By John Reed
Apparently Pete Townshend likes to work at a snail's pace. So the near quarter-of-a-century that we all waited to see a complete new album from The Who should be no surprise for those who know Townshend.
Hell, fans of The Who collectively held their breaths from 1983 (the year the band first split) to 1999, when The Who finally regrouped as a working band. (In between, there were brief reunion tours in 1989 and 1966-97.) And after a powerhouse US tour in 2000 and the band's show-stealing set at the Concert For New York in 2001, they were on their way to reclaiming their self-proclamation in the '70s as the World's Greatest Rock Band.
However, after the unexpected death of bassist John Entwistle on the eve of the band's 2002 tour, it seemed for a day or so that the band might be finished. That was put to rest as Entwistle was quickly (and kind of insensitively) replaced by Pino Palladino, and the band soldiered on. Not only have they carried on, but The Who has been more active as a band than they had been since the early '80s.
As Townshend has been promising new material for years, he finally has delivered an entirely new product with Endless Wire. While new releases from most classic rock bands don't usually do much as far as chart action goes, Endless Wire had a respectable debut at #7 on the Billboard Top 200 during its first week of release.
While the new album is nowhere in the league of legendary classic Who creations (Who's Next, Quadrophenia, The Who By Numbers) or even as good as some of their past good records (Who Are You), Endless Wire contains 21 new songs, including "Wire & Glass," a 10-song mini-opera. All in all, the album is more ambitious than one would expect, but it is not really a Who album that one will spin on the regular level of the before-mentioned records.
The "Wire and Glass" story shows that Townshend has not totally gotten the rock opera bug out of his system. And much like his other operatic jaunts, Tommy and Quadrophenia, the songs on "Wire and Glass" stand apart better as solo songs than trying to follow Townshend's once-again disjointed narrative. While Townsend's talent for writing good songs is still alive, Roger Daltry is the biggest surprise as his gravelly vocals still have plenty of power left, and he saves what could have been an average Townshend solo CD into a very good Who album. His passionate tone is what turns the cut "It's Not Enough" from a great song into a virtual future chestnut in The Who's catalogue.
Since the band is down two members, it is technically difficult to still call them "The Who." But in a world where the state of Rock is not a good one, we still need The Who in any form.
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