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APPENDIX: PETE TOWNSHEND & RONNIE LANE
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Pete Townshend fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Pete Townshend fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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Pete Townshend's solo career was a major disappointment - to me, at least. While the guy still remains one of my most revered songwriters and an almost absolute and total idol as a personality, I must confess that this feeling is strictly limited to his position as leader of the Who. None of the Townshend solo albums I've heard so far, except for Cowboys, would rank even close to the best of the Who material, and it's more or less understandable. Pete didn't start a true solo career until the early Eighties - his first two solo albums, none of which I had heard so far, are respectively a collection of demos and outtakes and a collaboration with Ronnie Lane. And by the early Eighties Pete was nearly spent, due to constant drug and alcohol abuses, endless rows of personality crises and an overall disillusionment in the Who, life in general, himself and the whole wide world.His limitations without the Who are obvious. While he always had, and still has, a good singing voice, it's nowhere near as rich or immediately impressive as Roger Daltrey's. His backing bands, while they are professional, have never held a candle to the old warhorse. And what's more important, Pete entered the Eighties with a firm decision to quit his image as that of a guitar hero: synths and various cheesy (or not cheesy) keyboards have been his main instrument ever since. But few of his Eighties' and Nineties' synthwork comes close to the brilliant pioneering use of these gadgets he practiced on Who's Next or Quadrophenia; on the contrary, over time it began to resemble prime pablum, more and more and more. Another bad side is that Pete's endless tendency to 'progressivize' and 'develop' his sound had finally backfired with a vengeance, dragging him through one pretentious, half-baked concept album or 'musical' to another: starting from White City, he began to get worse and worse with every new release, culminating in the infamous Broadway version of Tommy and the murky Psychoderelict. And I'm not just jumping onto the 'conceptual album bash-a-thron' wagon, mind you. Whereas Pete's classic conceptual albums with the Who were indeed 'classic' in every sense of the word, the lame subject of such releases as, say, Iron Man can only be described with the word 'banal'. Nevertheless, you might still enjoy some of Pete's albums - if you set your expectations low enough. Empty Glass is still considered a classic, and it is, although it sounds nothing like the Who; and if you get past that obstacle - that is, associating Pete Townshend with the Who on every listen - and just concentrate on the actual records, you might find out that Townshend has still got it. Even on his weakest albums there are traces of genius now and then; it's just that they are buried deep, deep, deep under the modernistic production values, pointless actors' dialogues, and ridiculous, needless concepts. But at least, there are some melodies. Sometimes. Just follow me and you'll see. Note that my Townshend record collection is quite far from complete - and I haven't yet gotten some of the albums that are considered his best, like the Ronnie Lane collaboration Rough Mix. When I get around to these, I may yet change my mind about the overall rating (maybe); it's just that there's hardly any artist whose discs are more hard to get in Russia than Pete - I did my best to get what is reviewed below, so don't you treat me harshly!
General Evaluation (postponed till I get to some of the major discography gaps)
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Sounds not a bit like the Who, but sounds better than Face Dances...Best song: ROUGH BOYS
Track listing: 1) Rough Boys; 2) I Am An Animal; 3) And I Moved; 4) Let My Love Open The Door; 5) Jools And Jim; 6) Keep On Working; 7) Cat's In The Cupboard; 8) A Little Is Enough; 9) Empty Glass; 10) Gonna Get Ya.
Since Who Came First was in reality a half-finished project, and Rough Mix was a collaboration with Ronnie Lane, it's safe to regard this album as the true start of Pete's solo career. Critics and fans alike usually call it a masterpiece, and while that seems a minor exaggeration to my ears, it is not bigger than, say, the overratedness of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. A lot of the hype comes from Pete's brilliant timing: Empty Glass was released a year earlier than the Who's far inferior Face Dances, so both albums share the fate of always being compared. This results in Face Dances being underappreciated ('don't you dare buying that post-Keith Moon Who stuff! It's total crap, even Townshend's solo albums were better!') and Empty Glass being overhyped ('wow, Pete was really on a high note at the time! His solo stuff was so much better than that post-Keith Moon garbage!') Nevertheless, even with all my problems, this is a marvelous record, and a worthy successor to Who Are You.For one thing, I greatly enjoy the album cover. Pete sitting at a bar with his bottle and his glass with two young ladies of uncertain purposes, with a gloriole around his head... hmm, might be considered sacrilegious, but what a funny allusion at the 'sinner-saint' motive! And probably very reflective of Pete's inner self at the time. Still, the album is not so introspective as one might suspect. While there's practically no reason to doubt Pete's utter sincerity and true artistic impulses, one can clearly see how much Pete wanted this album not to miss the record stores as well. So all these songs can be divided in four groups: (a) personal confessions, oriented at Pete fans; (b) loud, dumb rockers, oriented at Who fans; (c) witty social commentary, oriented at post-punk fans; (d) sappy pop love songs, oriented at sappy pop love song fans. In other words, Mr Townshend tries to make the album acceptable for everybody - maybe that's why everybody loves it so much. My gripes mainly have to do with the first two categories. Actually, these confessionals bear a strong reminiscence to Pete's confessional songs on Who By Numbers: clever, heartfelt lyrics, set to rudimentary melodies that were probably just deemed unnecessary. Such is the title track: except for the self-deprecating, mockery lyrics ('Next time you switch on/You might see me... what a thrill for you') and that beautiful, tear-inducing falsetto bridge where he compares his life to an empty glass, there's little truly memorable about it. 'I Am An Animal' (what's that, a nod to Eric Burdon?) also plods along like a dull dinosaur, an uninspired ballad with superb lyrical imagery - again, a clear case of melody sacrificed in favour of text. Much better is the obvious Meher Baba tribute 'And I Moved' - but if not for the stupendous rolling, tinkling piano lines of 'Rabbit' Bundrick, it would be no better than your average disco anthem. The rockers suffer likewise - the downside of recording solo is that you have no Roger Daltrey nearby to sing your 'powerful' stuff when you really need 'im. Thus, the album closer 'Gonna Get Ya' might sound fun on a Who's Next-type record; here, Pete just doesn't seem to have that deep a throat to deal with the macho, bloodthirsty refrain. His guitarwork on the song is impressive, though - on here and on the slightly inferior 'Cat's In The Cupboard' Pete seems to fall in love with his trademark riffage style again, so you might even get over the lack of Daltrey. Note that it was no accident that I made a point of Pete's guitarplaying on a song that happens not to be one of the melodical highlights of the album (whoah, that was a really intricate phrase construction). The problem is, there's just not that much guitar otherwise: most of the record is propelled by synths, and Pete also starts employing disco rhythms and all that 'modernistic crap' that, for instance, ruined Roxy Music's Manifesto only a few months before that. Luckily, Pete is a much more inventive and self-conscious guy than Bryan Ferry could ever hope to be, and there are no true embarrassments on the album - but it's not always utterly pleasant to listen to... But come on, really! I gave this album an 11 and all I do is scolding it? At that rate, I'll have to go and change the rating! Forget it! This record features at least three absolute Townshend masterpieces, so what the hell? 'Rough Boys', a fast, pulsating, synth-rhythm-based anthem to gay life, might be Pete's best song never included on a Who album - it's catchy, speedy, tasty, and slightly dangerous: 'I wanna bite and kiss you', eh? Then there's the sleazy pop ballad 'A Little Is Enough', with a groovy 'space-synth' line serving as the basis for the whole song. Yay, it's been a long time since Pete wrote his last love song, isn't it? Well, he's still got it! 'Your love's so incredible, your body's so edible, you give me an overdose of love - just a little is enough!' Cooky. Finally, I'm a big fan of 'Keep On Working', with its weird multi-tracked backing vocals that keep repeating the refrain to create a paranoid atmosphere of a 'gray busy day' - this is Pete Townshend in his Ray Davies emploi, and he shows he could have easily beaten 'im if he only would. And the other songs are okay, too. 'Let My Love Open The Door' is a bit cheesy, but not offensive; 'Jools And Jim' rocks and cusses, with venomous anti-press attacks, and... wait, that's about it. Come to think of it, there's not a single bad song on the whole album, just a couple yawnfests. If this is indeed the best that Pete could offer at the time, it's not a big disappointment. And a must for every Who fan, even if, like I said, this doesn't at all sound like your average Who album. Then again - it certainly sounds a lot more fresh than that post-Keith Moon crap.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
You know what the guy's talking about? I sure don't. God, is this a great album.Best song: FACE DANCES PART TWO or SLIT SKIRTS
Track listing: 1) Stop Hurting People; 2) The Sea Refuses No River; 3) Prelude; 4) Face Dances Part Two; 5) Exquisitely Bored; 6) Communication; 7) Stardom In Action; 8) Uniforms (Corps D'Esprit); 9) North Country Girl; 10) Somebody Saved Me; 11) Slit Skirts.
This is Townshend's own custom-built version of Quadrophenia: that big bloated pretentious kind of thingie that no-one but Townshend himself really can dig into, but sounds enthralling all the same. What is really amazing about this record is the very fact that it exists. If you happen to be familiar with that bit of early Eighties' Who history, you might probably have heard it was one of the worst moments in Pete's life. He was torn between the Who, his own solo projects, his family, his drinking, and God knows what else. He was, in fact, a total wreck - at one point, he nearly followed Keith Moon into the grave with a heroin overdose and was saved by the hospital nurse in the nick of time (some say there's an indirect hint at this in 'Somebody Saved Me').And with all these perturbances, he made easily the most complex record of his entire career - where 'complex' doesn't necessarily mean 'best' (even if it is the best solo Townshend record), but it sure means a lot of work went into it. The lyrics on the album amount to a whole new level of artistic ambition; heck, even the liner notes open with the following lines: 'There have always been times like these. The multi-coloured spheres crash and collide, the triangle expands and explodes; eventually there is nothing'. At times I wonder if Neil Peart had been involved in the project. There's no use in trying to even begin deciphering all the complex imagery of these lyrics. My personal belief is that this is definitely not a put-on and that these lyrics actually meant a lot to Pete himself; after all, he was never known for spewing out phoney pseudo-poetic bullshit in the past. And in fact, I'm actually relieved that Cowboys isn't Empty Glass Vol. 2, neither musically nor lyrically; with a couple notable exceptions like 'Somebody Saved Me' (which, not coincidentally, is the album's weakest tune), Townshend never wastes much time on whining about his personal problems - yet the album is still introspective in nature. Pete isn't in true "confession mode" on here - he's arranged for battle, and just a brief comparison of the album cover with the one of Empty Glass is enough to prove that. As for the music, it ventures further and further away from the Who prototype - even if an album like Who Are You had already pretty much demolished that prototype four years ago. It actually doesn't sound much like Empty Glass either, with a continuing reliance on synthesizers and less and less reliance on guitars. Yet Pete proves himself to be in total control over these things, and most of the melodies are pretty well concentrated and sometimes even hook-filled. One thing Cowboys does not offer is a couple or so of timeless outstanding hits like 'A Little Is Enough' or 'Rough Boys'; it yields no mammoth classics to be immensely treasured by the average Who fan. Instead, it's just consistent, diverse, and often thought- and emotion-provoking. Not all the songs on here are equally good, but there's nary a true misstep. And believe me, I was seriously put off by the record at first - the hooks took some time to sink in, and so did the emotional content; it's yet another one of those albums that can be easily put down with just one move of your little finger, but before you do that, ask yourself if you really need to mock this guy in this particular situation. Because you don't. Yes, so 'Stop Hurting People' is introduced by Pete speaking instead of singing, and what's that he speaks? 'A love born once must soon be born again'? Is this a treatise on reincarnation? But it only gets better and better with every next second, and at the present time it has reached the point where I'm nearly moved to tears at hearing the 'people, stop hurting people' refrain and that majestic synthesizer riff - don't tell me it isn't Quadrophenia-quality, because it is. Maybe the song would be better if Pete bothered to sing his lyrics. Maybe it wouldn't. Whatever. It's a wonderful number either way. 'The Sea Refuses No River' is one of Pete's best ballads, and this one really brings out all the vulnerable beauty of his voice. I guess it's the sharp contrast between the pretentious lyrics and the thin, pleading, humble voice that neutralizes the worst sides of both and brings out the best - because the melody itself isn't all that memorable, it's the unique power of the whole combo that drives the song forward. But somehow I still end up preferring Townshend's 'poppier' material, like the unstoppable groove of 'Face Dances Part Two', a song that's better than at least a good half of the actual Face Dances album combined. There's an aura of mystery and romance to this technically 'ordinary' synth-and-guitar-driven upbeat pop composition that can't be beat, and both the 'face dances tonight, fate chances moonlight' chorus and the 'I can only stare, you make me feel like I don't care' "post-chorus" bit just won't leave my head. Maybe it takes time to really dig into this whole shenanigan, well, I had all this time, and now I keep spotting groovy little bits everywhere - the nervous insecure acoustic picking at the beginning of 'Exquisitely Bored' is a perfect match for the song's depressed, pessimistic chorus; the little "rappy" bit in 'Communication' (the one that goes 'comma comma comma commi commi commi... communicate!') is hilarious and does a lot to push away the depression induced by 'Exquisitely Bored'; 'Stardom In Action' is not a highlight, but the chorus is unforgettable anyway; 'Uniforms' is endearingly "boppy"; the inclusion of the traditional folk song 'North Country Girl' is a pleasantly shocking surprise; 'Somebody Saved Me' is kind of a boring go-nowhere ballad but is at least hardly worse than your average confessional song on Empty Glass; and only a complete Townshend-hating idiot will remain unmoved by 'Slit Skirts', a song that's said to be inspired by Pete's sister-in-law's Virginia Astley's disdain for said thing - except that the main lyrical message here is having to gracefully accept the new realities of middle-age, hence 'I don't ever wear no ripped shirts, can't pretend that growing older never hurts'. Boy is that chorus ever beautiful. All in all, I think in the end it all depends on whether you're willing to accept Pete's charisma or not; Cowboys is very dependent on that. Yes, it's ambitious and overblown, but it never sounds like Pete is forcing that ambition and pretention on you. Maybe it's just because he wasn't "blessed" with a Greg Lake type of voice, and so in his hands even something like 'Epitaph' would have sounded unpretentious. Maybe it's the fact that for the most part, he is able to evade obvious cliches and truisms even in the most puffed-up locations. Add to this the bunch of really catchy melodies (about half of the songs), and there you have it - an album that's actually deeper than Empty Glass, if less accessible. And miles and miles ahead of the unlucky It's Hard, which really gives the impression of a vastly inferior outtakes collection from Cowboys.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Pete goes totally technophilic on here, and not enough strong songs. Oh well, at least he's still earnest...Best song: BRILLIANT BLUES
Track listing: 1) Give Blood; 2) Brilliant Blues; 3) Face The Face; 4) Hiding Out; 5) Secondhand Love; 6) Crashing By Design; 7) I Am Secure; 8) White City Fighting; 9) Come To Mama.
See, if I were Mark Prindle, I'd probably begin this review with the immortal phrase, 'Starts off nice and cool, but loses me real quickly'. Come to think of it, if I were Mark Prindle, I'd probably end that review right after the phrase. No, no, what am I saying? If I were Mark Prindle, I'd never even bother listening to a Pete Townshend Eighties' solo record, let alone reviewing one! As fate has it, I'm not Mark Prindle (though I lamely tried to be like him in the past, as every beginning reviewer probably did), so let me just bore you a little instead with my dry and uninvigorating style. Take life as it is.This is the album where everybody starts bashing the very life out of Pete, although everybody admits his next efforts were even worse. They have a point, of course. Parts of this record are downright annoying, and the way Townshend embraces dance music, synths (which he once pioneered but which now pioneer him) and other modern production values, such as an obligatory Dave Gilmour in the studio, can certainly turn down an average fan. Truth is, there's still much to laud on this record - three or four songs here are brilliant, and few of the others are offensive. Perhaps the worst rub is that this is a concept album - and Townshend never ever made a non-concept album since - and the concept is even more obscure than Lifehouse. 'A novel', it says on the cover, but I'm somewhat hard pressed to find traces of a 'novel' here, if you don't count the pessimistic paragraph of text on the back. Apparently, the songs here are supposed to represent a soundtrack to some little-known film about a 'White City' where Pete played one of the parts himself, but I've never seen the film (has anybody?), and I suppose it wasn't very successful. And from the songs themselves, you can't really find out much - which may be just as well, for who knows how embarrassing the lyrics might have turned out if Townshend tried to make them more 'grounded' in the movie realities? The 'soundtrackish' character of the album suggests that Pete doesn't use this as a polygon for laying bare his emotions: a couple of songs are emotional indeed, but most of the time, you just don't really get what the hell he is singing about. But I don't give a damn anyway - like I said, some of the melodies are purely thrilling. The album opens with a strong dance-rocker, 'Give Blood', the only letdown of which is an awful, 'pacifistic' chorus ('give love and keep blood between brothers'); the verses, however, flow freely with a vengeance, supported by some masterful guitar lines (Gilmour, supposedly?) and that strong, powerful rhythm. And in general, when Pete gets angry, it leads to good results: 'Secondhand Love' might as well be him at his most desperate, pissed-off ever, with some raving, almost Daltrey-like singing, as he shouts about his jealous feelings towards some chick or other. I mean, these are probably the most banal lyrics on the whole album, but they fit the mood perfectly! More Peter Gabriel than Pete Townshend, in fact. And, well, at least two other songs here should be definitely classified as Townshend classics - the rap-disco rave-up 'Face The Face' and the gentle ballad 'Brilliant Blues'. The first one is extremely silly, but come on, can you resist that ferocious drum beat and that intoxicating, absolutely crazy bass line, plus the funny lyrics? I could personally do without the somewhat dubious rap intermissions, but they don't spoil the picture that much. I used to hate the song, because I first heard it while watching the Who's reunion tour video of 1989, performed by the whole band sandwiched in between the old Who classics, and it couldn't have sounded more out-of-place in the context. On this album, though, it sounds exactly in place, and all the better - I actually have quite a good time while tapping my foot along to the rhythm. But, of course, the definite highlight is 'Brilliant Blues' - a gorgeous, pure Tonwshend ballad with a kinda unclear, but hopefully optimistic message. I mean, it doesn't sound like the Who at all, now does it? (Nothing on here does, really). It's all poppy and ringing and happily washed by generic backup vocals, but it's oh so warm and gentle and so unlike standard Eighties pop. A near-accidental masterpiece of a song. Oh, how I wish there were more songs like that on here! The problem is, where the first side is all really, really good, the second side is sorta stinky. Songs like 'Crashing By Design', the intro to 'I Am Secure' and especially the overemphasized boredom of 'Come To Mama', don't really possess any energy - they are more exercises in synth-riff construction. And 'I Am Secure' itself, which turns out to be a quiet, half-acoustic ballad after all, is painfully diluted, with no distinctive melody. Kinda strange, isn't it, that an album can begin that strong and end up completely splattered and spluttered all over the place? Well, that's Pete Townshend for you: unpredictable and weird. Pity that his weirdness led him to such pathetic results. It is still a good album, but I usually just stop it right after the fifth track, and that leaves it kinda short, considering that the whole record clocks in at under forty minutes. Nevertheless, I think I still love it more than most other people - maybe it's because I'm a Pete Townshend freak? No, no, wait, stop that. A Who freak might do. This album sounds nothing like the Who. Buy it for the front cover, at least - it's the last time Pete looks decent on a photograph.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7
Townshend as a 'writer for little kids'. Actually, this is the kind of stuff that would be hardly acceptable to anybody but the biggest goats...Best song: DIG
Track listing: 1) I Won't Run Any More; 2) Over The Top; 3) Man Machines; 4) Dig; 5) A Friend Is A Friend; 6) I Eat Heavy Metal; 7) All Shall Be Well; 8) Was There Life; 9) Fast Food; 10) A Fool Says; 11) Fire; 12) New Life/Reprise.
Okay, I might understand it when a man's artistic pretensions grow and multiply with the years. It's ridiculous when old duds like Paul McCartney (and I do use the word 'dud' in an inoffensive, just a bit ironic sense) record lengthy classical symhonies, or when more old duds like Elton John make overblown soundtracks to sell-out Disney cartoons. But at least it's understandable - they just want to grow and get all artsy and snub-nosed and everything, and they don't give a damn if they have as much talent for writing classical music as Ronald Reagan or if the cartoon is going to be forgotten in two years because it will be replaced by the fashion of Titanic. Why, however, Pete Townshend suddenly turned around and saw his future as a second-rate Broadway popmeister, spending the rest of his life rehashing Who rock operas and writing original material for The Show, is way beyond me. The man who once envisaged the Show of Shows (Lifehouse) has suddenly turned to making rock vaudevilles for little children - so far the once mighty has fallen.This particular one, Pete's first excursion into the Broadway style, is apparently based on a sci-fi children's tale by one Ted Hughes, a name I've never heard before and wouldn't really want to, as the story is one of the dumbest I ever read about in my life - Frank Baum and J. R. R. Tolkien could be jumping out of their graves for all I care. In one sentence, this is as follows: a boy named Hogarth rescues the Iron Man, befriends him and lets him devour all the metal he can find, later on he (Hogarth) falls in love with a girl who turns out to be a horrible dragon wanting to cover the whole world, and it takes the skills of the Iron Man to chase the dragon out to the dark side of the moon (so that's what Pink Floyd were all about!), after which the Iron Man returns back to chewing his metal scrap. I've never read the original story, except for a short extract from the first chapter in the liner notes, so I don't know if it's really as dumb as the 'libretto' suggests, but frankly, I don't give a damn. Maybe you had your doubts about the storyline of Tommy, but Tommy is, like, an eternal chef-d'ouevre compared to this crap. Pete's 'pretensions', however, don't end there. To record the album, he has assembled a whole host of performers, from the currently active (Deborah Conway? Who cares?), to the elderly and more or less inactive (John Lee Hooker starring as the Iron Man! Youpee!), and, while the singing is rarely crappy, apart from 'I Eat Heavy Metal' (where Hooker sounds like a junkie) and 'Fast Food' (where Nina Simone sounds like a Japanese cartoon voice-over), the overall effect is far from spectacular. Worse still, Pete hasn't really cared about chunking out any real strong melodies: like in most so-so Broadway shows, the effect is on lyrics and dialogue, certainly not on the instrumentation. For two of the tracks, Pete brings in the old mates - and this is the only case where something seems to click. Talk about old Who magic - even if a very small dose of it. While I can't say that 'Fire' is thoroughly entertaining, 'cause it sounds so messy and rushed to me, the other one, 'Dig', is, as of now, the last truly impressive Who song of all. If I'm not wrong, this is the only Iron Man number they'd regularly performed on their 1989/90 reunion tour, and rightly so. It helps that the song's lyrics are clever enough for it to work out of the album's context: while normally it has to be considered as just a description of the farmers' digging up a trap to catch the Iron Man, out of the album it can be interpreted as a song of hope and optimism - and a nostalgic song at that, seeing the nice contrast between the gentle lines 'we old ones have seen two wars' that crop up all the time, and the general 'futuristic' appeal of the rest of the lyrics. Plus, it's bouncy, melodic and catchy, and has definitely the best, most driving solo on the album (oh, I forgot to say that at least Pete handles all the guitars on the album). A couple more numbers like that and the record would get an even higher score. But nope, though. Not a chance. Most of the record ranges from passable to dreadful - and, while it's mostly passable, some of the really low points are an excellent pretext for all the Townshend-haters out there. 'Fast Food', indeed! The ballads, dealing with Hogarth's love towards the 'dragon', are draggy and uninspiring, and the album ends in 'New Life', a 'soaring' climax that's as fake as can be. Simon Townshend has an appearance on the ridiculously (and mercifully) brief 'Man Machines', and Pete himself sings an unimpressive duet with Deborah Conway on 'I Won't Run Any More'. As background music, this probably works, and maybe this could even work as a show - but I don't really understand what kind of person would like to see this show, not to mention any person that would be impressed. It's certainly a bit too difficult and 'metaphysical' (sheez) for real children, and much too stupid and pointless for adults. Add the very mediocre quality of the music, and you'll see why this album can never get more than a 7 from me.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6
Some good material on here, but it's buried deeper than the center of the Earth...Best song: LET'S GET PRETENTIOUS
Track listing: 1) English Boy; 2) Meher Baba M3; 3) Let's Get Pretentious; 4) Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box); 5) Early Morning Dreams; 6) I Want That Thing; 7) Dialogue Introduction To "Outlive The Dinosaur"; 8) Outlive The Dinosaur; 9) Flame (demo); 10) Now And Then; 11) I Am Afraid; 12) Don't Try To Make Me Real; 13) Dialogue Introduction To "Predictable"; 14) Predictable; 15) Flame; 16) Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi); 17) Fake It; 18) Dialogue Introduction To "Now And Then (reprise)"; 19) Now And Then (reprise); 20) Baba O'Riley (demo); 21) English Boy (reprise).
With this album, Pete reaches an absolute artistic nadir - that is, if he doesn't release something even worse next year. As if the sci-fi overtones of White City and the sick brainwashing plot of Iron Man weren't enough, Pete reaches even further and releases, this time, a 'play' - you know, the kind of a 'radio show' that you might expect to get to hear on some stations. The 'play' has a real, and a rather straightforward, plot - a plot so stupid and uninteresting that I won't even bother retelling it (suffice it to say that it concerns an aging rock star and an astute plan of his friends to get him back to life and stardom); please check some other Web resources if you're really interested. The worst about it, though, is that the 'play' is constantly carried forward by artists' dialogues and monologues, inserted before the songs, after the songs, in between the songs, and, what's most annoying, in between parts of the songs. Wilson & Alroy say that there were early copies of this stuff that came without the artists' voices, but they're probably all gone by now, certainly not available except for used bins (and I would doubt their very existence, too). So you'll just have to tolerate the accompanying voices of 'Ray', 'Orestes' and their bitchy girlfriend - or turn the damn thing off, which is a far easier thing to do by all accounts.What really pisses me off is that some of the music here is real good. Oops, my mistake: it could have been real good, if only Pete were to liberate it from the dratted 'actors' and from the dratted production: the arrangements are horrendously uniform, with the same electronic drum/synths/horns pattern that Pete had perfected with Iron Man. Okay, so perhaps there are actually more "live" instruments used, but I don't really get that feeling because of the muddy production and the goddamn dialog coming up in the most inappropriate places. It really takes you a long time before you can appreciate some of this - and even when you do, I doubt if it will be well worth the effort. A couple of songs could be just great, like the funky, upbeat 'Let's Get Pretentious' with its muffled guitar jangle and powerful brass, plus some of Pete's most ironic and self-bashing lyrics to date, or the idealistic 'prayer' of 'Outlive The Dinosaur', if Pete had worried to cheer up the main rhythm guitar track with some distortion and throw on a couple exciting solos or anything. There are also some nice ballads - 'I Am Afraid', in particular, gives us a rare occasion to catch Pete in 'close-up', at his most personal and intimate, and shares a certain common atmosphere with 'Behind Blue Eyes', now doesn't it? I guess that the strangely cheerful, country-flavoured 'Predictable' is okay, too; 'Now And Then', however, sounds awfully cheesy (what's up with those operatic harmonies? Pete Townshend paying tribute to Freddie Mercury?). Finally, there's a weird, somewhat out-of-place blues-rock number ('I Want That Thing') which is perhaps the most accessible and immediately likeable song on here - and unfortunately, that's no compliment, since I doubt if you can name a Who or solo Pete album where a blues-rock number would be the most accessible song of all. Creeps! For some obscure artistic reasons, Pete also throws in some of the oldies - namely, old demo tapes that date even back to the days of Lifehouse. Entitled 'Meher Baba M3', 'Meher Baba M4' and 'Meher Baba M5', they turn out to represent... well, nothing but old synth tape loops that he was experimenting with while working on the final loops for 'Baba O'Riley' and 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. The funniest thing is that the loop on 'Meher Baba M4' was later used by Pete in 'Who Are You' as the main synth theme for the song. Plus, there's a synth version of the accelerating ending to 'Baba O'Riley' (here, quite logically, named 'Baba O'Riley (demo)'). What exactly these loops are doing here, I really don't know - let that be another mystery of Pete's twisted mind. I just want to remind you that if some stupid music guide told you that 'this album's great, as Pete uses some old Lifehouse stuff' (I met something like that either in the AMG Guide or somewhere else), keep in mind that this stuff is limited to tape loops. Understand? Even the booklet is kinda rote. Pete pulls all kinds of 'pretentious' faces on the photos, making him look more ugly than he actually is in his fifty years, and makes the lyric sheets practically unreadable by turning them upside down on one side of the page, so you have to turn your booklet over and over again. Perhaps this is considered 'artsy', too? The world of topsy-turvy, all that crap? As you have probably determined for yourself, this is a horrendous mess. An excellent example of how a few good ideas can be reduced to a gigantic mess of fodder (the album drags on for more than an hour, the bane of CD production) if one takes enough care. Perhaps, though, a movie based on this mess would turn out to be brilliant. But I kinda doubt it. Hunt down the good songs on the Net, or, better still, hunt down the dialog-less version of the album, although I really wouldn't bother. Pete, just take a hint and stay away from rock operas. I know you can do better than that.
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Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Pretty entertaining - for somebody who's willing to let Pete try something different.Best song: ANYWAY ANYHOW ANYWHERE
Tracks: 1) On The Road Again; 2) Anyway Anyhow Anywhere; 3) A Little Is Enough; 4) Drowned; 5) You Better You Bet; 6) Now And Then; 7) North Country Girl; 8) Let My Love Open The Door; 9) Won't Get Fooled Again; 10) Magic Bus; 11) I'm One; [BONUS CD:] 12) Magic Bus; 13) Heart To Hang Onto.
The full title, actually, is "Live: A Benefit For Maryville Academy". It's a one-time charity gig that Pete did at the House of Blues in Chicago with all the revenue going to 'Maryville City of Youth', sort of a treatment center for disabled kids. This alone would have made a potential bashing of this album look uncomfortable, after all, a gig/album whose main purpose is to help disabled children isn't really subject to bashing. Fortunately, there's no real need to bash it, as the performance overall is pretty good. Different, but good.Actually, Pete in his late fifties seems even more confused as a human being than he ever was in his twenties/thirties. I mean, he goes on record as saying 'this is definitely the last Who reunion' multiple times, and breaks his word every time (and that's not even for money reasons - I mean, I would understand if he only did those Nineties Who reunions for the money, but apparently he's not). He's more or less at peace with himself now, having settled down into a more relaxed and subtle persona than before, yet every now and then he tries to recapture some of the old days' glory, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. One thing's for sure - the guy's totally unpredictable. And totally predictable at the same time. Take this performance. It's at times inspired and uplifting, and at times looks pretty formulaic. The setlist is more or less predictable, but every now and then there's a major surprise thrown in. It obviously gives one the feeling that Pete is somehow torn between (a) acute nostalgia for the early times, (b) a desire to move on and do something different, and (c) a desire to mellow out and behave according to age, that is, as a passionate old grandfather entertaining his kids with profound sounding acoustic stuff. His goals aren't defined at all on here. But that's all right by me, because, after all, that was what the Who were about, too: an endless quest for something that couldn't be easily defined in words. So this is the setlist. On one hand, you got stuff you knew you would get. The two biggies from Empty Glass, 'A Little Is Enough' and 'Let My Love Open The Door' are both here, done nicely and precisely. 'Won't Get Fooled Again' is here, naturally rearranged so that it would better suit Pete's singing personality rather than Roger's; after all, it would be rude to ask Pete to do the 'YEAAAAAAH!' thing, so we gotta settle for this "bastardized", heavily acoustic-based version (altho' the actual tradition of playing the song on an acoustic went back a long time). There's also a long long long version of 'Magic Bus' which is a lowlight - I can't help but recalling the old days when the band would cleverly alternate the 'quiet' theatric parts of the song with the roaring thunderstorm of guitar/bass/drums interplay as the bus was supposed to 'go like thunder' across the countryside; here, it's just the same monotonous groove for thirteen minutes, and even if Pete sounds like he's having fun improvising stuff like 'in my country, all the buses have two decks, the upper deck and the lower deck', that doesn't mean the listener should necessarily enjoy it in the same way. There's also a great tear-jerkin' version of 'You Better You Bet', a rare case of a song that provides equal emotional impact when being sung by either Pete or Roger. 'Drowned' and 'I'm One', as far as I know, are regular chunks in Pete's set, both done on the acoustic; here, I'm particularly impressed by how the audience cheerfully and enthusiastically sings along with Pete through the entirety of 'I'm One', verses, choruses, all... apparently, the house was jam packed with Who freaks that night, because you can't expect a regular classic rock Joe to be able to remember all that 'I got a Gibson without a case, but I can't get that even tanned look on my face' stuff. Pretty cool. A particular surprise is 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' - now this is a song you'd swear could never be done by anybody but Roger, but nah, Pete does it well. It's no longer a wild showcase of teen fury, though, at least, that's not how it's designed; it begins like your basic mid-Seventies Who rocker, with synths in the background and lots of supporting instruments. Then, when you're starting to lose interest, Pete ad libs "This is what we used to believe - we thought we'd live forever! I can go anywhere, I can do anything, I can live anyhow..." and rips into the feedback mid-section, as if to say, 'hey, this is not really what I feel now, I'm just giving you a recreation of days long gone by'. Funny thing, the feedback mid-section rocks, and the song reaches a glorious conclusion. Yes, it's kind of a shock to realize that there's a version of 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' out there that goes on for nearly eight minutes, but c'mon, think different. Two more surprises: one is that Pete opens the show with a moody, if a bit monotonous, rendition of Canned Heat's classic 'On The Road Again' (why?? never mind, it's a good song if you like Canned Heat's brand of blues-rock at all); and in the middle of the show he launches into 'North Country Girl' which is - totally mysteriously - credited to Pete himself. I do hope it was a stupid error on the publisher's part. But maybe Pete saw Dylan crediting the song to himself on the Freewheelin' album and decided that if the Zimmerguy can get away with it, he can too. Whatever. My edition of the CD has a second "bonus" disc appended, with a different version of 'Magic Bus' and a 'Heart To Hang Onto', both performed by Pete as a duet with none other but Eddie Vedder himself. This particular version of 'Magic Bus' is actually better - shorter and with a harsher grinding rhythm, but the other song is a total snore when compared to the original Rough Mix version. And anyway, what kind of a friggin' "bonus disc" is that, twelve minutes total? Hmph! Overall, though, while this Live thing isn't a masterpiece by any means, I qualify it as inspired, emotionally resonant and technically solid anyway (not to mention the generous purpose of the benefit). If you're hoping for another total nostalgia piece, please get yourself something from the last Who reunions instead please, but if you wanna support the "endearing confusion" of the nosy old guy, you're certainly welcome. I like it. A lot.
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In 1977, Pete took some time to work with ex-Small Faces/ex-Faces pal Ronnie Lane on a solo album to distract himself from all of the Who's problems. The result was a masterpiece that, in my view, is stronger than any of Pete's own "fulltime" solo records and deserves a higher rating than any of these. Since starting a separate page for "Townshend/Lane" seems a bit weird, I just decided to make an "appendix" here which would deal with the album on its own "joint genius" terms, aside from all of Pete's other projects.
Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 13
Rootsy, catchy, honest, emotional, well-played, well-recorded - one of those albums where not breaking any new ground really DOESN'T matter.Best song: ANNIE
Track listing: 1) My Baby Gives It Away; 2) Nowhere To Run; 3) Rough Mix; 4) Annie; 5) Keep Me Turning; 6) Catmelody; 7) Misunderstood; 8) April Fool; 9) Street In The City; 10) Heart To Hang Onto; 11) Till The Rivers All Run Dry.
Most people who have reviewed this record call it a "gem", but few have had the balls to rate it as a gem - maybe because the perspective of issuing an oddly high rating to a long-lost, routinely ignored collaboration of two Sixties' rock dinosaurs only known to hardcore fans and collectors spooks 'em off. Well, to hell with that attitude; Rough Mix is an absolute masterpiece, and the only reason why it doesn't get even higher on my scheme is maybe just a couple songs relatively weaker than the rest, as well as the fact that Townshend and Lane aren't really making any musical revolutions on here.But really, I'm drastically surprised at how good this is. To put it mildly, Pete wasn't exactly in the highest of creative spirits at the time, coming off his least inspired Who record to date (By Numbers - remember that one? Where he mostly bitches about his life to a bunch of unmemorable backing tracks?); and as for Lane, he wasn't as of yet totally debilitated by his illnesses, but he was starting to get there, and besides, his commercial career was also at a rather low point. How they came to the decision of making this 'side project', I don't know, but it's apparent that the collaboration somehow invigorated both of them, even if the songwriting is actually split, with only the instrumental title track credited to both Pete and Ronnie. Apart from that, Pete had assembled nothing less than an all-star cast to back them up on the project. John Entwistle shows up to offer some help with the brass section. Charlie Watts drums on a couple of tracks. Eric Clapton plays guitar and dobro on much of the material. "Rabbit" Bundrick is responsible for the pianos and organs. Boz Burrell (!!) plays some bass, and Mel Collins plays sax on 'Catmelody'. And then there are all those people from support bands, like Clapton's drummer (actually, future drummer) Henri Spinetti, and Lane's old Slim Chance partners Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher. In short, all that's needed is a Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, an Ian Anderson on flute, and a David Coverdale on vocals. Every single song on here is great, and I have a goddamn hard time trying to decide who beats out who. Ronnie probably beats out as far as "general enjoyment" goes - Pete could never make a basic barroom boogie like 'Catmelody' so much fun, nor could he totally melt the listener's heart in one second in a way that 'Annie' does. But Pete has Ronnie beat in the "trying out new ideas" department; few of these songs sound anything like the Who, culminating in the long, complex, heavily and ingeniously orchestrated 'Street In The City'. One thing's for sure: there's an unseen competition going on here, with two excellent songwriters bringing out the best in each other, and it only makes me sadder to realize how much Pete actually needed a similar creative support/trade-off for himself within the Who - with a second songwriter of similar stature, The Who might have been bigger than the Beatles. Hey, this album is so great, it needs a song-for-song runthrough so I can rant and rave enough and slobber all over you with my appraisals so that you actually get off your ass and buy it. We open with Pete's 'My Baby Gives It Away', a basic piece of pop-rock with a funny, catchy, and totally unpretentious vocal melody. I guess you could trace it back to the man's country preoccupation on 'Squeeze Box', but it's nowhere near as juvenile as that track ever was, if it used to offend you or something. It kicks! And Charlie kicks it, too, on the drums, the human metronome that he is. Then, Ronnie's 'Nowhere To Run' - the vocal melody is pretty much the same as on The Kinks' 'Death Of A Clown', but only for the first part of each verse. I admit that if you're not bowled over by the charms of Ronnie's ragged, down-to-earth, deeply humane delivery, you might not think much of it, but I do. I also think a lot of the boogie that is the title track, although to tell you the truth, it's more Eric Clapton than Townshend or Lane - but who cares if it rocks? That is, if it's based on a cute little repetitive riff and gives enough space for "Rabbit" and Eric himself to solo at will (and Eric really soars on the boogie licks there, playing in a way he probably hasn't since the Yardbirds days)? Ronnie's delicious 'Annie' comes next: British school of folk-pop at its best. One of those tunes that should bring tears to your eyes - the melody could have been presented in a more hit-oriented manner by Paul McCartney (whose voice Ronnie's delivery is extremely reminiscent of on here), but Paul could have never given it such an intimate, deeply heartbreaking twang as Ronnie does. Often hailed as Mr Lane's best song of all time, and I must join in the chorus: it's one of those rare gems that, once you've heard, you can't imagine living your previous life without having heard them. Any song after that one would be a letdown, but still Pete keeps it going strong with the pretty catchy 'Keep Me Turning', which, I insist, should be from now on replacing 'However Much I Booze' on By Numbers - hey, both are intimate and autobiographical, but is there really any debate on which one is the better one? Then Ronnie shows us his boogie side on 'Catmelody', with Mel Collins giving it his all on the sax - sure the man can rock your average barroom just as well as he's able to burn down your heart with 'Annie'. Oh! The late great Ian Stewart is backing him up on piano here, and you know as well as me that there's never been a better boogie piano player than Ian Stewart. Okay, look: Ronnie Lane on vocals, Pete Townshend on lead guitar, Mel Collins on sax, Ian Stewart on piano, Charlie Watts on drums. What else do you need to convince you of how awesome this piece of boogie is? Side two! Pete opens with the goofy bubbling 'Misunderstood', with the immortal lyrics: 'I wanna be misunderstood/I wanna be feared in my neighbourhood', as well as the "cool walkin' smooth talkin' straight smokin' fire stokin'" line that later gave name to Pete's greatest hits compilation. Lane retorts with the straight country sendup 'April Fool', maybe not the best song on here, but again, a song can't be bad when you have Lane on vocals and Clapton on dobro. Then Pete gets in his most experimental number, 'Street In The City', an acoustic ballad getting a fully orchestrated background, with a long instrumental passage of almost symphonic proportions - and the orchestration is done exceedingly well, even if the song would easily work as a gorgeous Townshend ballad even without the orchestra. Finally, Pete and Ronnie get to have a vocal duet on the Pete-penned 'Heart To Hang Onto', an anthemic ballad that's easily the only song on here I could see potentially performed by the Who; and close it all with the only cover, the country standard 'Till The Rivers All Run Dry', with Entwistle singing background vocals. A fitting end to a near-proverbially "roots-rock" album. Now of course it goes without saying that you have to be tolerant towards all this here roots-rock stuff to fully enjoy this experience. Apart from 'Street In The City', there's no "weirdness" here, no classic Who experimentation, nothing like that. But on the other hand, it's not like these songs are boring and unmemorable - cuz they aren't! They're all well-written and gutsily performed! If only at least half "superstar super-projects" were of such high quality, I'd sure ask rock superstars to get together more often. It'd be worth it.
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