The Who, Endless Wire (Republic, 2006)

Very few bands need less of an introduction than The Who. They are one of rock's greatest bands, on the same rung with The Rolling Stones right below The Beatles. Despite boasting rock's finest rhythm section in bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, the defining element of The Who's music was always the interplay and tension between singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend. Entwistle and Moon have sadly passed away, but Daltrey and Townshend have just emerged from the studio with Endless Wire, the first album of new material credited to The Who in twenty-four years.

On Endless Wire, Townshend returns to a lot of topics he wrote about in The Who's heyday, including spirituality, love and sex, and the positive power of music. In a few cases, he hits the right mark. "A Man In A Purple Dress," inspired by the scene in The Passion Of The Christ where Jesus is confronted by Pilate, expounds on the comic irony of a person sitting in judgment of God. The mini-opera "Wire And Glass" that makes up the second half of the disc presents music as a unifying force in a war-torn world. This part of the album includes semi-autobiographical songs like "We Got A Hit" and "Tea & Theatre," on which Townshend sizes up The Who's legacy as he sees it while declaring his readiness for one more go-around. Still, I felt that the overall theme of the mini opera was a bit naive in the context of some of Townshend's earlier songs. Let's face it, we are presently immersed in a difficult war largely because we DID get fooled again.

The performances on this album are solid all around, and provide a level of energy worthy of a Who album. The star of this album, though, is unquestionably Roger Daltrey. Years of working his vocal cords to the limit have affected the subtlety and delicacy of his singing, but all the power remains firmly in place. More importantly, he brings the same spirit and sense of conviction to Endless Wire that he brought to all of The Who's classic songs, and made me think at a few points on this disc that I was listening to The Who in their prime. By contrast, the album loses momentum every time Townshend sings lead, from a curious Tom Waits impersonation on "In The Ether" to a really lackluster delivery on the title song.

The disc is accompanied by a DVD with five songs performed by The Who's current touring band (Daltrey, Townshend, Pino Palladino on bass, Zak Starkey on drums, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on keyboards, and Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar and backing vocals) at a show in Lyon, France in July. This comes from a series of concert recordings available online for purchase, with the profits going to charity. Somewhat like the album, this performance showed The Who shaking off some rust but still capable of moments of greatness.

Endless Wire isn't perfect, but it is a worthy album as a whole. There is something about Roger Daltrey singing above Pete Townshend's guitar that still works over forty years after The Who's first album. That simple fact more than justifies purchasing the disc if you're a fan of the band.

Overall Grade: B

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1 comment:

JB said...

Not all of us think The Who and the Stones are on a rung below the Beatles:-)