Monday, November 20, 2006

"ENDLESS WIRE": A WORK OF ART

When a popular band does not release a studio album of new material for over two decades, diehard fans can never be sure what to expect. I have been a Who fan since I saw them play "I Can See For Miles" on the Smothers Brothers television program, many years ago. After that moment, I saved my allowance money to buy "The Who Sell Out", which remains one of my very favorite albums to this day. I continued to follow the band closely up through the Kenny Jones years and until "It's Hard", feeling at that time that the Who was producing music that was still vital despite changes in its sound and despite original Who drummer Keith Moon's death.

It wasn't until a few years ago when I saw The Who at the Gorge Amphitheatre at George, WA that I thought of them again as a functioning band. They gave an incredible performance on a wonderful night, on the late bassist John Entwistle's final tour. After that show, I wondered if there would ever be any new studio material, particular after the sad passing of Entwistle. A few years later, I found myself on pins and needles awaiting the release of "Endless Wire".

Not knowing what to expect, when I first listened to this new album I was taken back through the Who's history, but also into the future. While certain parts of "Endless Wire" may recall the earlier Who, some parts incorporate later Who sounds and recall some of guitarist/composer Pete Townshend's best solo work... but this album sounds like it is all here, happening right now.

My thought after hearing "Endless Wire":

This is The Who in the 21st Century.

Stripped-down arrangements on songs such as "Tea and Theater", "Man In a Purple Dress" and "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" heighten the sense of intimacy within this music. As Townshend ages, he continues his spiritual journey; as a result, one difference between this and earlier Who music is that more songs touch more directly on faith, mortality and eternity. The title track "Endless Wire" is a joyful-sounding song about something infinite and glorious, something of near-mythical proportions which Townshend has discovered within music itself. In "God Speaks of Marty Robbins", he sings "I knew I'd find music and time were the perfect plan..." On the other hand, he doesn't seem to be in support of organized religion at all, as "Man in a Purple Dress" appears to be all about the importance of the individual, above churches, in finding one's spiritual self.

Roger Daltrey sounds older, wiser and deeper, but he certainly does not sound weary. He sings with vigor, and he proves he is still the consummate vocal conduit for Townshend's lyrics. As Daltrey has done in the past, he spans an emotional spectrum with his rich vocals. Townshend's voice is also in good form, despite its descent into mostly baritone territory. The production is impecccable; it tends to be dry in places, with very little reverb or effects added on sparely-arranged numbers, causing some of these guitar-and-vocal arrangements to sound naked, almost vulnerable. Zak Starkey is a fine drummer, and he can change his style whenever he needs, to suit the needs of the band. Pino Palladino works well as the band's bass player, and long-time band associate John "Rabbit" Bundrick adds keyboards that fill out the sound. Check out the keyboards in the album opener "Fragments"... now what song does that remind us of?

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect return by The Who from studio exile. Their energy is still there. Townshend's songwriting and guitar playing have not diminished with time, and Daltrey sounds as good as ever. "Endless Wire" takes me back to my boyhood Who memories through some familiar rhythms and sounds, as it pulses with the life of The Who. It also takes me ahead into a time of maturity. It reassures me that the passage of time does not always mean that good things become lost. Despite the loss of two revered band members over the years, The Who has aged like a fine wine, learning to discover and rediscover good musical things along their journey.

I am looking forward to hearing their NEXT studio release, confident that it will be as immediate, as relevant and as important as "Endless Wire".

I am now going to go crank up "Mike Post Theme" full blast!

8 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

great review. I am going be seeing them on Dec 8th.....front row....in front of Pete!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Lizzy said...

I have been a big Who fan since elementary school when my older sister would play her albums for me. When I was 10, my Mom took me to see Tommy. To this day, I can still remember how I felt sitting in that theater. Very powerful.

I will always consider Keith Moon as the best drummer there ever was. Pete, Roger, and John, what can I say? Brilliant.

Thanks for the review of their newest CD. I will have to check it out.

On a side note - You are a great music writer, Snave.

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good review, Snave.

I agree with Lizzy. I would rate Moon as my all-time favorite drummer, just slightly ahead of Rush's Neil Peart.

9:11 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Michael, I am jealous!

Thanks everyone, I would admit I also place Keith Moon at the top of my all-time list of drummers. I tend to like the drummers from the "classic" rock bands...

Ringo, never flashy but always so steady.

John Bonham, with his pumping double bass drum and brutal style.

Charlie Watts, elegantly simplistic for the Stones, making their music more elemental and primitive. Hard to believe Charlie is only 65.

Ralph Molina of Crazy Horse, about as basic as you can get, but also about as close to perfection, for what he does. Same with Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker... that lady could play. So can Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley!

Prairie Prince is another guy who has been around a while and does tasteful stuff.

Bill Bruford is the consummate professional... his drumming with Yes, King Crimson, U.K., and his own ensembles is amazing.

But Keith is still my favorite!

I agree with Major, Neil Peart is without a doubt one of the very best currently playing. He is such a big part of the Rush sound! Another good drummer currently playing, IMO, is Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater.

For jazz and fusion, I think very few can come close to Billy Cobham. He is the most amazing drummer I have seen live, besides the late Buddy Rich (I saw Rich in 1974.)

10:54 AM  
Blogger Sheryl said...

I like Neil Peart, but more for his lyrics. Haven't listened to anything recent, but I had a Rush phase in high school. (In the days of Signals, Moving Pictures, and Power Windows.) Never got into the Who though. I was a bit young when they came out and just remember them being quite loud.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Pursey Tuttweiler said...

Great review, I will buy this CD.
Interesting review of drummers.

If you ever get the chance, Frank Zappa's former drummer, Terry Bozzio does one-man drum shows and clinics. It is pure magic. I tagged along to his drum clinic with my partner and was not interested, just going for something to do, and was mesmerized by Terry Bozzio. If he comes to a town near you, it is a must see show.

Here is his website.
http://www.terrybozzio.com/index.html

Now, off to see if the record store is open today. A little new Who would sound good this thanksgiving, and would beat the heck out of a who knew?

9:11 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

I didn't mention Bozzio... I loved his stuff with Zappa during the "Joe's Garage" days... good playing throughout. I saw him with Zappa in concert a couple of times... VERY good. "Punky's Whips" is also one of my favorite Zappa numbers, with lots of good Bozzio antics, at least I'm pretty sure that's Bozzio! I am not much of an 80's synth-pop fan, but I even liked his playing with Missing Persons.

I'd love to see a one-man show/clinic by this guy.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Elvez73 said...

Snave, your review just convinced me to buy the new record. I have loved the Who since my uncle gave me his lp copy of Quadraphenia when I was a kid, changed my life. Townsend is a god. I do agree with your drummer list as well, especially Charlie Watts, the only Stone that acts and dresses his age, a true class act.

7:12 PM  

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