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The Who - WHO CD (album) cover

WHO

The Who

 

Proto-Prog

3.61 | 26 ratings

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lazland
Prog Reviewer
4 stars A few years ago, I saw an interview with Roger Daltrey, in which the legendary Who vocalist waxed lyrical about how his old sparring partner, Pete Townsend, had "written the book" on teenage life, angst, and growing up in a harsh world, but hoped that he would one day write the definitive album about growing old.

Well, 2019 saw the release of "Who", a brand new collection of Townsend songs written for his cohort and recorded virtually, with Daltrey allegedly taking some time to "get into it".

Is it the definitive old rocker collection of words? Well, maybe not, but what it is is a fine collection, and, to this long-standing fan, that is likely as much as we are entitled to.

To these ears, Townsend has absolutely rediscovered his ear for fine and catchy rock tunes. The album leaps out at you with the opener, All This Music Must Fade, a somewhat bitter rock track, and Townsend shows that he has lost none of his old penchant for awkwardness when, at the close, he follows up a monologue with "who gives a fuck?". Indeed.

Daltrey sounds absolutely fantastic throughout. Of course, the range is a lot narrower than days of yore, but for a man in his 70's, it ain't half bad.

Ball & Chain opens with delicate piano and guitar, before providing us with a fine modern day blues riff discussing the horrors of Guantanamo Bay. And therein probably lies my deepest satisfaction with this album. I like it that Townsend still has the ability to have a damned good old rant, and that Daltrey is still the only singer and man alive with the capability of translating this into the polished product.

I adore I Don't Wanna Get Wise, a testimony to growing old in rather rude fashion, this rips along at such a pace that you really believe it is being performed by a group half their age.

Zak Starkey and Pink Palladino shine on drums and bass on Detour, a richly produced rock number with more than a nod to the past (Detours was the forerunner of The Who).

Talking of production, there are hints of some of the rich keys which blessed albums such as Who's Next and Quadrophenia all the way through, and nowhere more than on the expansive ballad Beads On One String, and my only minor gripe here is that it would have been nice to have a lot more, because they allow this track to soar in places. Ditto with Street Song, which contains keys which both remind one of Baba O'Reilly in parts, and provide a touch of Middle Eastern textures, and had this been more to the fore, a better track might have followed. As it is, I find it one of the rare throwaway tracks present.

Having said that, nowhere does the entire album sound better than on the wonderful Hero Ground Zero, with orchestral soundscapes backing a very strong Daltrey vocal. This track was written by Townsend as the opener to an as yet unfinished opera, and it is utter proof how just how much Daltrey brought into the recording process. The pair of them might have fought like cat and dog for decades, but they clearly respect each other, and I dare say love each other very much. Music this good doesn't come out of hatred.

Townsend saves for himself the longest track, at just over five minutes, I'll Be Back, a ballad sung and played by him, with Daltrey supporting on harmonica only, and it again features some good orchestration. An interesting track which provides an eclectic contrast to the overall album. The closing chord, by the way, is straight out of Quadrophenia.

The album reasserts itself strongly with the fine single release, Break The News, a song which simply shouts out the pleasure of still being alive, performing together, and rising above the chaos of being the world's greatest rock band. This track was the first I knew about the impending release of a new album when I heard it played on Planet Rock Radio. It was, and remains, a joy to listen to, and worth the admission price alone.

Rockin' In Rage does what it says on the tin, and probably only Daltrey could get away with this at his age. As a latter day protest rock song, it doesn't quite work for me, and I regard this as the other "filler track", being a wee bit too forced.

The album closes with She Rocked My World, a blues infused curio.

That these two are still knocking out music of any, let alone this, quality some 56 years after they started (they have been playing some 6 months longer that I have been alive) is nothing short of miraculous. They have weathered the loss of two of the greatest rock musicians ever to stride this Earth, and, more to the point, they still sound vital and relevant.

Four stars for this. I think fans old and new will enjoy much of what these two old geezers still have to offer. If this is their recording swan song, it is a fine way to go out.

lazland | 4/5 |

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