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The Who - By Numbers CD (album) cover

BY NUMBERS

The Who

 

Proto-Prog

3.51 | 215 ratings

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mr.cub
4 stars This is certainly an anomaly in The Who's recording output. Since A Quick One While He's Away there had been a gradual development in sound, experimentation in material and conceptual ideas, and well simply maturity. The first attempts at artistic flair came on The Who Sell out, where the group attempted to make a concept album based on a pirate radio station. To a great degree, the project was only well realized on the first side of the album; however, this notwithstanding the record contains some of the group's best early pop/art rock material. Then came the three studio albums considered to be the group's best: Tommy, Who's Next, Quadrophenia. Each album witnessed a gradual evolution in the group's music. On record, Tommy was an a predominantly acoustic affair and really not indicative of the potential heights reached while performed live on stage (as demonstrated by Live at Leeds, Live at Isle of Wight). Who's Next at the time demonstrated the most mature and well realized studio album released by the group, packed with energy, musicianship and excellent material. Its experimentation was only further explored in Quadrophenia: an art rock masterpiece filled with incredibly arranged pieces illustrated the Who at their best. Two years later came By Numbers.

One won't find the likes of Quadrohenia on this record. Gone are the synths, gone is the grandiose concept that had surrounded the previous four studio affairs. For the most part this is a back to basics record that demonstrates the group playing material with incredible skill and professionalism. It also presents Pete's best writing....repeat best writing. You may laugh and say "No way! On an album with Squeeze Box?" Yes its true. I honestly prefer the style of writing Pete uses on this album as opposed to the that on previous records. There isn't any greater concept joining the songs, they stand as well apart as they do together dealing with a variety of Pete's personal demons: alcoholism (How Much I Booze), women (They're All In Love, Dreaming From the Waist), and his insecurities (How Many Friends). The album features stripped down songs such as Blue Red and Grey (which features Pete and a ukulele) and Imagine a Man (which centers around Roger's voice and bare instrumentation). The combination of these arrangements and the topics Pete reflects upon make this a very good album all around with a variety of styles and moods.

While there are a few songs without the full band, the majority of the album is an exhibition for the power trio to explore the well established professionalism coming from their consistent touring for the better part of the previous decade. John lays down some of his best bass tracks, flying all over the place on tracks like Dreaming from the Waist, How Many Friends, A Hand or Face. His own personal piece-Success Story- is a beast of a track and contains all the irony, sarcasm and thundering bass guitar from The Ox one could ever hope. Personally, Keith's drumming on this album is his most realized. The album presents a wide variety of moods and Keith nails it, from the delicate pieces like They're all in Love to the hard rocking However Much I Booze. Dynamically he's on and to me his fills are more creative than ever. This in my humble opinion is the last true Keith Moon album from the group; the unabashed chaos has matured but still pushes John and Pete to their musical limits. In Booze, there really isn't a solo as Pete just repeats the original riff while Keith and John just let loose over the top.

As mentioned from a songwriting standpoint, Pete provides the group with some tremendous and versatile material. The band likewise matches the variety of material with some of their best playing. From a guitar standpoint, Pete was never better on a Who record: providing tasteful lead guitar work I wish was present every Who record in addition to his ever reliable rhythm work. And Roger?well I think this exhibits his strength as a singer, tackling a wide variety of material and really singing with incredible passion (How Many Friends being a highlight). The album's closer-A Hand or Face- encapsulates the feel of this album from a musical and lyrical standpoint.

Overall I consider to be one of the best Who albums and up there with Who's Next and Quadrophenia. It just isn't nearly as progressive as those two albums and really prides itself as being that outlier in the Who's 70's output. No synths, no elaborate conceptual ideas but just pure rock and roll music played at an exceptional level with tremendous songwriting. I feel the strength of this album is its eclectic nature and it really takes the listener to places and ideas that no other Who album dares. And for me, that is what makes it such a good album and an excellent listen for those interested in rock music.

mr.cub | 4/5 |

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