Review by: Michael Strait
Yeah, don’t listen to anybody who tries to tell you this is some sort of underrated gem. Thrice have I subjected myself to this abomination, and it only got worse each time. There’s a reservoir of awful badness hidden here under the unassuming mask of bland, dreary dullness, and the more attention you pay, the worse it gets. There are good moments here, but they are exceedingly few, invariably brief, and easy to lose sight of amid the swirling oily fluids that lap at their shores. If you wanna brave this toxic swamp, then you’ve got my condolences and my best wishes, but I’d advise you to just go listen to Who’s Next instead. There is nothing here worth dying for.
Still, if you insist on making the voyage, here’s a hazard briefing. You’ll have to prepare yourself for the sucking, suffocating plastic synths that cling to every part of the record like some horrid noxious gas; you’ll have to fight your way through legions of phoned-in anti-riffs, generic chords, weak guitar tones and totally unimpressive solos churned out by what sounds like a thoroughly distracted Pete Townshend; you’ll have to put up with Roger Daltrey devolving from an inferior Mick Jagger to what sounds rather horrifyingly like an attempt to imitate Bon Scott; and, most dangerous of all, you’ll have to cope with the existentially terrifying notion that The Who are never gonna be capable of writing anything as good as “The Real Me”, or “Bargain”, or “Pinball Wizard”, or “Sunrise”, or “Boris the Spider”, or “My Generation” or even fucking “I’m The Face” (yeah, yeah, so Peter Meaden technically wrote that – whatever, you get what I mean) ever again. This is it, folks – it’s all downhill from here. The Who, as a creative force, are over.
It’s sad, too, because the aforementioned brief moments are so tantalizing! The first song on here, “New Song”, has a legitimately great hook, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve found myself unconsciously singing it idly to myself quite often since I started listening to this album. It’s got Daltrey delivering this insanely catchy, really triumphant-sounding melody in a way that actually suits his by-now overwhelming machismo, while some synths valiantly do their best to make up for the terrible sounds they’re making by applying themselves sparsely and emphatically around him like royal horns heralding his arrival. Entwistle’s proudly strutting bassline doesn’t hurt either, and for a few glorious moments you suspect that The Who have still got it; alas, whenever the hook fades you are forced to put up with the rest of the song, and that’s a decidedly less heartening experience. It also proves to be far more predictive for the album as a whole, and that really is tragic. Lawd knows I have an iffy history with The Who, but this? This is something fuckin’ else.
Entwistle has a record number of songs here, and all three of them are awful. I don’t blame him – Townshend’s songs on this are also mostly awful – but nonetheless their suckitude is mind-boggling. “Had Enough” contains some of the most totally intolerable singing in Daltrey’s career and a bunch of horribly-arranged strings which are, together with the near-nonexistent guitar parts, pushed into the background by the mastering job so as not to get in the way of the horrendous synths. “905”, meanwhile, is laden with one of those rare hooks so poorly-written as to actually deprive the song of energy, and considering how fucking dreary the song is that’s a perversely admirable achievement. Both of those songs at least have decent vocal melodies, though, which places them head-and-shoulders above “Trick Of The Light”; that song barely even has a melody at all, though it does have a whole lotta drawn out moans from Daltrey and one of the most thoroughly unimpressive riffs ever to emerge from the axe of a once-great guitarist, as well as a completely unsatisfying, thin guitar tone and an exceedingly annoying melodramatic bridge… damn, was Entwistle actually trying to suck this hard or did he somehow manage it by accident? This is the man who gave us “Whiskey Man”? Yeesh…
Aw, but Townshend – don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, m8! You actually managed to piss me off here, ‘cos you wrote “Sister Disco”, and that song is completely insufferable. It sounds kinda like it’s going for the monolithic immensity of Who’s Next, but instead of building a mountain it ends up faceplanting into a shit-encrusted molehill and floundering constantly as it suffocates, wildly throwing around some truly, completely abominable synth lines and utterly token guitar chords in the process. The attempted hook is incapable of hooking a fuckin’ goldfish, and the entire thing languishes at the same dreary tempo as everything else on the album. It’s complete, utter, astounding, unlistenable shit – and then, to top it off, the lyrics appear to be some sorta smug condemnation of disco music! Are ye mad, ya wanker? Chic were beating the shit out of this album every time they did anything in the late 70s, and you wanna start a fight? And to top it all off, the song you choose to start that fight with is this atrocity!? This isn’t just the worst song The Who ever made, it’s one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in my life! Do you want me to hate you, Townshend? Is this masochism?
Townshend is also responsible for “Guitar and Pen”, which tries to land somewhere between a ballad and a rocker and ends up melding the absolute worst of both worlds. The ballad segments sound like airy-fairy, repulsively corny latter-day-Yes shit, and the attempted rock segments are rather let down by the near-total rejection of the guitar in favour of a toxic synth mush that sounds like it might have leaked out of some tube on a processing plant for molten plastic. It’s six miserable, horrifying minutes long, and by the end you may feel the urge to curl up into a fetal position and cry softly in the corner of your room while therapeutically blasting Vomir to purge the entire concept of music from your body – because if this is music, then music as traditionally defined is worthless, surely? Every single member of the band is at their uttermost nadir on this song – Daltrey, Moon, Townshend and Entwistle are all performing pretty much unlistenably on their instruments, due to what I think is a haphazard combination of misbegotten songwriting decisions and general stylistic incompetence. This song doesn’t just need to be destroyed – it needs to be exorcised back into the demon realm from which it came.
Erm, anything else? Well, there’s “Music Must Change” (my fuckin’ thoughts exactly, Townshend), which has a chorus and pre-chorus that might actually be good if Daltrey wasn’t doing his best to ruin them, and “Love Is Coming Down”, which manages to sound like a reject piece from the soundtrack of some godawful too-highly-budgeted flop of a romance movie (in no small part thanks to a return of the hackneyed string section from “Had Enough” – thanks, Ted Astley! I dunno who the fuck you are, but I hope you’re dead by now!). That leaves us with only the title track, which closes the album out and which is generally considered the only gem to emerge from this misbegotten sulfur mine. It’s certainly better than most of the shit on here, but I ejaculate better music than half of these supposed songs every day, so that’s no high praise. Truth be told, it actually ain’t bad; I like how the chorus manages to maintain a simmering energy despite being the quietest, subtlest part of the song, and I guess I can’t deny that Daltrey’s chest-beating Gorilla impressions actually sound pretty cool here. It’s still not great, though – the structure feels a tad too loose to me (nothing wrong with an unusual structure, mind, but it doesn’t feel like they really put much thought into this one) and the sonics are still pretty shit. The first time I heard that squelching synth that opens the song, my face contorted into this memorable rictus of disgust, and the guitar is still mixed too far back and laden with too weak a tone. It’s decent, but to argue that it’s on par with their earlier masterpieces just seems disingenuous to me; do y’all really think this is on the level of, I dunno, basically any of the songs on Who’s Next? Nah – it made a good CSI intro, but not as good a one as “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and that’s all ya really need to know about it. As for this album, well, all ya need to know is to avoid it like you’d avoid a leper, or a right-wing tabloid, or eye contact with Ted Cruz – whatever simile works best for you, man. Myself, I think I’m done with The Who now. I’ve no desire to follow their apparently steadily-worsening debasements of their own legacy any further, especially considering all the other great shit I could be reviewing. I might check out “Eminence Front”, though…