When The Who released Tommy, their legendary rock opera, in 1969, the world of file sharing and music downloads was decades away. Yet the band somehow managed to revolutionize rock and roll, and they did it while relying only on a large piece of vinyl and a needle to spread their message (that’s what used to be called a “record,” boys and girls).
Now, in 2006, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have come together and released Endless Wire, their first album in 24 years. It addresses the new technology that has infiltrated the world of music in recent years and tackles some current events, all while retaining that classic Who sound.
The album kicks off with “Fragments,” a song in which the band borrows from itself and presents listeners with a recycled version of the famous “Baba O’Riley” synthesizer intro. This time however, instead of power chords, we get sound effects, like a cell phone being dialed in the background. The song is one of the album’s weaker tracks, and its pseudo-“Baba” intro seems to be Townshend and Daltrey’s way of crying out “Hey, remember us?” Later it is reprised with “Fragments of Fragments,” a rather unnecessary track.
“Man in a Purple Dress” is a good acoustic song. Written by Townshend after he saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the song expresses indignation at Gibson’s self-righteousness, with lines like “How dare you wear robes and reside/How dare you cover your head to hide/Your face from God.” Similarly, “Black Widow’s Eyes” addresses the Russian terrorist siege of 2005. The Who manage to raise valid social questions here while also doing some quality rocking.
“Mike Post Theme” sounds like classic Who, with a great blend of electric guitars and the acoustic sounds of a mandolin. Daltrey’s vocals really shine on “It’s Not Enough” as he treats us to his legendary growl. Daltrey also appears to be in great form on the up-tempo rocker “Sound Round,” and he and Townshend produce some wicked harmonies on “Pick Up the Peace.”
On the second half of the album, the band revisits the art form that they pioneered with Tommy, as Endless Wire shifts into “Wire and Glass,” a mini opera of its own. “Wire and Glass” deals with the theme of technology and music, but the concept seems at times too vague. “We Got A Hit” is a good track, but at just over a minute, it is far too short and leaves the listener wanting more.
“Mirror Door” is the best of the “Wire and Glass” songs. In it, The Who drop names of musical icons like Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield while declaring, “Music makes me strong … You will find me in this song.” The band seems to be pondering the future of mainstream music, as they raise the question, “Who will walk through the mirror door/Will there be music or will there be war?”
As a whole, Daltrey and Townshend’s latest effort is a success. It certainly can’t compare to the band’s earlier work, when Keith Moon and company were still in the picture, but Endless Wire is a decent Who album. The Who’s average is still much better than most contemporary artists’ best, and this album reminds us of this.