Monday, December 16, 2019

Who's Who

I have been living with the new Who record for almost two weeks now. During this time, I have had a number of discussions with both fans of the band and those who claim to be fans of the band. Some fans, like myself, are loving the new music, excited by the fact that fifty years on, any music of substance and quality exists at all. One friend called "WHO" a "real grower." Another expressed it this way, "I am grateful any time an artist that means something to me makes a late-period good album." 

It wasn't all cuddly.

One comment from another "fan" of the band stated that "no one needs to be listening to new Who music." (What does that even mean?) Another dismissed the new music with the old standby, "The band hasn't made a good record since Who's Next."

I mentioned all of this to yet another friend, someone who is indeed a true blue fan and a person who I've respected for a very long time. His thoughts: "I'd call myself a fan, but I don't embrace all their music. Those others making those comments are not fans. They are cynics."

Of course.

I don't embrace all of The Who's music. As much as I don't like "Face Dances" and "It's Hard," I have been listening to music long enough to know, it wasn't Kenney Jones' fault that Pete wrote some shitty songs and Bill Szymczyk made "Face Dances" sound like "One Of These Nights." Even those two lousy records have at least three or four solid songs, which is approximately two more than most records these days.

Let me offer this breakdown that I've come to believe from years of experience that includes a quick estimate of 65,000 hours of retail time--

Anyone claiming to be a fan of The Who who dismisses "The Who By Numbers" as garbage either hasn't listened to the record or is not a fan of the band.

Many claim that "Tommy" is overrated.

A good number think that "A Quick One" is a weak follow-up to the maximum R&B that was "My Generation."

Far too many "just don't get" "The Who Sell Out."

"Quadrophenia" is bloated.

Everything with Kenney Jones sucks.

So what we have here are people claiming to be fans of The Who who really are only fans of "Who's Next." And I guarantee, there are a few pain in the ass contrarians poised and ready to call "Who's Next" crap, as well, while they try to be extra special by citing "Live At Leeds" as "the only Who record worth listening to."

I can take this sideways and discuss The Who and their record breaking amount of farewell tours. This seems to piss off the same people who think we don't "need to be listening to new Who music," and maybe, even some real fans. 

"Fuck The Who and their corporate greed! It's not the Who without The Ox and Moon!" 

I get it. I've attended a dozen farewells and comebacks since 1989. Some were fair. But many were wonderful, including this recent "Moving On" tour. Yet, some of these people have no issue with the Rolling Stones, a band that "hasn't made a good record since Some Girls," who have released more mediocre records in just the last 30 years than The Who have released in their career, and who charge a face value of almost $500 to hear the same ten songs but justify it because of the occasional bones thrown, like "She's A Rainbow" or, thank heavens, "Saint Of Me."

But I digress.

"WHO" is a fantastic collection of songs, with terrific singing and playing. That it was created by two men who have created better music, earlier in their careers, should not be a factor in your decision. That The Who still want to play live music and play it well, should not be a bad thing, not when Todd Rundgren, Jason Scheff, Mickey Dolenz, Joey Molland, Christopher Cross and E.G. Marshall as "The Mayor" are touring "The White Album."


buzzbabyjesus said...

I must be a Who fan. I don't embrace all their music. They probably peaked in 1970 at The Isle of Wight, and "Who's Next", and "Live At Leeds" are high water marks. I hate "Squeezebox" so much it pretty much poisoned "By The Numbers" for me. I love "Odds N Sods". I grew up playing "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" next to "The Kinks Kronikles". "Quaudrophenia" doesn't do it for me (and neither does "Preservation Act Two for the same reasons).
I'm a fan of Pete's demos, and "Who Came First".
"Rough Mix" is a lot of fun.
I've never heard "Face Dances" or "It's Hard".
I'm not ready to fully embrace "Who", but so far it hasn't made me cringe.
It's like an old friend who's aging okay. Not great, but still there.
I like some of the words Pete makes Roger sing.
That friction and combustibility is what makes The Who The Who.
Four of them on fire were a nuclear bomb.

Ken D said...

There are many bands that never made a mediocre or a bad record. We call them "one-hit wonders."

I love the music of the Who. Most of it anyway. And there's so much of it, why worry about a few subpar moments.
Any musician with a small fraction of the great catalog that the Who has could die happy...

Tumblingdice70 said...

Who as an album is much better than it has any right to be. Is it The Who? No, but does that matter? How long could Moon have kept masquerading as a "Keith Moon-style drummer," in his own words, and how early would he have had to walk away from the band or gotten kicked out if he lived, and his lifestyle continued to make his playing degenerate? Those four guys together were a chemical compound that defied explanation, and that was fading hard even before Moon died.

Can we not grade on a curve when guys are 75 and putting their heart and soul into singing and playing at a level that exceeds expectations? Daltrey's voice is inspired on this record, Townshend puts his heart and soul into it and plays well, what more can you ask for? No, the songs aren't the greatest, and it's not their best album since Quadrophenia. The Who by Numbers is a damn good album, it's just not The Who the way people were used to back then. Would people rather they have retired from writing songs, like Billy Joel? Who benefits from that?

These guys and their brethren are all going to start fading away soon. We should be grateful for anything they want to do to express themselves. The cynics have plenty of other heartless and soulless auto-tuned new music to listen to. Pete and Roger know the score, they know they are not changing the world anymore. They aren't going to go out in their concerts and want to play the new album in it's entirety. But they aren't phoning it in, and for that I give them the utmost credit.


Anonymous said...

I try not to get too caught up in comparing the catalog of any particular artist, especially one that has had as long and extensive career as The Who. Too many variables - producer, member changes, stage of their career, etc.

In regards to the new album, would I like more guitar upfront on WHO? You bet.

How about one 'centerpiece' song that is longer and they improvise with some synthesizer and guitar intensity? Fuck yeah.

But for a group (or a couple of guys in their mid-70's) to create a collection of songs as vibrant and relevant as the ones on WHO is in my mind just amazing and outstanding. Well done, lads.


dogbreath said...

These debates are usually very fissiparous. I've been very pleasantly surprised by the album: it's better than I expected and perhaps better than it deserves to be, given the age of the protagonists and the inevitable comparisons we're bound to make with the "old Who stuff". But what the hell, there's life in the old dogs yet! Cheers.....

Troy said...

I got a copy of the new album for having purchased a ticket to their Moving On tour last spring. It came in the mail last week while I was out of town on a business trip.

I really, really like it. I decided some time ago not to waste time comparing a latter-day album from one of my favorites to their past glories. Won't do it with McCartney, Springsteen, or The Who. It will stand or fall on its own merits. IMO, this one stands pretty tall. For me, the most exciting part was how Roger Daltrey's voice sounds. I don't think he has sounded strong for quite a while, but here he does. I thought his vocals on Endless Wire were weak (but so were the songs), and live performances have been a mixed bag at best. He sounds invigorated on the new album.

Sal, in your post you mentioned the inevitable comments on Who's Next, Tommy, Quadrophenia, etc. But like every article I read on The Who anymore, no mention of Who Are You. What's your take on that one? Personally, it is one of my favorites. I think that's largely because I was in middle school and just discovering rock and roll when it came out. It was largely a timing thing. I used to play that one all the time, and still go back to it on occasion. I love the title track, New Song, Had Enough, Guitar & Pen, Music Must Change, etc. Even the odd ducks like 905 and Sister Disco don't make me skip ahead or anything. The only dud is the ballad on side 2 (forget the name). Anyway, enjoy the new one and long live The Who.

Sal Nunziato said...

My omission of "Who Are You" was not a conscious decision. I guess because, as you said, it's rarely mentioned. I happen to really love it. If you hadn't noticed, "Guitar & Pen" is today's SOTD!

Shriner said...

Not a huge fan of the Who (really, all I have is the "Thirty Years" box set and Tommy). I had a roommate in college who was all about The Who, so maybe I heard way too much Who to enjoy it. Dunno.

But I listened to the album. I was surprised how strong Roger's voice was, tbh. All in all, it was a better record than I was expecting and certainly nothing embarassing for Pete & Rog. "Got Nothing To Prove" was amusingly jarring. I will certainly listen to it a second time.

Sal Nunziato said...

FYI- Shriner,
"Got Nothing To Prove" is a bonus track recorded in 1966.

Shriner said...

Yeah, I looked it up on the internet after playing the album. It was just such and oddly jarring bonus track.

steve simels said...

The new album is objectively fabulous. Anybody who suggests otherwise is selling something. :-)

Jared said...

I actually really like Face Dances and It’s Hard from top to bottom and I don’t think it’s purely because I grew up in the 80s and some of those songs heavily played on the radio at that time. The entire catalogue is obviously terrific but I tend to listen to post Quadrophenia Who more than pre. I’ve only listened to the new album twice so far but I’ve enjoyed it straight out of the gate. I also think they’re still great live. I want to see them as many times as I can before they inevitably stop. I’ve seen Daltrey solo but not Townshend. I hope I get the chance because I like a lot of his solo stuff just as much as I like The Who. I hope they both keep making music as much as possible.

Troy said...

That The Who still want to play live music and play it well, should not be a bad thing, not when Todd Rundgren, Jason Scheff, Mickey Dolenz, Joey Molland, Christopher Cross and E.G. Marshall as "The Mayor" are touring "The White Album."

Do I sense another post coming on? :)

Jim Grathwohl said...

I think it's an admirable effort, far superior to Face Dances and It's Hard. And I quite liked Endless Wire, so not sure yet if WHO is better. I know I'm in the minority, but I never really understood the negativity toward EW. If you ignore the mini opera and cut Roger a break on his diminished vocals, there are some solid songs, at least seven of which are on my Ipod for whatever that's worth. Anyway, end of digression. Just needed to get that off my chest. The new one repays repeated listens. Based on WHO and Daltrey's voice I hope they have another album or two in them.

Bill said...

I'm very much enjoying the new album (although I wished they had given it a better name). It feels like Townshend was inspired when writing the songs, and there's a lot of great energy to the songs. But the real winner is Daltrey. His vocals are powerful and quite surprising, for a man pushing 75.*

I've already listened to this more than I have Endless Wire, and it's only been a couple of weeks.

[*Here's a weird fact that i discovered when Ric Ocasek died:
Ric Ocasek was born March 23, 1944
Pete Townshend was born May 19, 1945

He was more than a year older than Townshend, yet the Who had pretty much done what they were going to do by the time the first Cars album came out.]

wardo said...

My take.

wardo said...

Wrong link before, sorry! Here's my actual take:

A walk in the woods said...

I'm just a Who fan all the way through, almost uncritically - I pretty much love it all. Well, not all of the super early stuff, but anything from "I Can See For Miles Onward". Haven't heard the new record and can't wait to.

stivseed said...

Sal, I like the new album. Daltry STILL sings great! By Numbers is my absolute favorite Who record, and in the top 10 favorites of all time. Great minds think alike. Have a great Holiday Season.