Thursday, December 15, 2011

Listening To Who - Episode 2 : The Who By Numbers

Hey there

well, if you are following this after reading Episode 1 of Listening To Who, thank you very much indeed for coming back for more! this time, as the title suggests, the album selected at random is The Who By Numbers.

to call 1975 a busy year for the members of The Who, together and apart, is something of an understatement. the year began with the general release of Ken Russell's film of Tommy, giving the band, and Roger Daltrey in particular as the titular star of the film, considerably more widespread attention and visibility than before. which is saying something.

not long after that saw the release of Daltrey's second solo album, Ride A Rock Horse, which was greeted with excellent reviews and subsequent sales, partially one would have thought due to the iconic cover for it.

Daltrey certainly was not alone in the Who solo album releases this year. John Entwistle released his fourth solo effort, Mad Dog. as well received as it was by critics, fans didn't take to it all that much and it remains the poorest charting album by The Ox.

and, of course, this album was released too.

Two Sides Of The Moon by Keith Moon (and many friends) probably deserves a post all to itself one day, really. in short, the idea of allowing Keith to do a solo album was to "keep him out of trouble" whilst in his new home in Los Angeles, that probably didn't quite go as well as they may have hoped, with the less-than-sobering presence of Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson "working" on the album. often derided, it's actually good fun for those who played on it and fans that listen to it.

with all of that going on, and some extensive and legendary gigs going on, it's something of a wonder that the world got a full blown new album from the band too, the first since 1973's Quadrophenia.

in recent interviews Pete Townshend has claimed that Quadrophenia was "the last great Who album". obviously this is said mostly to push and sell the current re-release of that album, but it's a great shame he chose to do it in such a way. granted, The Who By Numbers isn't the greatest album the band made, but it is really rather good and rather far from being their worst.

the album title is somewhat flippant, is it not? perhaps a partial reference to the interesting cover artwork (a picture John Entwistle was working on for a book that was to be the history of the band presented in drawings that, sadly, never got completed), it also suggests that the band felt it was little more than a going through the motions record. this is not the case, really, mainly perhaps because there's no such thing as "going through the motions" when it comes to this band.

with ten tracks clocking in just shy of forty minutes one could argue that it was a "by the numbers" album for the time, but what we have here - and this is really for the last time in the history of the band, as it happens - ten tracks of superior quality, including one masterpiece inexplicably buried away on this album alone in regards of release.

just what you take from this album depends entirely on how much of the baggage that came with it you choose to pick up first. a number of fans have described this album as "a Pete Townshend suicide note"; based mostly on the song However Much I Booze. the song is an open admission from Townshend about his apparently troubling increased use of alcohol. it is indeed a heavy song, one that Daltrey declined to sing as he felt it rather too personal, but the trick here is the word "open". it's not a doom and gloom affair, it's an artist addressing his own issue.

the reputation of the album being all doom and gloom is further made nonsense by the one single released from it, the saucy and witty Squeeze Box.

but i am not going to talk about that song. instead i'm going to ask you to look at the name of the b-side, remember it, and find a copy of it somewhere to play as soon as possible.

Success Story, written by John Entwistle, is one of the most "iest" songs the band ever did. that's to say it's one of the wittiest, funniest, funkiest and, erm, catchiest tunes they ever laid down. and for reasons i can fathom they only made it available on this album, on the 7" of Squeeze Box and on the film The Kids Are Alright during John Entwistles' legendary "fantasy sequence" - it didn't even make the soundtrack album. once you've heard it i am pretty confident you shall be baffled as to why this never made it on to a live set or compilation, really.

the short version is that the song is a partial parody of the band itself, partly cynical but mostly honest about themselves and the music industry as a whole. it's also something of a quick, stark commentary on the UK at the time in regards of how high income tax was, but you will work that out for yourself. mostly, it's the sound of the band letting off steam and having tremendous fun. i've played the album through 5 or 6 times this week, but have repeated this song at least twice as many times.

and, once again discarding the notion that this album is all doom and gloom, the emphasis was certainly on "fun" when they went on tour after the release of the album.

although very little of this album made it to the stage (Dreaming From The Waist, another highlight of the album, being a popular exception), it was at this time that the band clearly and genuinely fell in love with being in The Who and playing live once again. if you get your hands on any of the professionally shot but never released footage from the '75 gigs, most notably Houston and the Pontiac Silverdome, you see things like Pete smiling as he plays, the band getting along rather than trying to outdo each other, Keith Moon at the peak of being the man the world loved and - get this - John Entwistle, usually "Mr Stand There And Get On With It", interacting with the audience from time to time. mostly, granted, it is telling them to shut up, but it is better than nothing.

after the well documented failures (or if you will disasters) of attempting to tour Quadrophenia, clearly the band felt a "back to basics" approach was needed, and indeed implemented, much to the joy of some of the largest audiences they had ever played to.

whereas there were no unreleased tracks from the sessions to include on the "expanded edition" of the album, the CD does capture some of what i am speaking about here by including 3 tracks from the legendary Swansea gig they did in 1976. going on the current pricing of The Who By Numbers (you will get change from a fiver, English types), these three would make the CD an essential purchase alone.

having had the album on for the past two or three days i can say that it's a very worthwhile purchase. i've just let it repeat for the most part, bar the odd "let's have another listen to Success Story" incident. there's not a bad track on it in as far as not once have i skipped forward, at least. Daltrey's vocals, made rugged by the road and refined by the demands of the albums before this, have rarely sounded better on record, and the three musicians are absolutely on top of their game.

the only really truly depressing thing about this album, and indeed the era is that it was perhaps the last time that The Who were The Who as the world came to know and cherish them. this was a great album by a band seemingly - at last - happy to be together, and was reflected in the concerts at the time.

and, as it turned out, this time was the last time. the next album, Who Are You, doesn't really have much going for it beyond the title track and the band never got to perform the songs with the original/classic line up, due of course to the tragic, accidental death of Keith Moon not long after they recorded it. the great noise machine that is The Who marched on, to an extent admirably, but it really was never ever to be the same, which means just not as good as it was here.

the two stores which ship everywhere in the world are amazon
and hmv. at the time of writing this, not only is the disc listed as cheaper at amazon, but they also remove the UK VAT pricing portion before charging you, something that the other lot do not do hence me not doing too much business with them of late. for all the reasons listed in this review, and a few deliberately left out for you to discover, this is what one would call a wise and possibly essential purchase. enjoy it when it arrives!

i have no idea which album will get played at random next, but whatever i hear you can be sure to read of it here soon! well, soon-ish. we have a spate of holidays on this side of the world, so you may have to wait a touch for the third installment!

many thanks for reading.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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