The Who, “Who” (Interscope)
While frequently joining forces for tours and other projects, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have released just two studio albums as the Who since 1982, with 2006’s “Endless Wire” their last such work until now.
“Who” sees the pair backed by some of their frequent collaborators since the deaths of drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle in 2002, such as drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino.
Still, all the splendid backing notwithstanding, it’s the high standards of the Who’s last remaining trademarks — Townshend’s songwriting and guitar playing and Daltrey’s superlative singing — that make the album such a joy.
Townshend has written a strong batch of songs full of yearning and confronting the passage of time, many carrying shades and echoes of his past work; he rips power chords and performs slinky riffs; and his vocals, especially in support of Daltrey’s leads, are still a highlight.
Daltrey, for his part, with health concerns behind him, sings with power, sensitivity, range and conviction, just as he has done for decades.
“Who” may well be their last studio album. The catchy, propulsive opener “All This Music Must Fade” seems like a message about Townshend and Daltrey’s difficult relationship, even though that seems to have mellowed: “I don’t care/I know you’re gonna hate this song. And that’s it/We never really got along.” It may also be a missive to their fans and closes with what will become Townshend’s most famous last words since his “I saw ya!” at the end of “Happy Jack.”
“Ball and Chain,” “Street Song” and “Beads on One String” are topical but many other of the 11 tracks are simultaneously defiant, vulnerable and contemplative, with aging repeatedly rearing its head.
On the rousing “Rocking in Rage,” like a coda to “Quadrophenia,” the talk is still about their generation: “I thought I’d be calmer/Not rocking in rage,” even if “I’m too old to fight.” It’s a shiver-inducing Daltrey performance.
On “I Don’t Wanna Get Wise,” Daltrey seems to have changed some of the lyric sheet’s “I” pronouns into “he,” “we” and “us,” as if making space for himself in the rocking mini-biography of a song — “He was drunk/I was blind/Though we tried to be kind” — and belting out a “We got wise” at the end.
Thankfully, it’s much too late for Daltrey and Townshend to die before they get old, so with “Who” they show that even in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s possible to age both with grace and vigor and without abandoning purpose. Or lose the talent to make stirring, highly gratifying music.
Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press
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