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


The Who



4.42 | 646 ratings

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5 stars If one wants to hear rock played with an extremely progressive leaning sound and songs with an equally progressive concept and arrangement, then this is the album that must be heard. However, this album has been commercialized to death over the years, meaning the listener needs to come into this album with fresh ears; I for one heard this album in my youth before being well-versed in popular culture and immediately thought 'This is phenomenal'. It remains my favorite album to this day and the reason why The Who is my favorite artist; surely their experimentations pushed the limits of rock in the same manner of the Prog Giants of the early 70's. The Who essentially was an Art Rock band, everything from Sell Out through Quadrophenia is rock with high artistic sensibilities.

The Who would never be a purely progressive band in the vein of King Crimson or Yes. But they demonstrated keen progressive ambitions in 1970-1971 with the Lifehouse project, Pete Townsend's attempt at a sci-fi rock album that centered on discovering the lost note that defines human existence (see Pure and Easy). Upon being unable to relay his seemingly dense and confusing idea to those associated with the band, Pete had a suicidal nervous breakdown. What was left of Lifehouse was a core group of songs the band had been recording and performing live at the Young Vic Theater. If Pete failed in topping Tommy with Lifehouse, he certainly was successful with Who's Next.

Listen to Tommy and then listen to Who's Next: a complete sonic transformation can be heard, the sound of a rock band elevating itself above expectations and developing a truly timeless album. Their contemporaries (Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones), were still venturing in traditional blues conventions in 1970, a sound that can be truly defined as 'classic rock', though Zeppelin veered off into folk with III and IV. However, The Who never was well-versed in the blues; they were something of an anomaly in the rock community, particularly their sound, edge and pure visceral energy. Any Who song stands out substantially from other 'classic rock' played on the radio. Townsend would have given Tommy similar arrangements as heard on Who's Next if the band had not been destitute and unable to record in the studio. Thankfully, on Who's Next, Pete was able to explore every venture outside of Lifehouse as he saw fit.

This album demonstrates a full realization of their vision, with the development of a sound that had never been heard before- this is the progressive masterpiece of The Who. Quadrophenia may have more elaborate thematic elements throughout the album, but this is the album in which a traditional power trio expanded their palette and moved beyond the limitations that hamper most rock bands. Listen to this album and ask yourself 'Is equally progressive as The Yes Album?' In my eyes it is.

Pete threw the kitchen sink at the listener incorporating modal synthesizer tracks in 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again', getting this sound by playing a Lowrey Organ and feeding the output into an EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer. Then there is Pete's solo in 'Going Mobile' in which he modulates his guitar using an envelope follower and his synthesizers provide tasteful texture to many of the other songs, 'Bargain', 'Song is Over' and 'Getting in Tune' standing out. What other rock band with equal popularity and lasting power as The Who incorporated a violin solo into their 'magnum opus' of sorts? Dave Arbus' solo to end 'Baba O'Riley' gives the piece a remarkable lightness to its otherwise somber and morbid context ("Don't cry/don't raise your eye/It's only teenage wasteland"). Often misunderstood as a promotion of the counter-culture and its excesses, Pete expresses his deep isolation and aversion to the culture that embraced him as'godhead'. If anything this is an elegy to an entire generation, and the fact that it is more relevant today than it was when it was written is a testament to Townsend's mastery.

Again, this album is timeless. Go into it with fresh ears for the music.

mr.cub | 5/5 |


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