LENINE – O Dia Em Que Faremos Contato (1997)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Victor Guimarães

This is a layman’s review on a prominent Brazilian music album (Caetano himself recommended it, so go figure!). God bless you for reading. My lawyer is at the moment in Copacabana, so please don’t sue me if I make too many mistakes or wrong assumptions.

The record starts off with “A Ponte”, a phone modem dialing into the internet (hey, children, you probably don’t know about this) and a boy talking about street music. “A Bridge” in english, in fact it indicates the intention of the album, to marry Brazilian popular music with Rock music elements, though, spoiler, it never attempts to betray its roots. Percussion is of course, the center of the music here, but there’s a strong electronic beat to back it up.
“Hoje Eu Quero Sair Só” (“Today I Want To Go Out Alone”) has a lovely intro with a laid back rock tone, Wah-Wah guitar effects in the distance. Great song, though a little over long. “Candeeiro Encantado” has a great bass line, and “Distantes Demais” is an inoffensive ballad that… has a total Tango feel (!) so it feels like home to me. “Que baque e esse” introduces itself as a piece of Hip hop music with a swirling guitar and vocal effects, and it mutates into an interesting mix with prominent horns included, slightly free-jazz in parts. “O Marco Marciano” instead begins with a raucous vocal part and doesn’t go anywhere from there.

The title track is a really an intoxicating song, with noises in the background, quite tribal and effective for the mistery of an extraterrestrial invasion. “Dois Olhos Negros” has a strong and well defined melody and nice work both for the rhythm guitar and the electric bits (with some hard rock riff at the end), it’s probably my favourite of the lot. 

I’ll say that it’s an interesting album though I feel it’s a little repetitive in parts, and though it tries for some fusion, it mostly uses rock instruments to give a different color to a good album of Brazilian popular music.

THE ABYSSINIANS – Satta: The Best of The Abyssinians (2015)

ASSIGNED BY THE HOST: Great Overlooked Artists
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Reggae is not my thing. The thing closest to reggae that I own, and actually quite like, is a set by Toots and the Maytals on Dub side of the mule, a live album by Gov’t Mule. I always plan to buy a Bob Marley greatest hits compilation, so that the genre is represented in my music collection. That guy wrote or performed a few famous reggae tunes in the seventies such as No woman, no cry, Get up stand up, One Love and Could you be loved. What I like about him is that he was also sort of a symbol for Jamaican reggae culture: Rastafari, ganja and dreads, but reggae fanatics probably consider him a crossover artist who sold out.

What do I like about reggae? Well, hmmm.., the music is usually happy and quite rhythmic.
What do I not like about reggae? I hardly ever focus on the lyrics, but I would not be surprised if the lyrics are on the whole a lot sadder than the music would suggest. Vocals tend to sound whiny. I think that as a genre it’s way too constrained by the rules. That does not bother me with, say, bossa nova or blues, but with some styles, reggae and tango being prime examples, the ’structural and formal homogeneity’ bores me to death from the second track.
Especially the (rhythm) guitar, and sometimes a keyboard, on the off beat (alternating with the bass) annoys me. As far as Caribbean / South American music goes (or basically anything south of Cajun/Zydeco), this is by far my least favorite music style.
So, so far this review is more a confession about my taste, but I wanted to inform you, dear reader, about where I come from.
This album has not convinced me of the intrinsic value of reggae music. It’s probably well played; I liked the fact that sometimes they sing together and that horns play a prominent role in some songs. The dub medley (versions) suggest that some versions have been updated or remixed, sometimes quite interesting to hear (once), for instance some ‘echoey’ effects.
But, still my ears fail me, I just cannot get into reggae. It’s actually easy on the ears (compared to lots of jazz such as Eric Dolphy, or prog like Magma and the like), but in the end it’s too meandering. As it was assigned to me by someone who likes reggae and/or considers this a reggae masterpiece, I suggest that reggae lovers check it out for themselves. It may indeed be a lost milestone in the history of reggae.
Because of my ‘relationship at arm’s length’ with reggae, I feel not even qualified to determine if this is good reggae. In fact, although I did like the first song (Satta amassa gana) when I heard it for the first time, as of this moment I’ll postpone my decision to get a compilation by Bob Marley indefinitely.

Strait to the Point: THE WHO – The Who by Numbers (1975)

Review by: Michael Strait

Rated: 2.5/5

This might be the first time I’ve been able to call an album by these dudes “humble”. It ain’t bad, I guess, but it’s not a patch on their best.

On first listen, I hated this. I listen to these things three times, though, and the subsequent two did admittedly reveal a small reservoir of quality I’d not noticed at first. After a string of increasingly grandiose albums culminating in the leaning tower of hubris that was Quadrophenia, it’s nice to hear Townshend finally slowing down, taking a breather and allowing his vulnerabilities to show through a little bit. No characters here, and no social commentary either – just a bunch of fairly mellow acoustic rockers, ballads and musings on the flawed self. Sounds great, right?

Well, not quite. It’s alright, sure, but it’s a fairly unassuming, unremarkable sorta alright. Most of the tracks just kinda breeze by, doing just enough to avoid being outright boring without doing enough to be riveting. Listening to this album is a mildly diverting, marginally enjoyable experience, but it won’t win any awards and it probably won’t change yer life. I can’t say there’s any tracks I hate, either – there are a couple of failures, sure, but they’re the mediocre, boring kind of failure rather than the sort of disastrous collapse you can find in The Who’s worst moments. So, in sum, what we have here is The Who’s first average album – and that’s an epochal moment, that is.

I’m in a positive mood, so let’s start with the good stuff. “In a Hand or a Face”, the closing track, is a great song! The vocal melody is properly awesome the whole way through, especially in the chorus. That rising repetition – “I am going round and round…” is like a callback to that sense of earnest silliness that used to define The Who, sung like it’s being confided mischievously in your ear while the instrumentation steadily builds around it. That instrumentation is pretty great, too – everyone performs pretty well on this song, which is a very nice surprise when ye consider how bloody bland they are on most of this album. Oh, goshdarnit – I’ve hit the negatives already! I mean, what can I do? There’s an elephant in the room, hangin’ from the ceiling like an oversized, critically endangered chandelier: Moon’s drumming on this album has, appallingly, actually gotten worse than it was on Quadrophenia. There, he at least still sounded as if he were connected to the band; here, half the tracks sound like his beat was recorded in another room with no point of reference, ‘cos he can’t stop doing these ridiculous fills, flourishes and attempted solos that sound kinda like what the drummer in a third-rate Who tribute band might come up with. What’s worse is the horrible, lethargic cymbal stuff he does when he’s actually trying to keep time – that stuff actually saps the music of energy, and that’s just heartbreaking to have to hear. I’ve no idea what the timeline was leading up to Moon’s death in 1978, but I have a hunch he was a hefty way down the path by the time they recorded this album. What else explains this precipitous drop? Shiet, maybe he’d secretly quit and this was just Townshend drumming in disguise.

Entwistle’s also barely a presence on most of these tracks. He gets one of his own, though, and it’s the best he’s written in years – “Success Story”, it’s called, and not even a tragic nadir of a performance from Moon can prevent it from being a highlight. Entwistle’s got a badass bass tone on it, for one, and it’s also got that trademark Entwistle sense of humour I’ve always found so endearing. Got a nice set of riffs, too. No real complaints here, though it ain’t one of the band’s greatest achievements. I’ve mostly the same opinion of the opening track, “Slip Kid”; that thing is built around this super swaggy, catchy piano groove, and I can’t say I’ve got any problems with it, but it’s not exactly a work of genius, now, is it? It’d be one of the better tracks on Odds & Sods, but it’s hard for me to work up any enthusiasm about it. I mean, this is the band that made Baba O’Riley – and this was the best they could do?

Really, it’s remarkable just how easy it is to forget this album when it’s done. I can’t say that of any of their others up to this point – I didn’t like Tommy or Quadrophenia, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t at least memorable failures. This thing is a reluctant kind of success, I guess, but it’s the most forgettable success I’ve ever heard, and is that really better? “Dreaming From The Waist” is a perfectly competent acoustic rocker and a pleasant enough listening experience, and so is “How Many Friends”, but man, they really don’t aspire to be anything more. That’s kind of nice after all the pretensions of the previous album, I guess, but it also means I feel absolutely no need to retain them in my memory and I’ll be damned if they do anything to try and win me over. “However Much I Booze” is basically the same, except worse, seeing as Townshend tries to fit too many words into his melody and ends up ruining it; “Imagine A Man” is a decently pretty and, honestly, entirely ordinary acoustic ballad that I can’t really remember anything about; “Squeeze Box” is kind of a countryish tune with a good banjo solo, a decent melody and no particularly great ideas… you get the picture, y’know? The score range for tracks on this album, excepting maybe the finale, is about 4-6/10. It’s so thoroughly mediocre that I’m beginning to feel self-doubt at my inability to find anything to say about it – I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not me, it’s the album that’s a hack writer with delusions of grandeur and no futur- ahem, excuse me…

I guess “Red Blue and Grey” is nice. It’s this endearing little ballad where Townshend just opens up over a ukulele, and there are some pretty horns in the distance that give the whole thing a kind of mournful air. Strictly speaking it’s not any more remarkable than its surroundings, but I find myself fixating on it whenever I listen to the album; I guess it just strikes me as the least pretentious thing Townshend ever wrote, lacking even the conceit of deep emotional resonance (I’ve always believed you need to be at least a little self-important to want to make people cry) and conveying only a feeling of remarkable contentedness. Being as it cohabits with songs about drink addiction, fake friends and sexual frustration, this is remarkable, and maybe that’s why I like it more than the rest. But it’s not like it’s one of Townshend’s best, and it doesn’t save this album from total irrelevance. A friend of mine once pointed out that it’s been 40 years, and there still isn’t anyone willing to try and rehabilitate The Who’s post-Quadrophenia work; “it’s a safe bet”, he said, “that it’s as mediocre as everyone says it is”. I guess he was right. This is, indeed, The Who By Numbers, and that means it’s The Who without any of the things that made them interesting. If the blood still flows, it’s been heftily diluted.

JAMES BROWN – Live at the Apollo (1963)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

In a possible new series of Important Live Albums, this is an important and powerful first entry. Later, James Brown would sound even less constrained, on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, and downright funky on “Sex Machine”, “The Payback” and the like. But this is where it in many ways started: a half hour album, recorded on October 24, 1962 in NYC and released later in 1963, with some added applause (the version I own is fleshed out with another “generous” 10 minutes, basically single mixes from some of the other material).
Even at over 50 years of age, with old-fashioned background singing, musical accompaniment that’s still carefully sophisticated rather than outrageously funky, this album is a testament to the vision of James Brown. Obviously, in showmanship and musicality he ultimately paved the way for Jimi Hendrix and even Prince, but most importantly, here he created (at least in the perception of the public) his James Brown persona, the hardest working man in showbiz, and modern dance music as a genre.
Compared to other white (Everly Brothers, early Beatles and Beach Boys) and black artists (Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, later Curtis Mayfield and others) of the time, this was anarchy, plain and simple. His delivery and his stage presence (and the call and response singing) created a type of mass hysteria and fainting girls (or so I imagine) that were unprecedented at the time. And yes, parts of this had been heard before, as he had been working (hard) for the five years leading up to this album. But this was the live album that cemented his reputation.
With hindsight it’s easy to point out that it’s way too short and that the applause feels artificial in places. The musicians (drummer, guitar and organ especially) play way too subdued and they don’t do James justice. James shines however: he cries, he screams, he orgasms all the way to the Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not just a great little dance album, it is an important album. Get it!

BRYAN ADAMS – Reckless (1984)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Jimm Derby

Generic power pop, typical 80’s production, energetic singing, poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. That would about sum it up in one sentence if you were brutally honest, bordering on cynical.
The hits were “Run to You”, an energetic rocker where he makes full use of his voice, “Heaven”, a power ballad, “Summer of ’69”, another energetic rocker and “It’s Only Love”, a duet with Tina Turner. Although (or because) they are very familiar, they sound quite good as songs: they’re all nice pop songs on the rocky side and Tina’s voice mixes very nicely with Bryan’s.
And some other songs are nice as well: “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin’” could have been a heavy Huey Lewis and the News song, and I can easily visualize it with a ZZ Top style video clip. “Ain’t gonna cry” somehow reminds me of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (the album, that is).
The 30th anniversary/Deluxe edition adds 7 bonus tracks of which “Reckless” (the title song that apparently never made it on to the original album), “Let Me Down Easy” and “Teacher, Teacher”, stand out somewhat. Also, a disc with 15 live tracks from 1985 is added.
Hooks-wise Brian’s not in Keith Richards territory (although Keith was having a rough decade or two at the time), but Bryan sure makes up for it in energy. I actually like his voice quite a lot, but paradoxically only in small doses, as it’s a bit one-dimensional: he sounds nice, but he really has only one way of singing.
Worst thing about the record as a whole is the terrible production style: booming drums, simple (very basic) bass work, no subtlety AT ALL and a very synthetic compressed sound. This may have been fashion at the time, or perhaps it has something to do with learning to “master” new cd technology with its higher dynamics. Another thing is that it’s rather monotonous: apart from the one ballad, all songs are rockers, mostly at the same speed.
It makes for rather tiring, headache inducing listening 30 years later. But I can easily imagine a remake in a more acoustic setting with sympathetic production that gives the instruments room to breathe. That would do his voice full justice.

UNIVERS ZERO – Heatwave (1986)

Review by:Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

Save for the topiary, everything shifts and changes at random within my line of vision. Outside, the heat rises from the ground and makes everything seem almost liquid, as though I am dwelling underwater in a glowing palace of glass and gold. The world stretches and distorts and makes itself into new shapes without my influence and I am caught up in the rhythm of the funeral march once more, stretching eternally, seemingly without end. Ah, to say that it were painless would be to lie and pretend that nothing had happened; to smile and pretend that it was over, the chairs packed away, the curtains drawn, but from here, I can see everything as it becomes due to me. The music draws to an unnatural lilting halt, and somewhere a woman laughs and a glass is dropped, for these are indeed dangerous times.

Strait to the Point: THE WHO – Odds & Sods

Review by: Michael Strait

Just fanservice. A nice lil bunch of curiosities for the completionist.

A bonus review for a bonus album – fair, wouldn’t ya say? This was a collection of outtakes, rarities and other such collectors’ items released originally to fill a free year, then re-released in 1998 with more than twice as many tracks for the obsessives and completionists. I don’t really feel like there’s much point in giving it any sort of rating, so instead I’m just gonna give a quick overview of what’s on here.

There’s a rough, though not rigid, chronological order here. We start with “I’m The Face” – a pleasant little R&B tune that was one side of the first single The Who ever released, back when they were called The High Numbers – and we end with “Naked Eye”, a song that can also be found on the bonus track edition of Who’s Next. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any outtakes from the Quadrophenia sessions, although “Water” has enough dull musicianship and rawk gawd posturing to sound like one. Aside from that one, though, the Who’s Next outtakes are pretty much all totally awesome, and a couple of ’em even sound better than some of the album tracks. What did we do to deserve “Gettin’ In Tune” instead of “Put The Money Down”? The latter’s great – it’s all mountainous and monolithic like the best songs on that album, but it’s also got some convincingly macho swagger and a nice sense of humour. “Time Is Passing” ain’t bad either, though the country ‘n’ western parody at the beginning is maybe a leetle too arch for a bunch of middle-class Englishmen. Then again, they don’t shy away from self-parody on this thing either – just listen to “Long Live Rock”! Ridiculous tune, but it pretty much entirely eliminates the need for AC/DC’s “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, and, come to think of it, does a great job parodying just about every single 80s hair metal band before any of them even existed. It’s no necessity, but as far as joke songs go it ain’t bad at all.

Most of the other stuff is kinda scattered. There are two more joke songs: “Now I’m A Farmer”, notable mostly for some lead vocal silliness from Moon, and “Little Billy”, which sounds like a silly Entwistle song even though Townshend apparently wrote it. There’s also “Cousin Kevin Model Child”, which I guess is a joke song of some kind, but which elicited a verbal, audible reaction of “What the fuck is this shit?” from me when I heard it; skip it, and also skip the studio version of “Young Man Blues” (super corny imitation-American accents ruin it), the rock version of “Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” (no less boring for all the rocking – in fact, possibly more boring for being longer), “Too Much Of Anything” (too much of nothing, more like), and “My Way” (a fairly generic Eddie Cochran cover). There’s a bunch of other stuff which is only really interesting from a historical perspective, like “Leaving Here” (Daltrey’s first attempt at machismo on the mic), “Faith In Something Bigger” (a perfectly pleasant early pop tune that ultimately lacks identity), and “Under My Thumb” (a cover of the Rolling Stones song that fails because it’s one of those songs only Mick Jagger could sing properly). There are, however, some gems buried here: “Baby Don’t You Do It”, which contains some excellent drunken angst-over-breakup from Daltrey and some more of that destructive guitar feedback Townshend left behind after the debut; “Glow Girl”, which is a nice, psychy little pop tune that ends on a genderswapped version of that “it’s a boooy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a boooy” bit from Tommy (no idea which was written first); “Pure And Easy”, which sounds kind of like one of them endearingly corny Yes pop songs from their earlier albums; and “We Close Tonight”, which confuses me because it’s got elements you tend to find in early Who songs coexisting with the trappings of their later stuff, but which sounds cool anyway. 

The three I haven’t commented on – the studio version of “Summertime Blues”, the rock version of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” and the Entwistle tune “Postcard” – are all unspecial, unremarkable but nonetheless pretty good tracks that wouldn’t stink up your collection if you felt the need to have ’em. I’m not a big Who fan, personally, so I doubt I’ll be returning to this very often, but it’s a nice little gesture to the fans. Also, I can’t deny that it’s kind of interesting to hear The Who’s career trajectory represented here in miniature; in just an hour and 20 minutes you get pretty much the entire story of The Who’s existence up to this point, and it’s a nice reminder that they were, for all their faults, a supremely interesting and unique band that were never content to remain in one place for very long. Vitality flows through the veins of this record, even on the bad songs – let’s just see how long they could keep that up…

EISLEY – Currents (2013)

Review by: Alejandro Muñoz G
Album assigned by: Nina A

Eisley is a Texan band formed by four siblings and their cousin. They seem to put a lot of effort upon each song’s textures, and that’s one of the strengths of the album. The overall sound strongly reminds me of Florence + The Machine, especially in songs like “Real World”.
There are some really delightful moments in the album. Take for example the superb opening track built upon different layers of acoustic and electric guitar lines; the melody of the “come lay under my wing” line in “Drink The Water”, mimicked by a piano all along the song; or the gorgeous piano arpeggios in “Shelter”.
I’m usually a big supporter of “albums” as integral works of art which should be listened from beginning to end to understand each song in its context. However, in this case the fact that most of the tracks share the same mood and tempo means that, when listened thoroughly, the album may appear quite unexciting at some point. This problem is accentuated by the limitations of the singing: while the lead singer (or are there more than one lead?) is a perfectly capable one, it’s not a particularly versatile or dynamic voice. For these reasons, I believe these songs are much better appreciated when listened apart from the album, isolated or alternated with other artists contrasting songs.
Overall, Currents is a beautifully crafted indie pop-folk-rock album; a nice listening experience, and I would surely return to some of its songs.

Strait to the Point: THE WHO – Quadrophenia (1973)

Review by: Michael Strait

Rated: 2/5

A gigantic monument to the blinding power of self-importance. Has its moments, though.

In my reviews of The Who’s discography so far (which can be found here), I’ve had very little but kind words for Moon. I’ve a drummer friend who complains about his lack of technical chops, and I understand that, but his drumming is an essential component of The Who’s style on their best albums. The job of a drummer, usually, is to keep time and thus keep the band grounded, but Moon was never content with that; instead, he preferred to be the rocket engine that propelled The Who into the sky, lending them an inescapable sense of size and gravitas that helped their best music sound so joyous and expansive. When The Who’s early music sounded like it was bursting at the seams with youthful energy, a good portion of it was always him; when they started constructing mountains on Who’s Next, he was not just the foundation but a substantial part of the granite centre on which the surrounding landscape was painted. Without him, I firmly believe that The Who’s name would be rather more apt than it has turned out to be, and the classic rock world would lack one of its greatest heroes.

So why am I so fucking sick of him?

There’s something infuriating about his work on Quadrophenia, see. I had difficulty working out what it was for a while, but then I concentrated and I figured it out. Moon, on this album, spends way too long acting like an ordinary rock drummer. Most of the beats he plays on this album are entirely normal, basic and dreadfully uncreative 4/4 beats with little embellishment or character, and that’s annoying; more annoying is his consistent and nearly intolerable habit of announcing his presence with an equally generic and uncreative drum fill, banging loudly and quickly on a few snares before falling in line and playing a dull-ass drumbeat for the remainder of the song. It’s so intolerable not only because it’s deeply repetitive, but also because it’s so unjustifiably arrogant. It’s like a superhero arriving at the scene of some supervillainy, pompously saying “I’m here – the day’s saved!” while unimpressively attempting to flourish his cape, and then accidentally flying into a wall and knocking himself out – it’s all a bunch of big, vaguely depressing pompousness that ultimately heralds the arrival of nothing useful. Moon, on this album, has started to believe his own hype while simultaneously becoming so lazy as to no longer deserve it – and there’ll never be a better microcosm for the album than that.

It’s better than Tommy, of course. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Townshend had listened to some of my criticisms of that record when he was making this one, because there’s none of those old shitty sub-2-minute interludes to be found here. I can’t claim that any of the songs are as lazily nonexistent as most of the shit on Tommy, either; they’re all perfectly competent rock songs with a decent number of moving parts and, usually, at least one musical idea. Nothing here is anywhere near as bad as “Christmas” or “Underture”, and there are more good songs, too. And the story (because this, if you didn’t know, is another one of them rock operas) is better, I guess; I still stopped paying attention about halfway through, but I gather it’s a fairly simple and relatable story about a young man looking for social acceptance and finding it in a subculture, specifically the mods if I’m not mistaken. That’s all nice, but I still have some problems.

For one, it’s not just Moon that’s lost his mojo – it’s everyone! Entwistle’s pretty much a non-factor the entire way through this album, and that’s just disconcerting, because what’s a Who song without a ridiculous Entwistle bassline roiling underneath it? He’s not even got any songwriting credits on the album! I’ve not liked one of his songs in a while, but I still feel like something’s amiss here; the dude’s had at least one song on every album since the sophomore, and his absence from this album is strange, like losing an old cushion from your sofa. Then there’s Daltrey, who has fully completed his transformation into the stereotypical rock vocalist and thus spends the entire album emitting a series of histrionic roars, low growls and showmanly screeches that almost never fail to make me wince, flinch and retch like a bulimic fulmar. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Mick Jagger, insincere demonic jester that he is, but Daltrey’s got all of his flaws and none of his endearing qualities here, and I really cannot stand him. Whatever became of that boyish rebel on My Generation? Hell, what became of the deftly creative Townshend on My Generation? His guitarwork here is fine, I guess, but it lacks the muscle a good Townshend riff can carry and it rarely manages any of the chiming soft goodness he can sometimes convey in his gentler moments. All the riffs here are big, like everything else: big concepts, big ambitions, big album (82 minutes!), and big, big hubris. 

It introduces itself pretty well, though. The first track is a fairly pleasant two minutes of sea sounds, with a bunch of faint keyboards in the distance and some wordless vocals, until eventually a bunch of notable lyrics and melodies from the album are distantly sung in succession, and I’m sure you get the idea: it’s a prelude, portentously foreshadowing all the developments to come. Sure, that’s fine, and the next track is one of the album’s highlights; “The Real Me” is a blistering, catchy rocker with possibly the best musicianship on the album, some great horn arrangements and some of Daltrey’s least annoying rock showmanship. I’m not entirely sure what it has to do with the story, but the lyrics are general enough that I feel no obligation to care; it’s a good song with nice lyrics about teenage disaffection, and that’s all I need to know. S’all good, but at the same time it’s undeniably all a bit self-important; Daltrey sounds very much like he’s excitedly announcing a big event, and the horns do add an air of affected grandiosity. “Here comes somethin’ big”, it’s saying – “this is our masterpiece!”

Still, I’m enjoying myself so far. Then the title track comes in, and it’s a 6-minute instrumental that spends its entire runtime trying to sound as portentous, important and epic as possible – and I’m just left rubbing my brow and thinking “Guys, the movie’s started! You don’t need to show me another bloody trailer!” The damn thing spends a good half its runtime foreshadowing motifs that’ll appear later in the album, forgetting to develop any real identity of its own or, really, any well-defined structure; it’s all a big mess of cheesy synths, self-impressed guitar solos and melodies that’ll be done better later, and I just can’t see the point. It’d have been a poor intro anyway, but placing it third on the tracklist is a particularly baffling move. I expect the presence of songs like this one is why some call Quadrophenia “The Who’s prog rock album”, and I’ll confess I was fooled for a bit, too, but then I listened closer and realised that there aren’t any interesting time signatures, cleverly unusual riffs or cool structures here. Naw, there’s just a load of unimpressive instrumental wanking married to a ton of pretentious self-importance – in other words, it’s exactly what prog sounds like to people who don’t like prog. P’raps the term was originally applied to Quadrophenia as an insult? 

Problems like this haunt the album at every turn. It’s impossible to go anywhere in this thing without bumping into a bunch of massively-played guitar chords, or some huge drum fills, or some giant vocals, and it all ends up becoming utterly numbing. Look, Who’s Next worked because the vastness was inextricably married to smallness; those were really big songs that signified really little things, carrying all the more genuine import for it. “Baba O’Riley” felt like a giant Sequoia springing from the heart of a humble young man, and “Bargain” was about the unfathomable depths of one small man’s personal faith; even the most unapologetically huge song there, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, felt like it was rooted in a very human sense of dissatisfaction. This album, though, is so concerned with telling a big, important story that it forgets its human heart; this thing is a hollow mountain, full of no goblins or Balrogs but pure empty air. The human heart here is meant to be the young boy who propels the story, but this album is just so impressed with the fact that it’s telling the story that it never actually shrinks itself down to a level where I can appreciate his emotions; I’m observing him from on high, watching dispassionately as he goes about his business while angels play guitars and blow horns to herald his every move. It’s overwhelming and, in the end, impossibly boring.

Aptly enough, I finally realised how much I hated this thing on the track “I’ve Had Enough”, which starts out as the umpteenth tolerable-but-uninspired rocker in a row before transitioning, for what seems like no reason at all, into another prelude to “Love, Reign O’er Me”. It’s not as jarring as the transitions on “Christmas”, from ol’ Tommy, but it still doesn’t fit and accomplishes nothing. This is what rock operas do, see: they are inherently ruinous concepts, pushing songwriters into making musically nonsensical decisions for the sake of a story that is, inevitably, uninspired-at-best, because if these rockers were any good at writing stories they’d be working in the fuckin’ TV industry instead of twanging on guitars. There are some acoustic ballad segments here, too, but they sound as insincere and self-impressed as Moon does when he opens the fucking song with yet another pathetic fill (by this point I wanted to go back in time just so I could kill the motherfucker myself with his own drumsticks), and the entire thing drags on for six vaguely infuriating minutes before finally petering out with an affected scream from Daltrey. All the individual elements of this song are, I guess, competently-done, but they certainly aren’t any more than that and they have no business all being jammed together in this mess. When the next song opens with Townshend forlornly singing “Why should I caaare?”, all I can do is nod my head in despondent agreement – why should I? What have I got to care about here?

Side three on this album is a particular chore, laden with such an assortment of mediocrity that I have to wonder if Townshend intentionally chose it as the dumping ground for all his worst failures on the album. We’ve got, in order: “5:15”, which tries to have primal rock swagger but is just too fucking grandiose to pull it off; “Sea and Sand”, which sounds, at its best, like “Bargain” but worse in every way; “Drowned”, which is saved from total nondescript dullness only by some pretty good horn riffs at one point; and “Bell Boy”, in which Moon tragically attempts to recapture some of his old genius by playing diet-“The Ox” type solos on a track that is entirely the wrong tempo for them, resulting only in embarrassment for everybody involved. All these tracks are at least five minutes long, too, which means I was about ready to shoot myself by the end. Five minutes is totally the worst length for a rock song, anyway – either go all the way and make an 8-minute mini-epic or shrink it down to three minutes of pop goodness, but for the love of God, don’t bombard me with dreary five-minuter after five-minuter like this. Nothing happens in any of these songs! The melodies are average, the riffs are forgettable, the musicianship is bloody dull and the story had long since ceased being of any interest to me. This sorta shit is why people these days are starting to look down on classic rock – to be this impressed with one’s own mediocrity is something not even the wackest rapper could manage.

It’s a shame, because there are moments of promise everywhere. “Cut My Hair” is, honestly, a pretty good song – it’s got a good set of melodies and a strong hook, and it’s one of the only tracks in which Moon actually performs pretty well the whole way through, though he still lacks the finesse he can manage in his best moments. Also, Townshend gets a lot of vocals here, and his singing on this album is far less irritating than Daltrey’s. That’s why many of the best moments here are softer ballad moments, on which he usually sings. “I’m One” kinda reminds me of Townshend’s earlier, brilliant “Sunrise” in places, even though the rock segments are merely serviceable. “Is It In My Head”, similarly structured, ain’t bad either, and I feel no real ill will towards any of it; it doesn’t stick in my head, but it’s a pleasant enough experience while it lasts. Then there’s “Helpless Dancer”, which I actually think is pretty great! It kind of sounds like what that “Eyesight to the Blind” on Tommy wanted to sound like: rhythmic lead instrument stabs backing up a fairly excellent vocal melody, with some vaguely intriguing social commentary in the lyrics (though I gotta say, “And bombs are dropped on fighting cats/ And children’s dreams are run with rats” is an incredibly corny couplet). The melodramatic melody and vaguely operatic singing also lend this a sort of pop-musical, Les Misérables air, which certainly works in context. The problem is that it ends on a brief, distant snippet of “The Kids Are Alright” from My Generation, which does two things. Firstly, it reminds me of how much better The Who used to be and makes me dislike this album more; secondly, it adds yet more arrogance to the already overflowing pot of it they’ve concocted on this album. “Ay yo, aren’t we writing a musical about the mods? Weren’t we a mod band? Well, we’re gonna need some period-setting sound effects – why not include ourselves in one of those? That way, children listening to this will get the impression that we were among the most indispensable parts of the subculture, even though we were, if anything, latecomers to the scene and an integral part in its commercialisation and subsequent death! History is written by the victors, after all!”

All that ridiculous arrogance spends most of the album tragically unjustified, but what’s more tragic is that the three songs on the final side actually go some way towards justifying it and thus give us a tantalizing glimpse into an alternate universe. What if all the songs on the album had been as good as “Doctor Jimmy”? All the melodrama actually works here, see, and that’s mostly down to Daltrey. This is the first time he’s actually conveying some of the emotional complexity that typified his best moments on Who’s Next; he’s not just a generic, strutting rockstar but a regretful, lost youth lain low by his own excessive machismo. Just listen to him in the chorus, falling victim to his own primality and descending helplessly into barbarism: “What is it!?/ I’ll take it!/ Who is she?/ I’ll rrrrape it!” The grandiosity here is actually earned, since those big, mournful horns are accompanying a moment of genuinely catastrophic emotion. And that moment when the melody resolves itself into “He only comes out when I drink my giiiiin”… well, it’s just gorgeous, and possibly the only moment of real, total melodic bliss on the entire album. I love it, and it always gets stuck in my head – it’s just a shame I stopped caring about the story about seven songs ago…

“The Rock” is pretty good, too, actually. It’s just a reprise of the title track, but it’s better, partly because Moon is being pretty inventive in parts (he plays these little dense beat clusters that are actually really cool) and partly just because the riff they stick with from about 2:45 to 4:40 is great. Then it transitions into a buildup to “Love Reign O’er Me”, a song that by now has been foreshadowed, hinted at and built up to so much you’re almost sick of it when it actually arrives. When it finally starts, though, it’s with a moment of shocking humility for this album – the piano notes are actually quiet, reflective, and deeply human, so that when the vast chorus finally does arrive – the anguished, justly famous scream of “LOOOOOOVE, REIGN OOOOO’ER MEEEEEE!” from a Daltrey that finally sounds like he really, totally cares – it feels completely and wholly justified. It all gives me goosebumps, actually, especially that tearfully descending guitar line. In recognising its own humanity and humility, the album finally grounds itself well enough to reach into the heavens it has been aiming for the entire time, and achieves its lofty goals. The result is one of the finest things Townshend ever wrote, and one of The Who’s truest highlights. It’s beautiful, brilliant and utterly fantastic – I just wish I hadn’t had to sit through seventy five minutes of intermittent quality, overwhelming arrogance and mediocre musicianship to get there. 

Why do The Who always do this to me? Except for their first album, all their albums have fallen at least some way short of their potential. They’re capable of making some of the best music anyone’s ever made, but so often they just, I dunno, don’t. Sometimes they’re too cautious and safe, writing a bunch of good songs instead of great ones, like on The Who Sell Out; sometimes they’re overambitious, shooting too high and collapsing in the atmosphere, like here. I’d love to love them dearly, to hold them close to my heart as one of my favourite bands in the world, because they’ve certainly got the chops for it – but one thing you gotta have in your relationships is consistency, and The Who just offer moments. Beautiful, perfect, ascendant moments – but always, it seems, just moments. So I’m sorry, Townshend, but I’m done – we’re through. I need a man I can rely on. Oh, love, reign o’er me…

PAU RIBA – Dioptria (1970)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

This one is a bit difficult to review. I honestly had never heard of this album, Pau Riba, or anything in its genre. I have mixed opinions of it, but it’s not without its charms and interesting points. The first thing that stands out obviously is that it’s sung entirely in Catalan (or is it Mallorqui?). I do speak Spanish, and that helps me understand at least a bit of the song titles and the lyrics, though honestly not enough for me to get a true sense of their meaning. The language barrier is not a problem – I listen to stuff sung in various African and Asian languages which I don’t understand at all! I like the sound of Catalan being sung, which is a nice distinguishing feature. What I am lacking completely, of course, is the lyrical, cultural, and musical context for this music. It was released in 1970 and sounds very much like a product of its time (good and bad). On some of the tracks I get the impression that the vocals are delivered in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek out of tune fashion, but I don’t know what that’s about.

The music itself is basically folky psychedelic rock. I said it was a product of its time, but quite honestly I think even by 1970 standards the rock stuff sounds somewhat dated and clichéd sounding. The slower stuff is much better and more distinctive, and seems to draw on sources beyond just Anglophone rock and folk, which I would be interested to explore. “Noia de Porcelana” is one the songs that comes to mind as a highlight, though it’s hard to write in more detail about individual tracks. Overall it was an interesting listen. There’s a big world of music beyond your comfort zone – go explore it.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.