasn't it included? Could the time restraints be that bad? Oh well. "Glittering Girl" is a solid pop rocker, but nothing special. "Melancholia" is, as the title suggests, a spooky rocker. Might have been a highlight for a lesser band, but for the Who, just decent. "Someone's Coming" is Entwhistle's, and it's actually kind of disappointing. Considering the subject matter, I'd have expected some dark humor injected in it. As it stands, the horns are fun, but there's not enough for the tune to stand on. "Jaguar" is a fairly straightforward rocker, once again, nothing special. "Early Morning Cold Taxi" is Roger's offering to the altar. It's okay, but it seriously stinks of the first part of "I Can See for Miles." Well, he was never the best songster. "Hall of the Mountain King" is the Who's bit 'o classical fusion. Which was, of course, not unheard of in the late sixties. However, Pete and the lads make this song their own; dig those sick basslines coupled with all that ghostly (eventually hilarious) wailing. Some have compared this song to early Pink Floyd, but it's way heavier than that stuff. Even Pete's soloing is cool; best bonus on the remaster. "Girl's Eyes" is a fun, if slightly throwaway, pop rocker from Keith. Cool acoustic soloing though (and dig the crazy drums). "Mary Anne with Shaky Hands" is an "(Alternative Version)." It's no worse, just a little less layered. "Glow Girl" is another operatic bit that found its way into Tommy. Now, this might not be the best, but surely all this makes you realize that the Who were one of, if not the, best bands on earth at that time; knock off some of the weaker Sells Out tracks and add "Mountain King" and "Rael 2" into the appropriate places, that thing would be literally perfect. Of course, the remaster as a whole is far from perfect, but still fun. No change in the overall rating, but a highly recommended archive document. Love those liner notes; read the story behind "Rael.")

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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