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The Who - Endless Wire CD (album) cover


The Who



2.88 | 84 ratings

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4 stars In the summer of '67 I saw The Who in concert. The experience altered my life and that's no exaggeration. No longer could I be satisfied with sucrose pop songs about puppy love or perky odes to hot rods and surfing. Pete, Roger, John and Keith were compelled to exorcise their demons by playing rock music hard, fast and loud and that's what I craved. To heck with subtlety, theirs was an edgy roar rooted in the rough, soot-stained back alleys of London and it was join the rumble or get out of the way. Who music became as life- defining for me as any ever would. I bought every album dutifully through "Quadrophenia," after which my adventurous tastes and limited budget kept their later works from inclusion in my wooden crates of LPs but I never lost track of what they were doing. Only in the last few years have I finally caught up with "By Numbers" through "It's Hard" and, while acknowledging their flaws and inconsistencies, those four studio albums still managed to insightfully reflect the often confused and frustrated mindset of their maturing generation. It's also easy to see why they stopped recording new material after 1982. Moon couldn't be replaced. The fire was out.

When this CD came out in 2006 I was curious but I chose not to grab up a copy simply because I didn't want to hear my heroes fail. After all, Pete & Roger are the only two of the foursome still above ground and they're both in their 60s. I wondered if they had anything relevant or even entertaining to offer me at this juncture. But after seeing them perform the touching "Tea & Theatre" on TV some months back I knew I had to investigate and I'm glad I did. While glaringly bereft of any smidgen of humor (as is this review), it's honest, forthright and doesn't try to fool their fans into thinking they're still snotty, rebellious punks. Thank God.

One of the album's most admirable traits is the respectful homage they pay to the group's signature sounds and the opener, "Fragments," is a fine example. Lawrence Ball's whirling synth intro instantly brings to mind a "Who's Next" vibe and the clever arrangement of this rocker is a reminder of the progressive attitude that distinguishes so much of their catalogue. While Daltrey's voice has lost much of its range and esteem over the decades, his passion remains intact and he delivers the song's metaphysical lines ("We are a billion fragments exploding outward/like broken glass we damage even in defeat/we are tiny pieces falling now and settling/like snowflake crystal building on the city street") with undeniable conviction. It's worth mentioning that all of the musical instruments on the first seven tunes are capably played by Townshend.

The riveting poetry of "A Man in a Purple Dress" proves that Pete's ability to slay with words is intact. A naked yet forceful, folk-styled acoustic guitar-with-vocal approach allows the bold lyrics to stand out like the constellations on a moonless night. Penned after viewing Mel Gibson's powerful movie, "The Passion of the Christ," Townshend expresses what we yearned for Jesus to say to his cruel, ridiculously adorned accusers. "How dare you/do you think I'll quietly go?/you are much braver than you know/for I can't die/your staff, your stick, your special cap/they'll protect you in hell?/what crap!/believe the lie..." Roger snaps. Music this indignant and angry needs no embellishment. "Mike Post Theme" follows and it's a strong piece that expertly weaves hard and soft dynamics as Pete does a good job of piecing together the tight feel of a band all by himself. Daltrey sings for all of us who know the angst of aging firsthand. "We're not strong enough/we're not young enough/we're not alone enough/not cold enough/emotionally we're not even old enough/for love..." he screams. Ahh. Love, the elusive phantom of human existence.

I can't help but think that in the Waits-ish "In the Ether" Townshend portrays the specter of a lonely Keith Moon, drifting in purgatory. Accompanied only by droll piano and acoustic guitar, Pete literally growls lines like "In the ether I wait for you/hanging in this mist that I know's unreal/there is nothing there/there's no you, no me/even though it's crazy/I still appeal/this is heavenly hell/I appear insane/I have no idea who there is to blame..." and the effect is both sobering and chilling. This isn't something that would've worked on any previous Who disc but it fits perfectly here. Speaking of Moonie, Zak Starkey sits in on the drum kit for "Black Widow's Eyes" and effectively summons the wild man's inimitable spirit, adding punch to this driving number. Roger is in particularly healthy voice as he sings about a hostage stricken with Stockholm syndrome. "Strange that when infatuation calls/we think we've got real love in our life/it pumps like the pressure in the station hall/as the express train thunders on by" he intones.

"Two Thousand Years" is a stark, undecorated folk tune where we find Judas Iscariot quarantined in his own dark nook of the underworld, unable to find out what has happened above since his treachery. "...Two thousand years I have waited/to ask if I have loved you/to know if I have served you/to find if I've obeyed you/to know if I've betrayed you," he calls. For Judas, it would seem, an eternity of isolation is the harshest sentence. Townshend and his acoustic guitar go solo for the melodic "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" as he describes the Creator's decision to bring music into being. "I heard the heavens sing/predicting Marty Robbins/I knew I'd find music and time/were the perfect plan," he sings. Again, nothing fancy, just simplicity at its most effective.

Employing the skills of studio musicians, "It's Not Enough" applies a swift kick to the buttocks as they put to music the maddening frustration that every man has experienced with his woman since Adam was rudely ribbed by Eve. Daltrey's dry grit is more than appropriate as he shouts out biting lyrics like "you said you'd go as far as to turn to my friend/who once warned me of you/said you'd hasten my end/he'll choose you over me/because I have lent every ounce of my juice/my essence is spent," and "I gave you cash/I gave you love/all that I heard was/'it's not enough...'" Been there, Bubba. I feel your pain. Townshend then does a complete 180 with the quiet "You Stand By Me" in which he praises his lady companion for not abandoning him even when he was being a vile ogre. "I suppose I could make it all on my own/I know I'd arrive all skin and all bone/you are the strongest back I've ever known/you carried me, carried me, carried me home..." he confesses. It's a love song without flowery schmaltz.

The mini rock opera "Wire & Glass" is more of an interesting freight train of short sketches streaming by than a cohesive whole. Still utilizing the full band, they start with the raucous "Sound Round," a nostalgic throwback to their beginnings when they only needed to "feel the ground/feel the pulse." A quadrophenic atmosphere pervades the rocking "Pick up the Peace" in which the ether man (Moon) looks down on the remaining trio who've decided to carry on and laments "I see them older when life is done/I was a loser at the game they won." (Pete's explanation of the story is different and can be found online but this is my interpretation so sue me already.) On "Unholy Trinity" Townshend brings in mandolin and banjo for a folksy effect and I'd swear he's describing himself, Entwistle and Daltrey here. "Three kids from the neighborhood/three different lives/three different ways to be/three identical smiles," Roger sings. Pete scored the orchestration for "Trilby's Piano" on his own and that's dandy but it comes off like filler in a boring Broadway musical and marks the low point of the proceedings.

The album's namesake may be sing-along hokey but it's also extremely contagious and I love it. Townshend drawls "we found this pile of paper/written by the ether man/he hatched a mad old caper/he had a mad old plan/he'd turn us into music/he'd show us to our portals/he gathered wire and angels/to entertain immortals" but it's the repetition of the tune's title on the chorus that serenades. It fascinates me and I find myself mumbling it under my breath at the oddest moments. "Fragments of Fragments" follows and, yes, it's a reprise but this time the vocals are eerie, the background chorale is different and the synthesizers take center stage. "We Got a Hit" is another glimpse of early Who that avoids parody. "We got our folks together/we broke down barriers," Daltrey announces. (They most definitely did.) "They Made My Dream Come True" is a snide dirge and a commentary on the irony of fame in which Pete sings "People died where I performed...," a somber reference to the '79 concert tragedy in Cincinnati. "Mirror Door" has a palpable "Tommy" aura but Roger's overwrought croaking is embarrassing and the question of who'll have the nuts to step up and revitalize modern music goes unanswered. Fortunately, they end it all on a beautiful note with the thoughtful "Tea & Theatre," a heartfelt requiem presented with reverence as Pete and Roger face the road ahead without John. "We made it work/but one of us failed/that makes it so sad/a great dream derailed," he wails, "One of us gone/one of us mad/one of us, me/all of us sad..."

They tack on a couple of extended tracks and both are excellent. "We Got a Hit" has urgency and they artfully toss in the chorus of "They Made My Dream Come True" for the bridge. The longer "Endless Wire" is like a second helping of a decadent dessert and, since I adore the song, I don't mind being a glutton. There's also a bonus concert DVD, "Live at Lyon," that shows them as they are today but Daltrey seems preoccupied with attempting to hit the required notes and Townshend doesn't know what to do with himself. It just makes me cherish even more my fond memories of seeing the original lineup twice in my youth when they were full of spit and vinegar and took no prisoners.

I'm surprised at how much I like this album. I knew the technical aspects would be exemplary and the performances more than adequate but I didn't expect the tunes to be as engaging as they are. It's not all that progressive per se but that's not the point. If you're knowledgeable about the history of The Who then you'll find this to be a delightful bookend to their amazing legacy. It may not be the last we hear from Pete & Roger but, if it is, they definitely went out on a High Number. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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