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Non-Prog CD Reviews

The Who

Endless Wire

Review by Rick Damigella

24 years is a long time. Since The Who last released a full album of new music, entire genres of music have come and gone. We’ve seen the rise and fall of VHS and the rise of DVD. We’ve seen the death and rebirth of the LP, the death of the audiocassette, the birth of the CD and the birth of digital downloading. The Who have toured, gone dormant and toured again, numerous times. Tommy became a Broadway sensation. John Entwistle passed on. An entire generation of new rock fans have been born.

There are very few bands of The Who’s stature. Who else can claim creation of some of the most classic albums and songs of all time, the popularization of the rock opera and at one point, be the loudest band in the world? To call The Who one of the greatest Rock and Roll bands of all time is so obvious as to be absurd to even need to be said. At this stage in their careers, what do The Who have to prove to anybody? 24 years is a long time.

There is no sign with his voluminous solo output that Pete Townshend is in any way out of ideas. After listening to this album, there is also no doubt that Townshend’s creative genius needed to be set free anew on record again with Roger Daltrey. And while it may never enjoy the radio and media exposure of its forerunners, there is no doubt Endless Wire is destined to be a classic Who album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Fragments
From the second this song starts, you know it is The Who. The sequenced piano riff sounds intentionally similar to opening of “Baba O’Riley” as part of this album comes from the same place of inspiration as the Lifehouse and Psychoderelict rock operas. Pete Townshend’s guitar is right there on cue, playing riffs like it were 1971 not 2006. Roger Daltrey joins the performance and still maintains his uncanny vocal ability. When he and Townshend sing together it is obvious they have a newfound ability to perform with each other. You could not have asked for a stronger album opener to add to the Who’s pantheon.
A Man In A Purple Dress
One thing you may find surprising is how many acoustic numbers there on the album. One thing I found surprising was just how well they work. With just Townshend plucking away and Daltrey singing, this song demonstrates just how close the two have grown as artists following the passing of time and of John Entwhistle. This is one of three songs Townshend was inspired to write after seeing “The Passion of the Christ.”
Mike Post Theme
I wanted to refrain from making this reference but it is hard considering the song title and origin. If CSI: LA (or fill in your preferred city here) ever comes to TV screens, this could be a close contender (against “Behind Blue Eyes”) for its theme song. Daltrey explodes forth before a single instrument is played with such force you will think this must be a b-side from Who’s Next. The song is partly in response to those who don’t like the usage of Who songs as TV themes. Here’s another great example of how Pete and Roger have reconciled who they are as performers together. This features one of the most memorable choruses Townshend has composed in many years. Believe it or not, that is Townshend behind the drums.
In The Ether
Townshend continues his multi-instrumentation, which is prevalent throughout the album, this time playing solo piano. Townshend also takes on the vocals while channeling a bit of Van Morrison, which sounds odd at first, but ultimately makes the song really stand out. It’s not what you would typically expect from The Who, but that is also what makes the entire album so good.
Black Widow's Eyes
This is a love song about unexpected love - in this case one inspired by Stockholm Syndrome experienced by a hostage of the Beslan School Massacre. Zach Starkey is truly the heir apparent to the late Keith Moon, playing similarly enough like him, yet with his own style and not trying to sound like a clone of the legendary skin pounder.
Two Thousand Years
Another song inspired by “The Passion,” Townshend rocks a mandolin to fantastic effect. The layered vocals of Pete and Roger are fantastic. Considering this song was written in the past two years, yet sounds like it could have been done 30 years ago, it is a testament to Pete’s songwriting genius and the pair’s ability to stand in the same studio and create magic.
God Speaks Of Marty Robbins
The Who at its most stripped down basic, this features Pete on guitar and taking on the vocals himself. It’s a song about God desiring to hear some music of one his finer creations in the form of Marty Robbins.
It's Not Enough
Earlier I stated this was the first Who album in 24 years. Technically it is the first proper Who album since ’81 as It’s Hard which was, as some see it, thrown together to fulfill the band’s contract at the time. This particular track feels like it could have been included on that album’s predecessor, Face Dances. It’s a fantastic melody and a killer guitar riff from Pete from top to tail.
You Stand By Me
Here’s another Townshend and guitar-only piece. This one with some deeply simple introspective lyrics. Townshend wrote this in a few minutes prior to appearing on a live web-cast radio show. He describes it as dedicated both to the show’s host Rachel Fuller and to Roger Daltrey.
Wire & Glass: A Mini Opera
Sound Round
If there were any doubts at all this was a proper Who album, this is where they are blown away by the Hi Watt amps completely. This opening track to the Who’s first mini-opera in decades kicks off at a furious pace. The opera itself is based on Pete Townshend’s novella “The Boy Who Heard Music,” published in 23 parts on his weblog. The song segues without end into the next.
Pick Up The Peace
Ray High, the rock star character from Townshend’s Psychoderelict is now an old man and watches the formation of a new trio of youths coming together to form a band.
Unholy Trinity
Here’s another vintage sounding number with piano and mandolin driving it. The mandolin playing from Townshend is fantastic and gives the music a unique flavor yet is still The Who. The Unholy Trinity are the three members of the band The Glass Household.
Trilby's Piano
Vintage Townshend rock opera story progression, this features short, emotion filled lyrics tied directly to the story, which propel it forward.
Endless Wire
Townshend is out front again on this one. The story now takes a turn where members of the band find that Ray High had at one time in his youth wanted to channel unifying music to the world through the global Wire Network (hence tying Lifehouse and Psychoderelict into this story completely) The band decides they may be able to pull this off.
Fragments of Fragments
The album opener with its characteristic “Method music” intro is back. Method music was the idea behind Lifehouse where anyone could have their unique musical portrait created through a vast computer network. Do not look at this or the album opener as living new through past glories. This is more the revisiting an old idea for a new purpose.
We Got A Hit
This has another explosive Who intro and a great riff, although way too short. Fortunately the song plays out longer later. It segues directly into the next track.
They Made My Dream Come True
Ray High foresees a tragedy for the band at its last and biggest concert. This is another very short sequence of the larger work.
Mirror Door
Mixed with an enthusiastic concert crowd behind them, The Who plays the role of the The Glass Household in this, their biggest concert to date, a charity show beamed by the Web to the world. Musicians from Elvis to Beethoven are name checked throughout. According to the story this who’s who of music’s deceased stand above the stage watching the performance. At its tragic climax, one of the three band members shoots another, and he gets to walk through the Mirror Door to the great party in the after life.
Tea & Theatre
The denouement of the story finds the two surviving members of the band taking tea together many years later. With Pete on acoustic and Roger singing and a drum machine behind them, one could almost read into the lyrics the resolution of the pair to carry on as The Who following John Entwhistle’s death. There is only one problem with the mini-opera which I can find. It is too short. This is such an inspired work from Townshend it really should have been expanded even further into the realm of a Tommy or Quadrophenia. Let’s hope we only wait 24 months instead of years for the next new offering from The Who.
We Got A Hit (extended version)
This is the first of two songs which prove my point above. This fully realized performance shows just how far the mini-opera could have been taken and perhaps one day will. In the mini-opera, The Glass Household perform their song across multiple forms of media to the world. This version includes an extra verse which interpolates “They Made My Dream Come True” into the piece. With Townshend on guitar and mandolin, this also finds Daltrey in full glorious vocal grandeur. The good news? The Who got a hit.
Endless Wire (Extended Version)
Another properly fleshed out version of the shorter piece, Townshend steps out front on the vocals again joined by Daltrey at the bridge. This is not The Two. It is The Who. I must quote a good friend and bigger Who fan than me by saying “the real joy of this record is hearing Pete and Roger working together as a team again, something we haven't seen in a long time. It feels that they are both comfortable in their own skins.” Now all we have to do is plug into the Endless Wire and hope our return vibrations inspire Mr. Townshend and Daltrey to grace us with more of their genius in a much shorter passage of time.
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