If every record review was as positive as this one, I guess we wouldn`t need record reviews. I must admit that I haven`t given this album much attention, but I am on my way to have a listen to it right now.
Enjoy the read!
Once upon a time, Pete Townshend was young and full of hope.
That was Then.
By Roy Carr
Pic: Neal Preston
THE WHO: “The Who By Numbers” (Polydor)
“The Who By Numbers” displays all the symptoms of post-“Tommy” depression. It`s an album that vividly depicts The Who – in particular Pete Townshend – in a similar position as when they recorded “Who`s Next”. However, this time they appear to be (over) reacting to “Tommy`s” third and most “commercial” manifestation, with the result that “The Who By Numbers” is somewhat tainted with the decaying bittersweet stench of enforced showbiz success.
For most of the time, Townshend takes on all the illusory mannerisms of the artist in torment, aware that he has something to prove but afraid that he may be out of synch with himself. Therefore, against the underlying themes of frustration, isolation, cynicism, disillusionment and self-doubt, Townshend attempts to come to terms with Townshend. However, it`s not in his nature to go on the defensive, so instead he chooses to mount a nihilistic attack: he lashes out in fury and frustration at The Who, severed business associates and himself.
If I didn`t know better, I could have easily construed this LP as The Grand Gesture – Townshend`s Suicide Note. I mean, what other conclusions can be drawn from the lyric of “They Are All In Love”?
“Hey, Goodbye all you punks stay young and high, hand me my cheque book and I’ll crawl off and die / Like a woman in childbirth grown ugly in a flash, I’ve seen magic and fame now I’m recycling trash”.
Throughout, “The Who By Numbers” appears to place much more emphasis on the lyrics than melody to the extent that one immediately realises the overall ambience of the album is somewhat muted. It`s almost as if Townshend doesn`t want to detract from the vitriolic statements he`s making by enveloping the material in archetypal Who pyrotechnics. Sure, there are occasions when The Who resort to these familiar shock tactics but these are kept to a minimum.
It`s for this reason that on just one listening some people might jump to the wrong conclusions about the merits of this album – a problem encountered by Neil Young`s “Tonight`s The Night” – a brilliant rock verite album with which “The Who By Numbers” has an affinity.
With sparse yet extremely careful, clean and subtle production (by Glyn Johns), there is an overall “live” quality to the performances with the basic line-up augmented by a predominant scrubbed acoustic guitar, occasional brass figures and relevant pianistics from Nicky Hopkins.
Yet in appreciating the motives behind the lyrical stance adopted throughout this album, I feel that one needs to be conversant with the lengthy interview we conducted with Townshend (NME May 24). During the interview, Townshend intimated that perhaps both he and The Who had experienced some kind of creative menopause. He pointed out: “The group as a whole have got to realise that The Who are not the same group as they used to be”.
A few weeks later, Roger Daltrey replied to Townshend`s accusations in no uncertain manner (NME August 9). Such was the hostile attitude prevalent in both interviews that everyone expected The Who to break up there and then. They didn`t. But nonetheless, “The Who By Numbers” reveals many of the traumas that were being enacted in The Who camp.
Success often plays strange tricks on one`s psyche and we find Townshend attempting to exorcise his in the only way he knows how – through The Who.
Though the staccato powerhouse chording and rumbling drums on “Dreaming From The Waist” are reminiscent of the tension that prevailed throughout “Quadrophenia”, it`s a saga of Pete`s quest for lost youth. He admits that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak almost to the point of impotence.
Such is his dilemma that Townshend often communicates with the voice of a young man feeling that he`s grown prematurely old. This may just be a temporary fixation but one cannot avoid the overwhelming aura of finality about the way in which he observes himself in “However Much I Booze”.
“I see myself on tv, I’m a faker, a paper clown / It’s clear to all my friends that I habitually lie, I just bring them down”.
Utilising his familiar anthem approach Townshend castigates past associates with the venomous anti-music business “How Many Friends” – a subject which John Entwistle sardonically explores over a brute force riff on “Success Story”.
However, there are moments when the apocalyptic vision is temporarily set aside. With an almost skiffle-type treatment “Squeeze Box” is a spot of sheer rudery, while “Blue Red And Grey” is pure whimsy as Pete plunks a mandolin with just a suggestion of brass hovering in the background.
The Revolutionary salsa-inspired “Slip Kid” which opens up the proceedings has all the earmarks of another “Magic Bus” and restates the “My Generation” thesis, while the closer “In A Hand Or A Face” reverts to archetypal Whoism and deals with rock `n` roll paranoia set against a veritable barrage of the band`s collective might.
It`s common knowledge that The Who`s greatest musical achievements have been born out of sheer frustration and “The Who By Numbers” is no exception, revealing as it does the kind of sagacity that Lennon attained by publicly casting out his demons via his “Working Class Hero” album.
Thematically, “The Who By Numbers” is a transistory album in that with vehement honesty it brings to a close the first decade of The Who; clearing both the decks and the air for the immediate future.
Despite all its inherent characteristics of a downer trip, I refuse to believe that in any way this is The End. The remarkable way in which Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon perform their respective roles throughout this album isn`t indicative of a band suffering from a terminal malady. It`s more a maturing – a girding of the loins.
The Who have always been fraught with problems and the paradox is that it`s this element of anguish that persistently motivates them as such a highly intense and vital creative force.
Earlier this year, The Who threatened to deliver a straight-forward rock album. They kept their word. Though it may take some time for certain factions to arrive at this conclusion. “The Who By Numbers” is an affirmation of four great, if somewhat idiosyncratic personalities.
In short, this album is brilliant.
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This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Johnny Cash, All Platinum Records, Victor Jara, Andrew Cyrille, Peter Haycock (Climax), Jim Morrison, The Doors, Joan Baez, Poco.
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