Friday 4 July 2008

The Who "Who Are You" (1978) (Revised Review 2016)

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The Who "Who Are You" (1978)

New Song/ Had Enough/ 905/ Sister Disco/ Music Must Change//Trick Of the Light/ Guitar And Pen/ Love Is Coming Down/ Who Are You? 

'I will choose nightmares and cold, stormy seas...


The Who could have gone anywhere and done anything, pretty much, in 1978. 'Who By Numbers' had freed them of the need for speed and concept albums and happy endings, while the long three year gap between albums meant that The Who could have either embraced punk or gone straight through the other side to new wave, the whole genre having come and gone during their ‘down time’. Old-timer fans were just grateful that they were releasing anything new at all after so long away, while for new fans as the original punk rockers who also played mod music, they may well have been the band best placed to embrace the confusing musical world of the period. Instead 'Who Are You' came out as something nobody was quite expecting. After years of characters searching for identities it feels as if it has been made by a band who are now doing the same, unsure quite where they exist as the elder statesmen of rock and who have no idea quite what they want to do. They were however all much more keen on doing something than they had been in 1975: Pete is slowly coming out of the creative fog of the 'Who By Numbers' years and adjusting to life as one of the ‘old guard’, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle have found new confidence in solo albums released away from the band and a disintegrating Keith Moon is simply pleased to be back on the drum-stool again with something to distract him. In the end The Who offer a little bit of everything on this album, with songs like the title track that recall their early power, songs like 'Sister Disco' and '409' that refer back to their bouncy concept album years and tracks like 'New Song' and 'Had Enough' that continue the depression of 'Who By Numbers' (though compared tpo that album this one is a rock and roll party!) In a way 'Who Are You' sounds like the ultimate sampler album, with a little bit of everything thrown in there - and the usual Who mixture of success and failures to boot. While it's probably the band's least cohesive album (along with sequel 'Face Dances'), there's still more good than bad here and going back through so many past roads while also looking forward to going somewhere new is in many ways the very best way the band could have ended their original run with their original line-up.
This is, you see, the last Who album to feature Keith Moon who died just three weeks after the record's release and whose demise overshadowed so much of the publicity for this record that it's hard to separate the two. Despite what the history books have half-recorded, his death wasn’t drawn out and it wasn’t expected, at least not yet. While fans and friends and family all knew that Keith wasn’t going to live to a ripe old age nobody expected to lose him quite this quick, at the age of just thirty-two. Ironically after a lifetime of taking a quantity of pills and drugs that would have destroyed most normal human beings, Keith was trying to turn his life around in the final year of his life and was having quite a lot of success with it,  curbing his drinking to mere alcoholic levels and lowering his pill intake. As with so many deaths from overdoses his death came not when he was at the peak of substance abuse but when his body was slowly recovering from it, pushed over the edge one too many times. The great irony though is that Keith died from an overdose he was taking to save him, Heminevrin, which was stabilising his drug withdrawal symptoms. Keith, who had celebrated his 32nd birthday just a fortnight before and just five days after this album's release, spent his final hours at a lavish party held by Paul McCartney who was celebrating buying up the rights to the Buddy Holly catalogue and was screening the documentary film ‘The Buddy Holly Story’in London. The Beatle had sent as many invites out to mates and casual acquaintances as he dared and while he and Keith weren’t close Moon’s Mayfair flat was nearby. He’d bought it just a few months before from owner and drinking buddy Harry Nilsson and while he was concerned about rumours of a curse (Mama Cass Elliott of The Mamas and Papas had died there four years before) Pete for one told him the flat was the best thing he could buy (‘and lightning isn’t going to strike twice!’) Never one to turn down a party, many of his friends were super pleased that he’d turned up: compared to his old ways the Keith of 1976 and 1977 had been a semi-recluse, all too aware that the drugs and booze he had been taking had prematurely aged him. The drummer was on top form though, posing for pictures with his new girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax, his significant other since 1975 and looking the picture of health even compared to the ‘Who Are You?’ cover shoot pictures taken a few weeks before. The pair then headed home, with Keith feeling peckish and asking his girlfriend to make him a full meal; tired, she said she wouldn’t, the pair had a row, she stormed out the flat and he went to bed, apparently waking up and taking a double dose of his tablets by accident (legend has it he should have had sixteen pills but thirty-two were found in his system; one for each year of his life).
The result was chaos: The Who weren’t prepared for this and in an odd move had split into two and then four to promote the album that month, dotted all over the world. Poor John Entwistle was even given the news by phone while trying to conduct an interview about the album for French TV - the journalist breaking the news to the world after asking John what the band's current plans were and watching the bassist burst into tears and tell her the band was surely over as of that very minute. ‘Who Are You?’, an album that had done well but not great, found itself going back up in the charts the way records often do following a tragedy. In retrospect what seemed like just another Who album (and as such arguably the least exciting one since ‘A Quick One’ at that) suddenly took on a new poignancy. Even the cover had a certain power: one of the few things the Who agreed on was that they would rather invest their money than give it away to the taxman and thanks to their dalliances with films invested heavily in Shepperton Studios, more or less the only substantial film studio left in Britain by 1978. This paid dividends with ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘Quadroph4enia’ both in production at this time offering a re-birth for the group. The studio was an obvious plaxce for an album cover photot so, after an aborted attempt to take a photo in the car park (included in the CD booklet) The Who posed ‘behinds the scenes’ as if they have been put away with all the equipment.In amongst the cables a clearly poorly Moon is perched on a chair labelled 'not to be taken away' (photographer Terry O'Neil, a friend of Roger's, had decided that the chair better hid the alarming weight gain Moon had made since his last picture with the band in 1976 and hadn't even noticed the words on the studio chair). The rest of The Who, meanwhile, are surrounded by cables and looking to all the world as if they've just plugged their drummer into the mains. However in a twist of fate Keith was indeed taken away far far too soon.
You can tell, if you listen closely, that Keith isn't well. His drumming, which has been slowing since 'Quadrophenia', is now a pathetic clatter at times and sometimes missing altogether as producer Jon Astley finds new and inventive ways to cover for his absence (such as the former walking round the studio in squeaky shoes for ‘Music Must Change’). The moments when The Who should roar they tend to pootle about, revealing just how much they all relied on the sheer power of Keith, with only the title track finale featuring the drummer close to his best and many of the songs sound at times as if they're playing backwards. Worse hit than his physical health, though, was Moony's memory as nothing The Who rehearsed seemed to go in at all and it was left to the hapless producer to improvise 'conducting' the drummer from the control room. Usually that’s what ‘Who Are You?’ is attacked for: it can’t possibly be The Who without old Moony at his powerful best so many fans don’t bother with this record. It’s interesting though how well The Who seem to have gotten away with this on first release: if the critics and fans noticed this new sound at all they praised at as being a move away from The Who sound of old and the band belatedly growing up.  The drums aren't central to the sound the way they used to be and John's bass does such a strong job prodding and poking the songs onward that you don't really notice that Keith is now being used for colour, not weight and power. It is, if nothing else, a clever solution to an insurmountable problem. If I ever collapse before the end of the AAA (which is possible given how many articles there are to write) and someone else takes over (any old monkey with a typewriter will probably do) then I hope my absence gets covered up as cleverly as this - or as lovingly. It's as if the band aren't just 'hiding' Keith's problems so they can sound good - they genuinely pull off every trick they can to make Moony sound like the monster he always used to be until you study this album with a magnifying glass and realise it's all bluster.
It wasn't just Keith either – age was clearly catching up with The Who by this point. Sessions were abandoned partway through as Roger left to have serious throat surgery. 'Fifth 'Oo' keyboard player Rabbit Bundrick, brought in to play by Pete after making friends with him during the making of the ‘Rough Mix’ album with Ronnie Lane, broke his arm when leaving a taxi and getting it caught in a door on his way to the sessions one day. Pete too got so irate during his 'off-time' visiting his parents (in their bungalow in the ‘Hebrides’ he had bought for them) that he smashed his hand through a pane of glass, delaying the sessions even more. Only John survived the troubled sessions intact and even he had more fights than ever before with the band, mostly with Roger who insisted on singing the bassist’s songs (and not always the way The ox would have wanted). Though it was 'Who By Numbers' that sounded the most depressing Who album to write, it's 'Who Are You' that was the most depressing to make and more than a few people working on it began to think that the album was jinxed and that they'd never get it finished. Fans, who don't tend to like this album too much, wonder if it should ever have been made at all and whether The Who shouldn't simply have died out with 'Quadrophenia'.
However to miss this album out of the canon would be to throw away some of The Who's most lovely and charming moments. Though this album breaks with the impressive consistency The Who have shared since 'A Quick One' sped out of the box a bit too quickly in 1966, the best material here is as good as anything from The Who's illustrious past (that's what comes of giving bands time to make albums properly, with this only the band's eighth studio album in thirteen years - yes I'm looking at you Pye and Capitol Records, The Beach Boys had racked up that many albums in less than thirty months!) Having debated about whether to revive and finish ‘Lifehouse’ before shelving it when he decided it was too difficult, Pete also has a fascimating half-concept album, one that focussed less on characters than the changing face of music, wondering openly what might happen to it in the future. In a way this is the perfect way for The Who to go full circle as we get lots of cinematic thematic concpetual songs from the band’s middle period about why they started making music in the beginning at all in the early ones. This search for identity, shared across the whole band, is also a natural extension of what to do next with the Who sound without resorting to the autobiogrpahy of ‘who By Numbers’ or returning to a cast of characters again. It’s also a neat twist: till now music has been the saviour of this band of misfits, but this record turns the tables and wonders what happens if even this is taken away from them (this is in itself quite unusual - on previous albums up to 'Quadrophenia' you feel Pete always knew instinctively where music was going, even if it was somewhere that wasn't a natural fit for The Who). It's a shame yet again that the timing of this album was slightly off (the same problem with ‘Quadrophenia’): had this album come out when it should have done in 1976 or 1977 when music really was up in the air then it would surely have had greater impact. Many of the recordings on this album were two years old by the time they made the shops, written at the start of the punk era and released when even new wave was old hat.  Alas by 1978 it had all but settled and gone back to ‘normal’, but with extra synthesisers (another bit of spot-on foirtune telling about where the music scene is going as it happens). Had this record come out as planned, in early 1976 on the cusp of punk, Pete would have been hailed as a fortune-teller even though punk isn't actually what he's asking for, simply change. In what must be one of the most post-modernist albums ever written, Pete breaks his writer's block by discussing the writing process with us - why he started writing, why he still writes, how bored he's getting with writing the same old songs and how much he wants someone to come and change music for the better and offer some much-needed inspiration.
The result is as fascinating mixture of punk and prog that only The Who (maybe The Kinks) could offer, as if [`151] ‘The Punk and The Godfather’ are working as a duo. For the most part on this album Pete is suffering the same glorious 'I'm never going to make anything great again even though I've just written a great song to tell you that' syndrome of 'Who By Numbers', with the disillusioned 'New Song' calling for the punks to finish off the job and destroy the world, even if the song is played with the big production style of prog rock.Guitar And Pen’ is Pete’s reminiscences about his adolescent beginnings as a writer, remembering all the angst and vision that made him write in the first place and smnash his guitar out of frustration over ever getting those ideas out and getting excited again as he realises that it's still his best means of communicating with people and his beloved fanbase, veering from punk sneer to prog thankfulness every other second. ‘Music Must Change’ finds Townshend looking outwards once more, a half sympathetic half defiant message to the young punks he sees as claiming the baton of unrest that The Who first claimed in 1965 and sang about on [132] ‘Relay’. Better still, 'Sister Disco' has The Who finding warmth and joy in their music again as they wave goodbye to hated empty disco music while looking forward to what comes next.  'Who Are You?' is Pete's attempt to redress his age and falling status as he walks into a bar full of Sex Pistols while people ignore him or ask him for ID and he realises that [23] 'My Generation' has come true and that there's a changing of the guard, though his ego refuses to let him go quietly as he writes one last song that could never be performed by anyone else except for this line-up of The Who, sneering 'who are you?' as if it's a bad pun (no band could ever really be The Who). It is a fitting way for the original Who to end, a song both denying and celebrating identity: after fourteen years of searching Pete knows he is at last, even if Who he is is an irrelevent old fart. Interestingly, though the title song contains a question mark, there's none on the album title named after it - as if, after all those years of searching for an identity (and 'The Who' as a band-name is a bit of a giveaway that identity is what the band is all about) the band find it just as their 'first' phase is coming to an inglorious close. The title is also a clever play on words, reflecting the old 'listening to you' we're-writing-what-you're-living feeling that has been running through this band's work all these years like a target logo in a mod's stick of Brighton Rock; The Who know who they are - they are you, all of 'us'. In many ways this album is the polar opposite of 'Who By Numbers' and the twin of Pete's recent collaboration with Ronnie lane 'Rough Mix': though there are sad and bitter songs still, for the most part this is an 'up' album as Pete learns to stop worrying quite so much about things he can't change (most of 'Rough Mix' is spirituals to Meher Baba like 'Keep Me Turning' and 'Heart To Hang Onto') and concentrate on what he can (most of 'Who Are You's songs about writing, the only thing Pete feels he can do). Not that this a purely happy album - the opening track alone is a good ol' moan set to music - but even if Pete is still staring out the window wondering whether he should have jumped or not, at least he's come back in from the ledge this time and that surely is because he has come to accept his place in the musical world, if not always gracefully.
John Entwistle, though, isn't writing songs about you/us anymore. Given a bigger share of a Who album than ever before with three out of the eight songs his (partly through a belated show of band unity, partly because John knew his solo record contract was running out and he didn’t need to save his songs, partly because he needed the money, partly to cover Pete's latest writing block, partly through his own welcome burst of creativity - but mostly because he was the only band member healthy enough to turn up to the studio every day), The Ox shines like never before and gets to play a much larger role in suggesting the band's future sound. For the most part that's heavy crunching rock of the type The Who abandoned around [148] 'The Real Me', with the deep-sighing 'Had Enough' and especially the prostitute-friendly 'Trick Of The Light' proving once more that The Who could match any punk band any day of the week. Only Keith's sluggishness prevents these songs from being amongst the best string of rockers in The Who's canon and even then The Who’s death-rattle is enough to knock all but the best wannabes off their perch. Then there's '905', a conceptual prog rock piece that out-Townshends Townshend with its tale of identity, imagining a future that sounds more plausible every day, with humans specially bred from test-tubes and living lives that have already been carefully mapped out for them, mankind reduced from a man to a number. Like [45] 'I'm A Boy' before it this song is the only one that survives from a concept album John this time was working on about fate and identity (with both songs concerning 'accidents' in a world that isn't built to cope with any) that sounds like it might have been amongst the composers' finest. The presence of Pete on the opening lead vocals meant several fans assumed the song was really the guitarist's after all. Notably all these tracks are character-drawn and not taken from 'us' at all, with Entwistle proving to have a bigger imagination than Townshend for once as the guitarist's songs are all strangely autobiographical here (all except 'Sister Disco' anyway). 
Notably, ‘Who Are You’ is a lot more of a band LP than the previous one, with Daltrey a lot more confident about the songs he’s singing now that he's explaining Pete's writing drive which he has witnessed first hand, not his guilty sub-conscious and Entwistle's bass and songs are far more central to the overall work than they had been since 'Tommy'. It's notable, too, that while some demos do exist for Pete's songs ('New Song' which knocks spots off the album version, plus 'Sister Disco' and 'Who Are You'), there are fewer for this album than most of the others - suggesting that, alongside his writing block, Pete was more content to bring half-formed ideas into the studio and seeing what the band did to them, instead of making a demo by aping Roger's voice, John's bass and Keith's drums and thus giving them all pretty strict instructions on what to do. Even Keith Moon, playing well below par after three years without touring, practicing or recording and suffering more than his fair share of anguish in his personal life, still shines many times across the album, with some glorious drum fills in the middle of 'Sister Disco' and a blistering performance on the title track making up for those days when he just couldn't make it like he used to.
One direction The Who do seem to settle on in this period is the one they started back in 1971 on Who's Next when they pioneered the use of the synthesiser. By 1978 a lot more groups had started using it and we are in fact at the start of the big 'synth boom' when groups like Kraftwerk and The Human League will use it to replace every instrument in the band (and in the latter's case hire a couple of cocktail waitresses to be singers). The Who had pretty much abandoned the sound for 'Quadrophenia' and 'By Numbers' and the sound might not have suited perhaps their two most 'real' albums; however the more arch and self-aware 'Who Are You' is another matter. With Rabbit Bundrick in tow, the synths fill in the gaps where Keith's drum-rolls would normally be and they do a good at fleshing out the band's sound now they're only playing at half-speed. The synths will continue to be such a major part of the band's sound across 'Face Dances 'It's Hard' and 'Endless Wire' that many casual fans assume they've always been part of the band's sound but no and the use of them as swashes of colour and atmospherics rather than as the driving rhythm of [127] 'Baba O'Riley' and [136] 'Won't Get Fooled Again' starts here. '409', especially, makes rather good use of the instrument as a painful, mournful cry emitted by a future roboticised 'human' that's not even meant to have feelings - if Isaac Asimov had written songs rather than stories his books would have all sounded a little like this.
Overall, then, 'Oo are yer?' (phonetic spelling) does as good a job as it can at covering up the cracks that were splitting the band up even before Keith died and though not quite as strong as past glories is as good as realistically it can be. This is after all an impressively strong and forward-looking album from a time when the state of the band was anything but and in many ways the last great Who album. Pete was criticised later for saying that though he missed his friend dearly Keith's death had 'freed' him creatively, but listening to this album you can see what he means. The worst moments on this album, title track and 'Sister Disco' aside, are almost always the ones where The Who tried to do what they always did and realise to their horror that age, ill health and years away mean they can never ever be that band again. The best ones are those which stretch that palette a little wider throwing in sound effects, test-tube babies and writing songs about, well, writing songs among other things. Like many a Who album, ‘Who Are You’ does its best to look forward to the future, with lots of new exciting synthesizer sounds and some very strangely constructed songs, but for all of its pioneering work, its for Who Are You’s last look back to the past for which the album will always be remembered. Named after and dominated by the band’s last ever template Who song, Who Are You is the perfect send off to the band, using the template of [136] Won’t Get Fooled Again while adding just enough innovation to get away with it.
This isn't a perfect LP by any means. 'New Song' can't hold a candle to the genuine misery and outpouring of the 'Who By Numbers' tracks and 'Love Is Coming Down' must be the single most forgettable song the original Who ever released, a ballad that could and should have been replaced with this album's rather good collection of outtakes (including the self-pitying 'No Road Romance',  the gorgeous 'Empty Glass', later a highlight of Pete's 1980 LP of the same name which suits this album's tales of misadventures in music so well it really feels like it belongs here and ‘I Like It the Way It Is’, a beautiful, brave and soul-baring song in the Who By Numbers why-am-I-doing-this-when-I-know-it’s-wrong? mode that only got as far as the demo, included on 'Scoop 3' in 2001). You can hear the fall and decline if you're listening to these albums in order and it's such a shame to think that the Who ended up in something of a creative cul-de-sac for the band’s last two albums, becoming something of the everyman anonymous rock band they had done so well to avoid becoming over the past 15-odd years (honestly, it's not all Kenney Jones' fault - the rot really does start here even if there are still better performances on this album than 'Face Dances'). This is certainly no 'Quadrophenia' or even a brave, bold statement like 'Who By Numbers', but then it was never meant to be. At times, though, The Who sound as if not only have they come to terms with their illustrious past on 'Sister Disco' and 'Who Are You' (two of their best 'template' Who songs), but that they still have a future too with '905' and 'Music Must Change' signalling two very interesting places their muses might have taken them had life and rock and roll had other plans. As a last hurrah- and as an ultimately unused template for what The Who could have become had Keith Moon not died so tragically the month after this album’s release – ‘Who Are You’ is hard to beat. The Who, at last, sound as if they truly know who-hoo-hoo-hoo they are and what they are is still the greatest rock and roll band of theirs or anybody's generation, even in miserable circumstances.
The Songs:
[181] New Song sounds at first as if we are still in ‘Who By Numbers’ territory. This song about never living up to what you wanted to be was technically written for a revived ‘Lifehouse’ but doesn’t seem to have any obvious links to the concept – it sounds very much as if Pete took some time off from ‘Who By Numbers’, went off to write the much happier ‘Rough Mix’ and then found to his horror when he sat down to write for The Who again that he was still in the same headspace. Telling himself that he needs a ‘new song’ and is in real danger of ‘plagiairising something old’, Pete numbly ‘pours Vodka into my soul’ and tells his audience coldly that he is ‘not the perfect man’ they think he is but is inevitably going to let them down. However the song suddenly branches out to a bigger idea that a new song is exactly what the human race needs right now, a new way of doing things that’s kinder and fairer. Pete senses that the world needs ‘shaking up’ and yet musically this is very much the prog rock of the early 1970s without any sign of the punk or new wave fashions that have come and goine by 1978. Suddenly, against all odds, Pete finds the inspiration he needs not from something new but something old; in a lovely middle eight he ‘turns on the radio and love is re-born again and again and again’. It makes him feel good, as he becomes the ‘audience’ for a change and in a neat inversion of [111] ‘Listening To You’ is listening, seeing and feeling the work of another writer and noticing how much it lifts his mood. ‘Let it rain!’ the song roars as he again reaches out for lover as per [163] ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, ‘let it raaaaaaaaaaaaaain!’ Suddenly inspired Pete vows to keep on doing what it is he does while ‘changing a few new lines’, because his work makes other people feel good too. On Pete’s glorious demo for this song (available as part of ‘Lifehouse Chronicles’ but oddly absent from any of the ‘Scoops’) he truly does sound re-born, singing with such glee and passion that he even gives his own version of the famous Daltrey scream and giggles to himself. The ‘real’ Roger however fares less well on a song that should be born for him and – perhaps because keith is so clearly struggling – what comes over most on The Who’s version is not the joy of re-connecting with your art but the cynicism of losing it. After six years of only singing Pete’s cynical songs it is as if Roger has forgotten how he used to sing and this is one of the few times the band get a song ‘wrong’: this quite lovely piece needs to be light and fluffy but is rather bludgeones to death here alas. The song also sounds far more contrived and forced than anything on ‘Who By Numbers’.
[182] Had Enough takes us back fully into the Who’s recent Blue Meanie syndrome, getting the album off to a particularly grumpy start and the song sounds uncannily like another of Pete’s fed-up rants about the world in general. Actually, it’s a John Entwistle epic, sung here by Daltrey, which isn’t actually moaning about the 20th century at all but planet Earth some time in the future. Entwistle re-wrote this song (and the next) from an abandoned musical he was working on about test-tube babies in the future and the impact of science and robotics on society’s inhabitants. The sentiments, however, are very Who-like, recalling several previous Who songs. The most obvious is[161] Dr Jimmy from Quadrophenia in the way Daltrey’s narrator declares he’s had enough of being put upon by authority, ambitious colleagues and following restrictive rules that make life worse, not better. Much like Pete’s song of the same name ([156] ‘I’ve Had Enough’) this is a narrator stretched to breaking point. He’s tired of turning the other cheek when slapped for being nice and as per [174] ‘Dreaming From The Waist’ longs to lash out. It’s important to remember that John was bullied as much as Pete was by Roger at school and though he seems to have had a less complicated relationship with the singer was really starting to clash with him here: Roger hated his songs for this album and in turn John hated the way he sang them (nobpody seems quite sure why Roger sings them at all, except perhaps the fact that Roger was the ‘lead singer’ and sang 90% of Pete’s material without comment). This song could easily have gotten out of hand (Moon’s drumming makes the track sounds like a runaway train for almost the last time on record, which is fitting given the song’s sentiments even though he clearly struggles across the slower first half), but Entwistle cleverly adds in plenty of reflective verses here and there for variation the way Pete always does about how we are all doomed and the idea that life is going to get better is ‘fooling no one but ourselves’. At last John gets to dominate a song, with not one but two bass parts growling away and the next loudest sound not guitar or drums but Brundick’s chirpy synthesiser. The only true escape in this murky, plodding song is the ending where the world finally blows itself up, to the glee of Roger declaring ‘here is the end of the world!’ and the accompaniment of some tinkling Moon cymbals. The falsetto choruses are an interesting unusual touch recalling [45] I’m A Boy, and like that song is quite obviously written for a musical when you know that fact being a bit stagey and singalong – I can just see Lloyd Webber smugly auditioning wannabes for the Daltrey part with a look of horror on his face when they sing this track back to him! This recording is also notable for two special guests – former Zombie Rod Argent, which again is quite fitting given this song’s storyline about non-thinking humans, plays keyboards and Townshend’s then father-in-law Ted Astley arranged the strings, which sound very odd against such a dark rumble of a song and don’t really add much at all (the pair had first worked together on the Townshend-Ronnie Lane album Rough Mix in 1977 but this is the only album on which he does the string arrangements for The Who).  
Sister song [183] 905 was also ‘borrowed’ from the same abandoned project, but couldn’t have been more different if it tried. A lyrical Entwistle song about a future human born out of a test-tube and looking forward to life with optimism (well, ish) this is an arehetypal Who song about a search for identity in a world of people ‘living a lie’ and as such was perfect for the band’s reunion record even though John had written it originally for himself. It is a strong candidate for the best work on the album as John recounts a life lived without knowing what love is: his mother was an ‘incubator’, his father ‘the contents of a test tube’ and he is not a human being wanted and needed in the world but a result of chemistry. He is the 905th baby to be born this way, his childhood skipped for being pointless and learning how the world works not through doing but through learning. All the thoughts he thinks are original have been thought by someone before him and he is the ‘thousandth’ person to live his allotted role before him (5though quite why that might be when there are only 905 test-tube babies is, presumably, left for another song we never got to hear). Like 1966 Who single [45] I’m A Boy again, it uses a clinical, anti-nature anti-emotion setting to exaggerate the problems with our own era, where its characters still feel lost and driftless philosophically no matter how progressively brilliant their society is scientifically. Here, the ’order’ for a new family member, given a number rather than a name, goes according to plan—but the cold-hearted way he’s delivered to thre world starts the narrator of thinking that the wonderful world he’s living in isn’t all that wonderful—that inside ’something is missing’ (something the narrator ’can’t explain’ presumably, this being a very-Who like song about un-fulfillment and mental confusion). Mr (Miss?) 905 is clearly being groomed as one of the angry young test tube babies of his generation with a ‘feeling deep inside that something is missing’, but presumably this song comes from early in John’s intended work and for now is remarkably peaceful by Who standards, sung to a light and fluffy sing-songy tune that is one of the more melodic pieces the band ever did. Not quite right for the usual attack of Roger, John kept this song for himself and this is surely his best vocal out there, a magical blend of vulnerability and innocence. Fittingly this is the first song since ‘Lifehouse’ to use the synthesiser in a big way and the song opens with a repeated bleeping to [132] ‘Relay’, which makes me wonder if John heard that pete was re-working ‘Lifehouse’ and decided to write a song for that project; it is a real tragedy this pair didn’t write together. Pete stamps his approval anyway with two powerful criss-crossing guitasr lines that appear only at key moments of the song.  Nice, but rather un-Who like, 905 would sound terribly out of place on most of the band’s albums but here, as a cautiously optimistic track full of longing and awe, it makes for a nice contrast with the other more pessimistic tracks and ironically this song about logical scientific progression is one of the warmest and most human sounding pieces on the album. More proof of what an under-rated writer Entwistle was, this song is easily the equal of Townshend’s songs of the period and reveals the serious, sensitive soul that existed underneath the Ox’s ever-present dry humour suit of armour.
[184] Sister Disco is the other candidate as album highlight even though it is entirely different again. Though ‘905’ sounded very un-Who-like the weary sigh sounded very much part of the band’s canon; by contrast ‘Sister Disco’ is about the last time we hear all four Wholigans windmilling in synch (though Keith is sadly more than a little slow) on a song that, dear God, sounds happy! Many fans have tried to analyse this beautifully uplifting song and failed – without having any clue what it’s about myself I will just point out that it started life as part of the revived ‘Lifehouse’ and surely deals with the importance of music in uniting the world and making it a better place. Without the plot, though, it is hard to tell just quite what Pete means by this song (even Roger admitted in interviews that he hadn’t a clue) and some of the lyrics are truly impenetrable: my guess is that seeing as it was written in an era when ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was all the mainstream music press seemed to talk about (with most of them hoping that brother punk would simply pack it’s bags) this is Pete despairing of the artificiality he sees in both. He despairs of the ‘trash lamps’, the clubs and even the smells, walking round with adhesive tape over his nose in a line that could refer to either genre, which were closer than many would admit. I think more than that though that this is Pete gleefully celebrating the fact that all the young whipper-snappers who have been telling him he was past it for the past four years are now suffering their own signs of decay and aging and that a new brand of mods are welcoming him back again as ‘one of them’ (this is the era of ‘The Jam’ for starters – Pete was close to Paul Weller). This song is noticeably Who-like in a way we haven’t heard properly since ‘Quadrophenia’ but is much much happier as if The Who are glad to be playing ‘their’ type of music again instead of ‘hiding’ it under something else. The narrator starts the song gleefully walking out of a hospital (where presumably the nay-sayer punks and empty-headed disco dancers have been beating him up). He tells us ‘my life took a turn’, that he feels ‘strong and secure’ and taunts that his brand of music has survived the ages when so many yountgsters haven’t, that ‘my dancing has left you behind!’ Pete even takes over for a middle eight like the old days (apparently because Roger laughed at these lines and thought them ‘too pompous’, liking the tongue-in-cheekness of Pete’s voice which he thought was a better fit), even though for once what he sings is basically much what Roger sayas rather than the song’s ‘hidden conscience’ – ‘Goodbye sister disco, I go where my music fits my soul!’ Perhaps in response to the shaven-headed punks and effeminate disco dancers Roger gets to sing that ‘I feel a man on my face, a woman in my hair’ and the band don’t care because this is The Who and what they were born to do, having sort-of found their identity at last. There’s even a cheeky dismissal of this new ‘plastic’ music for being ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ without the revelations The Who made on ‘Tommy’. However that’s not quite the whole song. Pete knows how it feels to be left behind and so he sends a last message to the disco and punk stars wondering where their career went in a further terrifying middle eight that plummets out of this happy major key song into a minor key like a trapdoor. Like [151] ‘The Punk and The Godfather’ Pete-Roger tells them that he feels their pain, that ‘I’ll stay beside you and comfort your soul when you are lonely and broken and old!’ Suddenly though the idea that someone else who hoped to die before they got old are now suffering what Pete went through turns to glee again as we get a storming synth solo and some terrific slashing guitar chords, The Who at their most new wave-ish as if to greet in the new era and shoew off that they got their first (this is also a clear hark back to the sound of ‘Who’s Next’). That’s not all though: perhaps having too much fun to stop Pete puts down his electric guitar and does what fans have been pleading with him to do for years: pick up his aocoustic. We get a few [100] ‘Pinball Wizard’ style rhythmic changes played in real triumph (because The Who are back to being revered celebrities again?) – sadly the original idea, seen in the ‘Thirty Years of Maximum R and B DVD, to have some glorious three-part harmonies over this section got cut at the last minute. Any one of these three very Who-ish trio of templates could have been a great song in its own right; putting three together sounds like showing off! And why not? ‘Sister Disco’ is a winner, if only to hear The Who clearly enjoyoing their muse and their music again and the song swings in a way we haven’t heard in years. Perhaps the best of their many rebuttals to [23] ‘My Generation’ as here The Who relish the fact they lived long enough to come back into fashion again.
 [185] Music Must Change, however, longs for a new sound that isn’t anything like we have heard before and is probably another revived ‘Lifehouse’ leftover. This song is in many ways the most ‘out-there’ track on the album and a sign of where The Who might have gone next had low sales and the loss of Moon sapped them of their confidence. This is, you could say, their most art college song: it’s more of a collage played on synths as Roger screams that music must change while Jon Astley tries to walk in a new pair of shoes on studio time. Once again Pete is searching for the one true note, but it doesn’t come [120] ‘Pure and Easy’ and nor does he see it as saving mankind so much as the art-form he has come to think of as his job. He hears it pounding in his head at night but it is too vague for him to ever write it down. Sometimes it warms his soul, sometimes it turns his body to ice. Ultimately Pete is scared of it and views it as something new that hasn’t even got a name yet: one by one his audience have this look in their eye and he sees it ‘emphasised with their fists’. However Pete tells us not to be scared: some of the best periods in humanity have been caused by people who felt the lowest of the low and wanted to put things right and he idenitifes with this new music that seems to have filled people’s brains, even if it leaves no room for old bands like The Who. In fact he dismisses his kind for still ‘chewing a bone’ that has already given up all its meat while ‘every feeling I get from the street’ is that this new sound is arriving and about to make everything he knew irrevelent. Pete asks himself is he is ‘crazy’ to think it was ‘here pre-arranged’, already programmed in this particular generation to see through another layer of social change on top of the 1960s revolution and again reflects on whyat his role in all of this is, talking again to his audience that he has been trying to recflect our ‘dream’s but that all he has felt lately have been ‘screams’.  Listening to the lyrics of this song you really feel the pressure Pete felt in reflecting an audience he no longer understood and which was fractured into lots of sub-genres in a way they never had been in the 1960s and 1970s when fans heard everything rather than breaking off into splinter groups. This uncategorisable song is a little like all of them at once and adds up to something new: few songs would give lead roles to both guitar and synths, or add those sound effects, or add such a stroing tambourine beat (poor Keith having found this song’s irregular beat impossible to play to except the odd cymbal crash). Alas The Who aren’t really in shape enough to do this song justice by 1978: Roger doesn’t understand this song and isn’t so in telepathy with Pete he can just busk his way through, John is barely heard, Pete is drowned out by the synthesiser and poor Keith, who in the olden days would have driven this song aa the drum-bridge uniting the hops between all the sections, can only smash his cymbals in messy frustration (as inventive as the squeaky shoe backing track is, it’s no substitute for Moon the Loon). ‘Music Must Change’ is also arguably it is a bit too late to do the good it should have done (my guess is that Pete saw punk coming and wrote this song in late 1975, but by the time ‘Who Are You’ came out the genre is dead and gone; The Who should have rusheds this time-sensitive song out as a single and blown everyone away even if it is in fact a very un-punk like song). The result is one of The Who’s worst recordings of one of their most under-rated ever songs. Don’t despair though: someof the period live recordings 89with Pete now singing the ‘open door’ middle eight not Roger) are spine-tinglingly perfect, especially the one on the ‘Thirty Years’ DVD.
John Entwistle’s third and last song on the album, [186] Trick Of The Light, is a lot more like the old Who than the songs Pete was writing for this album, being a typical song of contrasts like the band’s good old days. A classic murky, macho rock song about a prostitute this is a very John song, sung by Roger in a very Roger-voice at last, with his tonsils flaring at their rock and roll best. While John was right to be cross that too many of his songds were being given over to a singer who hjated them, Daltrey truly does him proud on this song which, excised of John’s usual quirky humour and tongue-in-cheek parody, comes over as a surprisingly emotional and caring little song. It is, in one sense, a very Rolling Stones song again as the narrator struts his stuff and takes a lady of the night to bed with him. However there is no way at all that Mick Jagger would have sung the twist that’s coming: ‘Was I alright?’ John-Roger suddenly asks, panicked, ‘Did I take you to theheight of ecstasy?’ For he suddenly cares not just about his enjoyment but hers too. She’s thrown, nobody’s asked her that before: she’s not even used to her clients talking to her. Gentleman John offers to ‘get to know you on better terms than this’ but sighs that ‘you’ve probably heard all that before. The great irony is that the easiest lay of his life is going to be the hardest to woo and he worries about her for several sleepless nights afterwards. Of course she turns him down: why would she spend her life with one man for free when she can bed lots of them and be paid for it? the title refers to lots of things going on at once in this song: it’s the emotion John thinks he sees on the girl’s face as someone cares for her and also on his own when he walks out blinking into the daylight and wondering if he really meant what he said.  As if to make up for the fact that he’s had to give yet another of his song’s to Roger to sing John seems to be playing no less than three basses on the track, making it one of the most bottom-heavy recordings ever made! This just adds to the high element of sleaze and subversiveness of this track, which can be seen as either a mainstream pop act singing about prostitutes in the first place or the fact that a rock and roll act sings a song about prostitutes and makes it this caring, a truly revolutionary act. Pete manages to slide in some slashing guitar chords but for only the second time in The Who’s career following [23] ‘My Generation’ is entirely subservient to John’s bass which gets to play the mnelody, the chunky rhythm and the solo, whilst pete just randomly picks out some notes far in the right channel. John meanwhile sings all the backing vocals himself and Keith picks out a part that by his old standards would be considered stupidly simple, a shadow of his old self here than normal on perhaps the album song closest to The Who’s old style of attack.the result is another under-rated Entwistle number, one more fitting for The Who than many of his compositions and which adds a touch of rock and roll and emotion to an often arty and cerebral album. It’s also another bit of spooky fortune-telling on this album. Ever since the Ox’s death in 2002 rumours have been flying that Entwistle’s fatal heart attack took place during a drug-filled night out with prostitutes at The Hard Rock Café in Nevada  similar to the encounter as outlined in this song (other sources say she was a stripper, others a one-night stand), which gives this peculiar, seemingly brash and knowing but ultimately rather naïve and caring song a whole new meaning. More impressive stuff from one of the hardest working bassists in rock.
[187] Guitar and Pen is another weird song which lurches from art-rock to punk-rock between every verse and chorus. The most postmodernist song in The Who’s back catalogue, this song has Pete writing about…writing! His confidence hit by ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Who By Numbers’ Pete struggles here to remember why he started writing in the first place and realises in true Who style that he does it to reach his audience, that deep inside he felt ‘I had something to write!’ The song is also an olive branch of sorts towards the young punks trying to take Pete’s old crown as rebel kings, with the songwriter showing how every composer of every genre always starts off his rebellion with just a simple pen, notebook and guitar. I doubt that the likes of Beethoven and Schubert smashed up their pianos in frustration and then had to glue them back together again to write down their music, though, as Pete assumes every writer does at some point here! (Then again, that Amadeus Mozart had something of the hooligan about him, he just used wigs instead of hoodies…) Though no punk would ever write a song quite like this, the track is in its own way the punkiest song in the Who’s catalogue – especially the alternate ‘spiky’ mix heard as a bonus track on the CD re-issue that really limits the sound of Pete’s guitar. Pete feels an affinity with these brash uncommunicative kids desperate to make music. He remembers the days just before [4] ‘I Can’t Explain’ and the feeling that he wanted to make a difference out there in the world but had no idea how to do it until he stumbled his way into writing his first song. He gives his young brethren some advice: nothing else is important as long as they never spend ‘your guitar and your pen, whom Pete calls ‘my only friend’. He remembers how hard it sometimes was and sometimes is, mentally kicking a fence holding in his sub-conscious toughts ‘though nothing will budge’, desperately keeping every word his sub-conscious spews forth because any idea – even a bad one – is precious, the relentless years of practise, the put-downs playing his first songs to his uncomprehending parents (who think it should have ‘more of a tune’ in a quite alarming Roger impression of Mrs Townshend) and the swearing that goes on when the song won’t turn into rhymes that causes him to smash his guitar at the end of his bed. However Pete is always back sticking his guitar together again the next day because of his desperate need to write and make sense of the world, the sound beating in his head that ‘you have  something jumping, thumping, fighting, hiding, important to say!’ Pete wonders how he could ever come so close to giving up the one thing that gives him reason to live: yeah sure he’s only selling a rfraction of the records he used to but ‘is that really what you want?’ he asks himself in Roger’s voice, ‘to be rich and to be gone?’ No he wants to write, needs to write,m even if no one is left to hear his songs. Another typical Townshend middle eight, oddly still sung by Roger not Pete himself, has him as a third-person, perhaps the audience egging him on: that ‘when your music proclaims there is no one to touch you’. Pete is legendarily hard on himself on his abilities and here, for one brief golden minute, he pats himself on his back. It’s a lovely moment, all the more so because the scratchy one-note guitar has finally stopped beating us over the head in another ‘Who Are You’ blend of a glorious song and a disappointing performance, this song perhaps a little bit too much over the heads of the band. Only ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, an unofficial fifth member of The Who from 1978 to the end of their run in 1982, is anything like his usual self, turning in some characteristically muted but spot-on piano licks that support Pete’s song without over-powering or diluting it.  There is also one penultimate starring role for Moony, who roars when hitting the drums at half-speed like ‘Quadrophenia’ all over again, still not just the only but the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.     
 [188] Love Is Coming Down seems to split Who fans down the middle – for some, it’s a lovely romantic song with the prettiest tune the band had recorded since [127] ‘Behind Blue Eyes’; for others it’s a treacly and rather boring ballad that doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t suit The Who one iota. The truth is somewhere in between – another of Townshend’s glorious and more complicated melodies can’t quite make up for the emptiness of the song’s theme (basically ‘I’m in love!’) and the fact that, unusually for Pete, it sounds like something any number of anonymous rock bands could have written in the 1970s. My guess is that, worried about what style The Who should possibly attempt next, Pete tried to write something like Roger’s orchestral solo records. However Pete is not meant to be another Leo sayer and though the singer does indeed sound right at home in this new world, no one else does. Interestingly the one thing that Roger kept on his solo records from The Who days wasn’t his traedemark roaring rock vocals but the vulnerability and the sense that he was a doomed lover who always seems to be leaving girlfriends or plucking up the courage to talk to them only for them to say ‘no’. Pete seems to have picked up on that here, writing another ‘Jimmy’ character who feels isolated and alone in a world full of people and desperate to connect with a certain someone but not knowing how. He plucks up the courage to speak to his poor chosen victim, err stranger, four times and fails at everyone. The song has slowly been building its confidence up line by line by this point only to lose it all in a sudden swirl of ‘I think I’m falling…down, down down’ (a recycling perhaps od improvised B-side [145] ‘Goin’ Down’ – Pete may have even intended the same innuendo but if so that’s not how Roger sings it here as a lovesick puppy). Roger is crushed, hoping that the listener doesn’t think him immature even though he’s clearly inexperienced at the very least, but despite the horror admits to us that ‘I’m looking forward to going through it all again’. An interesting attempt at something new, this song alas doesn’t quite work: Keith is struggling with rock and roll and has no ability at all to play on subtle ballads now, while John sounds as if he’s in purgatory on his annoyed backing vocals. This song, it seems, is all about Roger, but Roger is not The Who, which is precisely why his solo alums are as popular as they are (because he doesn’t dare try). Pete’s father-in-law arranged the string arrangement once again, but while what they play is more suitable than on ‘Had Enough’ the strings aren’t a patch on ‘Street In the City’ from ‘Rough Mix’. Talking of mixes, a ‘work in progress mix’ included on the CD re-issue doesn’t reveal much except that everyone originally thought that Roger singing double-tracked was a good idea (it wasn’t).  
That just leaves title track [189] Who Are You, one last blistering attempt to do a Who song that, while never intended as a farewell, inadvertently makes for a great goodbye to the original band. Oddly enough while Pete has written many identity-searching songs for characters he had never really written one for himself before. This is, however, a true story of an incident which happened right back at punk’s beginnings (and originally formed the coda to [172] ‘However Much I Booze’). Pete wasn’t exactly a fan of the genre who once snarled ‘no future for youuuuuuu’ to bands like The Who but he understood it and identified it, egging them on in the press and in private and hoping that The Sex Pistols in particular could ‘end the job we started’. In a London Soho club he bumped into the band’s rhythm section – and was horrified to find out that they were secret fans of The Who and 1960s bands and that it was all an image (things might have been different if John Lydon was there; original bassist Glen Matlock was actually sacked later for liking The Beatles in favour of Sid Vicious who hated absolutely everybody; personally I would have given Glen a raise!) Pete felt betrayed and got drunk and violent, staggering off home only to collapse in a shop doorway. A passing policeman was about to arrest him for being drunk and disorderly – only to recognise Pete and send him home. While most people would have been tyhrilled Townshend was horrified; if it had been a Sex Pistol they would have been locked up so why not him? Was he really establishment now? Pete felt like a ‘dying clown’ on his way home and clearly wrote this in the same mind-set as the depressed ‘Who By Numbers’ songs. There’s even a third verse where he reaches out to Meher Baba and in an early metaphor re-used as the title of solo set ‘Empty Glass’ urges his maker to give him life, sustenance and maybe love/[128] water (probably somebody’s daughter too the state he was in). However by the time of these album sessions he’s clearly had a re-think. As with ‘Sister Disco’ this song is no longer ashamed of who he is and who his band stands for: he’s proud to have once been a Sex Pistol that everybody feared and accepting of his lot that every tearaway ragamuffin will one day become part of the establishment. At last the band who were named for their desperate need for identity know who they are – they are The Who, who-who who-who. Using Won’t Get Fooled Again as its template, Pete packs in plenty of rocky verses into the beginning of this song, before calming things down for a long instrumental coda and a final screaming rallying cry to end the song. If, in truth, this song is undeniably weaker than their earlier masterpiece, it still has much going for it. Pete even gets one last dig at the young punks in, using Roger as the school bully figure he was in 1965 but has rarely been since and he’s magnificent. ‘Who the fuck are you?’ Daltrey screams at all the young pretenders to the band’s throne. ‘I would really like to know!’ Of course they have no answer. There can only be one Who and this is one last magnificent hurrah for them, with Moony almost back to his best, some great Pete ‘n’ John backing harmonies and Pete adding not just some spiky punklike guitar but also some floral proglike piano as itf to show how far he’s come. An inevitable hit single this became a much loved song by fans for several good reasons, reminding us of both how great the band were when they started and how much they learnt along the way.  The CD re-issue adds a ‘lost verse’ which was the original version of the second one (the ‘tube’ one) and which I wish they’d kept: ‘I used to check my perfection jumping with my cheap guitar, I must have lost my direction because I ended up a superstar, one night I was in the board room hemmed in by the numan brain, you can learn from my mistakes but you’ll be back in the classroom again!’
This song would have been the perfect place for The Who to bow out in either version – it is in many ways a fitting epitaph for Keith Moon with the band still fighting and still sounding like they had something to say. For many onlookers at the time Keith’s ill health was what had been holding the band back; Pete was even criticised at the time for saying his death marked a ‘release’ of some sort for The Who. They had after all passed on touring for the past two years barring one last great two-song finale shot for the ‘Kids Are Alright’ documentary released a year after ‘Who Are You’. A new drummer in Kenney Jones meant a whole new roar on stage and power in the studio. However no one’s heart was really in the band after Keith died. Though the last to join them Moony had transformed their fortunes and in many ways had been their lucky talisman with everything going ‘right’ when he was fit and healthy (‘right’ in every way except the hotel bills anyway!) Even at half-form The Who are a band to be reckoned with here in a way they never will be again, even if many of the songs on the two albums to come do show promise. ‘Who Are You’ is an unlucky record that was overshadowed by the death of the drummer and which seemed like an ending, when for the band at the time it was a re-birth. The four of them were excited to work together again, had some new ideas about where to take their music (along with a few inevitable cul-de-sacs) and had finally remembered who they were before getting side-stepped by concept albums and depression. Though hardly on a par with the five quite brilliant albums that came before it, that doesn’t make ‘Who Are You’ necessarily bad, just a record that is arguably a couple of songs short of being a classic with its something-for-everyone approach guaranteed to piss everyone off at least once. Many of the band’s later records are due for critical re-valuation in a world that only seems to talk about Tommy, Leeds and Who’s Next in any detail and Who Are You is a particularly under-valued album, one that shows the band at both their traditional and their adventurous best. Who are the Who? – just one of the best, deepest, rockingest most important bands that ever lived on a diet of guitar chords and power drums, that’s all. I would love to see a ‘deluxe’ re-issue of this album one day rather than a forty-fourt for ‘Tommy’ et al.

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:


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