Monday, 23 October 2017

Cat Stevens "The Laughing Apple" (2017)

Cat Stevens “The Laughing Apple” (2017)

Blackness Of The Night/See What Love Did To Me/The Laughing Apple/Olive Hill/Grandsons/Mighty Peace/Mary and the Little Lamb/You Can Do (Whatever)/Northern Wind/Don’t Blame Them/I’m So Sleepy

Steven Georgiou was nodding off to sleep in the armchair at the party in his frilly shirt-sleeves. It was late, he was tired and many of the party-goers had gone home, while a combination of his inebriated spirits in all senses of the word were leaving him tired and a little in pain. He was unsettled: this was his fourth party this week and it was only Tuesday and Tuesday was already nearly dead. And he had another two tomorrow. Should he go? He felt he should go – it was important, as the eighth best selling artist of 1967 to keep his pop profile up into 1968. But suddenly his pop profile already didn’t seem quite as important as it did when he was young and foolish a year earlier, at seventeen. Also he was developing a nasty cough he really ought to see a doctor about. But not before this summer of parties were over: there were just too many interesting people to meet, too many exciting things to do and talk about and too many people who wanted to be with him. He might never get this lucky with his career again, as a nagging doubt about his latest release ‘New Masters’ fell over him. He ought really to have spent more time on it, to make it more of a serious tragedy than the cute comedy his record company wanted it to be. The album sounded really good as the acoustic demos he played in his head but…nah, nobody would buy a sombre acoustic album from an eighteen-year-old! He wiped the thought from his mind and began to drift off in a fit of coughing…

Only to find a face staring back at him. A face that looked somehow familiar yet somehow different to the late time he had seen it. A face that was adorned with a Muslim cap – oh no he thought, he’s not one of those radical religious nutters come to bore me is it? But somehow he knew it wasn’t. This was an old face, the kind of lined wizened look that Steven wanted to have for himself one day when he was older that suggested someone who had seen all of the world that he wanted to see and yet which still had a mischievous twinkle in the eyes and more laughter lines that he could ever have dreamed of. ‘Oh, very young…’ the old man murmured under his breath.

‘What do you want? I’m sorry if the party was making too much noise…’ he stammered.

‘Oh the party was bothering me’ the old man chuckled, ‘but I think might possibly be bothering you more than me. That’s a nasty cough’ he sighed. ‘You really should get it seen too.

‘I’ll get round to it’, the youngster replied and noticed that the old man winced.

‘That album that’s running in your head right now that you’re secretly afraid you’ll run out of time to make…you will finish it you know. Just not for a long time yet. Not before ever such a lot of adventures.’

The youngster coughed. ‘How did you know?’

‘Because I remember’

‘Then are you really…me? But you look so different’

‘I am. Very different. You have so much more to learn than you would ever have thought possible and your life will be a rollercoaster ride of love, death, religion and everything in between. The blackness of the night is already calling at your door. But you are blessed by a monnshadow – the darkness will never truly win, even when you think it will.I have seen so much and learnt and understand more than I ever thought possible’

‘Then you have come back to teach me what to do?...’

‘No, not exactly. Truly, I have come to learn from you. From your wisdom and rule-breaking. That song ‘The Laughing Apple’, how does it go again?...’

Of all the things I thought Cat might do to celebrate fifty years in ‘show-business’, re-recording some older songs was something I considered. A lot of artists do it, especially when they reach Cat’s age of pensions and bus-passes and though he spent much of his life looking forward, Cat’s been looking to the past for comfort and solace a lot recently. But I never expected him to return to his least celebrated period as an eighteen-year-old making his poorest-selling and least known album. I never thought for a second that it would be ‘New Masters’ that would get the makeover, delivered from old eyes. ‘The Laughing Apple’ is, despite the forty-nine-year time difference, the missing link between the teenage clean-shaven pop-savvy Cat and the mature bearded singer-songwriter in his twenties. It’s the album that Cat really wanted to make in 1968 but was still too young and insecure to insist on making his way when he was eighteen and which instead got battered and blasted to shape by a combination of inexperience, orchestral arrangements and a record market that measures things in how far records moved up the charts, not how many souls were moved by them. It’s a combination of four songs that never turned out to Cat’s satisfaction, one outtake that wasn’t released till the 1990s, one re-written nursery rhyme and five new songs about being young all jumbled together. The difference being that the songs from Cat’s Decca orchestral era that already hinted at the illness and seriousness that were creeping into Cat’s thoughts are being performed by his older, weakened self, all those nuances finally teased out into the open in the ‘setting’ that Cat made his own a few years later. For this record sounds more like ‘Mona Bone Jakon’, the ‘illness’ record made in 1970 as Cat was recovering from the TB that nearly killed him, with old compatriot Alun Davies back on second guitar at last and Paul Samwell-Smith back in the producer’s chair. It’s a little like ‘Father and Son’ for a full record, as a prematurely aged Cat (who suddenly sound much older than his sixty-seven years) sings songs of youth and optimism and hope in the voice of someone whose lived a lot, thought a lot and lost a lot.

This particular orchard tree took an awfully long time to ripen, but it sounds unexpectedly gorgeous now that it has. Cat – and he really is billed as ‘Cat’ again on this record given that’s who he was when he wrote most of it, even if he’s credited as a performer under his ‘new’ name of ‘Yusuf’ – has been fading away vocally for some years now, to the point where his last record ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’ might have seen him disappear for good as even easy vocal lines became strained and age lines showed in everything whether it was meant to or not. There are only a certain number of things you can do when your main way of expressing yourself gives up: carry on as if nothing has happened, hand your songs over to someone else to sing or embrace who you are now rather than who you once were. Cat’s solution may well be the bravest of all though: he hasn’t merely embraced his aged, more vulnerable self on this album but deliberately made a contrast between who he used to be and who he is now. Cat got lucky too: his teenage self was impressively old before his time already, leaving his future self lots of really suitable songs to sing that he couldn’t pull off at eighteen as the icy fingers of TB plucked at his lungs and his conscience, but which he absolutely can now. Returning to an album left unfinished because of the big disaster of 1968, when Cat so nearly died and lost his record contract and most of his showbiz friends into the bargain, finally releases ‘New Masters’ from its half-finished unsatisfied limbo and makes an album that was so nearly fantastic sparkle like never before. ‘The Laughing Apple’ ‘The Blackness Of The Night’ ‘Northern Wind’ and especially ‘I’m So Sleepy’ were all deep and vulnerable songs that pointed to the changes to come and work really well in this new sombre setting (though it’s a shame ‘Ceylon City’ isn’t here too updated to become ‘Sri Lanka’ or ‘A Bad Night’ to be less psychedelic and more spiritual). Better yet though are the songs that never got finished from the time: ‘See What Love Did To Me’ is a pretty love song that’s turned into one of Cat’s better hymns to God and ‘I’ve Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old’, written in his teens as a ‘warning’ to the self to grow up and take better care of himself, sounds gorgeously triumphant now that Cat is a Granddad at last. Though re-recordings are often the easy, lazy way out of an artist’s career, Cat has turned this around by delivering songs from his youth with the voice of his age and wisdom, tweaking the lyrics slightly so that true fans can really see the difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ (it’s a real shame that ‘New Masters’ is so rare as this album would make a fine double-pack one day, nicknamed ‘Father and Son’ or ‘Before and After’ maybe).

The new songs too, though, are a mammoth step up from where we left off in 2014. Rather than being a whiny outsider, accidentally patronising in his attempts to make people be nicer to each other, Cat really gets under the skin of his fellow humans here and addresses us with the wisdom and advice of an old sage rather than the mad ranting of a teenage baby boomer. ‘Don’t Blame Them’ is the signature song for our times, a world where everyone is always blaming everyone else for their misery because someone is always seen to be getting something you’re not – but, really, we are all blessed to have anything at all (and eventually they’re all going to lose everything they had and turn on you anyway – it’s the human way of coping with life). ‘Olive Hill’ is a beautiful parable of peace that makes the Bible of all books seem far more real then fifteen years of R.E. lessons ever did. Even the re-write of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ is sweet rather than sickly cute, a tale of closeness and cuddliness that’s surely more about Cat and wife Fauzia or Cat and God than a girl and lamb. Against the odds it’s a track that makes you go ‘awww!’ more than ‘aaagh!’ ‘Mighty Peace’ is a beautiful song, one of Cat’s best in years, about everything that’s changed – and everything that’s changed the same – across fifty years of talking about peace in a world that seems to be permanently at war. Cat has somehow still found his own personal peace and is content – something that’s surprisingly moving to hear. Best of all ‘You Can Do’ is a lovely update of ‘If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out!’ that, well, isn’t actually updated at all: this is the older wiser Cat giving his younger self a little pat on the back that maybe he wasn’t far wrong after all: live and let live, but make life better for everyone if you can, is a far better motto to live by than the ‘praise God’ of fellow comeback ‘An Other Cup’  or the ‘all humanity sucks, especially anyone who disagrees with me’ of ‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’. Of all the Cat Stevens comebacks since 2006 it’s this album and ‘Roadsinger’ that most sound as if they belong as a future stopping-off point of the ‘Peace Train’.

This sounds, at last, like a man at peace with his legacy, which is a pretty amazing and surprising place to be after all those decades spent avoiding it. Cat’s clearly been listening to the whole of his back catalogue – not just ‘New Masters’ – as there are ‘vibes’ and phrases from his old records sprinkled throughout this album, albeit with more grace and style than on ‘An Other Cup’. ‘See What Love Can Do’ bounced with the jaunt of ‘Land O’Free Love And Goodbye’, the song of heaven and imagination from 1974 making it clear that it was life on Earth that was really haven (at least the best of it – the time when Cat fell in love. Poor Fauzia has waited thirty-eight years for her first true ‘love song’ that wasn’t about God and it’s worth the wait, a bouncy thrilling exuberant song where even modern-day Cat sounds young again one last time). ‘Olive Hill’ has the real feel of a ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ song. ‘Mighty Peace’ starts like ‘Izitso?’ or ‘Back To Earth’, with a late 1970s synth riff that’s very similar to ‘A Child For The Day’, while the child laughter recalls ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ and the chord structure is a direct lift from ‘Maybe There’s A World’, the best song on ‘An Other Cup’s comeback. ‘You Can Do Whatever’ is so close to ‘If You Want To Sing Out’ they’d make a fab medley one day. And ‘Don’t Blame Them’ sounds like every Cat Stevens song ever stuck in a blender without ever quite becoming specifically like any of them. This CD no longer needs to come with the caveat sticker that it is ‘by the artist who was formerly known as Cat Stevens’ because that fact is obvious from first note to last, with no attempts to be religious (‘An Other Cup’), contemporary (‘Roadsinger’) or go right back to the beginning and do blues (‘Tell ‘Em I’m Gone’). That’s true even of the front cover – the first Cat has drawn himself for a record since ‘Numbers’ in 1976 – a recognisably Catty bit of artwork of a laughing apple hanging in a tree while a character who looks not unlike the chap having tea with the Tillerman in 1970 reaching out to pick it.

‘The Laughing Apple’ isn’t always a bumper crop and does have some occasional bits of rotten-ness at its core, enough to place it just a smidgeon down from ‘Roadsinger’ as the ‘Cat Stevens comeback album everyone should own’. It’s ridiculously short for one thing: at thirty-one minutes and eleven tracks this record has the ‘feel’ of a 1970s Cat Stevens album in bad ways as well as good, which is a bit of a rip-off for an album after a three-year wait with no less than five re-recordings of tracks available in other form elsewhere. One other thing this album could perhaps do better is that signature Cat Stevens sound, which is here more than ever before in Cat’s comebacks but still isn’t quite here completely. There aren’t many songs where you can hear Cat and Alun play together the way they always used to (the re-make of ‘The Northern Wind’ is the only one that doesn’t bury that partnership with extraneous noise and even that one get noisy partway through). If you were being uncharitable you could argue that re-recording old songs, in whatever form and however good, is taking the easy way out. Cat has, after all, already done this in the past (his re-recording of ‘I Think I See The Light!’ post spiritual regeneration being the ‘other’ highlight of ‘An Other Cup’). But somehow this is an album that transcends the prejudices I had when I first heard about it (a sixty-seven-year old Cat telling Kitty that he’s going to ‘get it on’ would have been embarrassing – and what other song from ‘New Masters’ did even the biggest fans know?) to become a real treasure trove of beauty, wisdom and the healing of old wounds. You sense that Cat always felt that ‘New Masters’ was an unfinished blot on his back catalogue he tried to bury, ruined by too much fame, not enough time and nowhere near enough power. Now Cat doesn’t have any of these problems he’s reconnected with who he used to be through his own words and returning to these old songs, so at peace with his legacy.

So much so that I must admit I’m slightly worried. There has been nothing in the press or even speculation amongst fans but…is Cat alright? This is an album you make at the very end of your career when you think it’s going to be your last release, not the ongoing part of your career and it may be notable that Cat has reached back in time to the album he part-planned and recorded when he was first poorly, with an inkling that something is wrong without knowing what to do to change that. This record feels like a full-stop somehow, far more than ‘Back To Earth’s semi-colon pause ever did back in 1978 despite the twenty-eight-year gap. This is, after all, an album ends with the weary comment that ‘I’m so sleepy…soon I’m going to slip away’ and the sound of Alun Davies whispering ‘shhhh!’ I so hope that I’m wrong – quite apart from being greedy and wanting many more of these albums, we need heroes like Cat to keep fighting the good fight as our world gets darker. But finally tying up loose catalogue ends and going out on a high would be a worthy way to go. The last album tried to tell us Cat was ‘gone’ but it messed up its chance to bid farewell badly. This record, with its backwards glances and things learned the hard way, is a much more suitable place to say goodbye if a goodbye it is. But hopefully it isn’t: after all, a laughing apple a day keeps the doctor away…Whatever this album is and whether it’s a one-off or the start of a run of albums that are all like this, all you really need to know is that its good – really, really, surprisingly good – and that after a huge dip with that last album this magical orchard is bearing truly delicious fruit again, no matter how long it took to grow. Now how do you like them apples?!


Back in 1968 ‘The Blackness Of The Night’ was an early sign that there was more to Cat Stevens than mere pop – though the record still came dressed up in the best pop finery, with a fast tempo, swooning orchestra and that most mid-1960s of sounds, the Hammond organ solo. Though Cat’s re-make is far less catchy and his vocal is more spoken than sung, this second re-telling makes much more sense. We believe that this Cat is ‘alone, with no one by my side’, although ironically it’s this track that also reunites him properly with Alun Davies after a gap of forty years or so. Worryingly we also believe the lyrics that he’s ‘going to die’ as Cat sounds worryingly old and frail, though he was probably closer to death than he realised back in 1968. The mood isn’t all ‘down’ though – this was a song that always came with hope in there somewhere but now it does so with the sense that Cat has faced all this before and come out the other side, rather than through a clichéd organ solo. A sweet song that always got somewhat overlooked has now been transformed from a coming of age song (a daughter gazing at a photo of her family all together happy, while she stews in a flat alone) into a song about fighting against the odds. Only some oddly intrusive drumming and ‘Who’s Next’ style synths gets in the way!

‘See What Love Did To Me’ is a song that was started back in 1968 but didn’t get very far – it didn’t even get bootlegged as far as I know, but does sound very much at one with the early poppy-go-lucky songs of Cat’s early Decca career. If I know Cat, he would have written this song originally in the first flush of love for Patti D’arbanville and his amazement that a successful model and aristocrat wanted to be with a teenage cockney born to Greek immigrant parents. The gorgeously bouncy melody still sounds like something a teenager in the first flushes of love would write about and also does what many early Cat songs do, leaping about from section to section as if there are so many ideas fizzing through his head Cat doesn’t have time to write all of them down into separate songs and another will be along in a minute (the teenage Cat was ridiculously prolific!) Many of the lyrics sound as if they’ve been left over from this first draft too, but clearly not all of them. There’s a valedictory swagger to this song, the sense that all the hopes and dreams that the teenage Cat had about love eventually came true – though it took another twelve years, a lot of heartbreak and a lot of life changes before Cat married Youza, the first contact he made when he tentatively tried to become a Muslim (and who was kind enough to show him round his local mosque). Cat’s life has been transformed by love and it was every bit as wonderful as once believed it would be, temporarily turning him back to the happy teenager who ‘feels amazing’. Of course this being ‘modern’ Cat Stevens there’s a last verse that equates this love with God and a more vague one about finding love in a ‘raging sea’ (which is almost certainly a reference to Cat reaching out for God to ‘help’ him back in 1976 when he nearly drowned). However unlike some religious references that seem shoe-horned in to songs where they don’t fit, this all makes perfect sense: God created Cat’s loved one so is responsible for his happiness in a way. Cat’s take on his old teenage self, laughing at his naiveté (‘a child in the darkness…a broken arrow missing the mark’) is also fun, especially given that modern Cat is singing with the same sing-song patter of his younger self as if he is still the same person at heart and that his enthusiasm and affection were well placed, just in the wrong direction. A majestic sweeping string arrangement and the sudden ‘invasion’ of some hard-strummed guitars really get this song moving too, one of the better songs on the album.

‘The Laughing Apple’ was always a promising song in need of a better arrangement that emphasised the weirdness rather than the cuteness. Now at last, after forty-nine years, we get it, as this parable of picking the ‘fruit’ of your labours that will bring you greatest pleasure makes more sense than ever after all those years of Cat hanging up his guitar in favour of becoming a headmaster. We can now better believe that this aged Cat has ‘travelled the mountain and travelled the seas’ than we did at eighteen and the call of the ‘apple’ (surely the music) waiting to be picked as a career makes more sense than ever (especially as it was thought by Cat to be a ‘forbidden fruit’ in Muslim circles for so long – even though much of what we recognise as music in Europe was imported by the Muslims anyway). The opening is truly gorgeous, as Cat’s cute pop opening becomes a slower, moodier scene-setting overlaid with ghostly noises that makes it feel more like a horror movie. The string arrangement worked really well on the ‘New Masters’ original, but this ‘New New Masters’ version works even better with a more oriental feel, making it clear that the orchard Cat was reaching out for is quite a different one to the one he imagined back in 1968. Some things remain the same though: there’s a delightful group of harmonies at the heart of this song with Alun Davies finally getting to sing on a track that was still one of Cat’s latest at the time they first met. Updating the original without losing the essence that made it great, this is what all re-makes should be like.

‘Olive Hill’ is, as far as I know, a new song but it sounds as if it would have fitted onto ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ or ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ with no problems whatsoever. A parable for peace, it’s as Biblical as the now suddenly un-Christian Cat has allowed himself to be since ‘Morning Has Broken’. A ‘lightning horse’ suggests Hinduism though, suggesting that Cat might be swapping his religions around for this song as on ‘Buddha and the Chocolate Box’ and showing that all of them are the same underneath anyway. Cat is deliberately pointed out the gulf between how the religious and spiritual acted then and now: in times of old they met in peace and swapped ideas, ‘all new souls welcomed in’. Now, though, there are no olive branches, just factions fighting factions as the name of all religions spread and converts grow, ‘though some would say they’ve lost their head’. A sorrowful horn part adds a sombre melancholy tinge to the middle of this song, hinting at everything that was lost along the way unnecessarily. The end result is a sweet song that adds a nice acoustic vibe to the album like the days of old, with a very lovely melody that rises and falls with the effortless of old (was the melody perhaps left over from an earlier unfinished song? The lyrics though, surely, could only have been written since Cat’s ‘comeback’). Alas even on an album of originally unfinished works, it still sounds a little unfinished and simply ends without ever having really gotten anywhere – or is that the point? This is still an ongoing story and we have time to return to the ‘olive hill’ before it’s too late.

‘Grandsons’ is already being hailed as the album’s biggest success story – and for good reason. The ‘original’ of this song dates back to 1968-1969 and the ‘lost’ period when Cat was first poorly with TB and can be heard on the ‘On The Road To Find Out’ box set of the millennium under the title ‘I’ve Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old’. Brilliantly, Cat returns to this song now that he is a grandfather for real (even if his grandchildren are still young!) and though the song is substantially the same the ‘feel’ of it is very different. Cat is no longer worried about dying too early before having a chance to do all the things he wants to do – instead this is a celebratory, valedictory song. Against all odds and all his teenage fears about meeting the right girl and surviving illness, he’s made it this long way and has grandchildren to watch grow old. ‘Life would be so different then’ runs the chorus, but it isn’t – he got there, the way he once promised himself nearly fifty years ago. The song still works though, if now for different reasons: Cat still has ‘no time for silly chitter-chatter’ because life is short and precious and he’s getting nearer the end of it, even if most of his adventures are run. There are a few lyric changes along the way: there’s a whole new opening verse that recalls the already nostalgic ‘Remember The Days Of The Old Schoolyard’ as children kick cans and play games and the line about ‘while my blood’s still warm and my mind doesn’t matter’ now comes with the weaker tagline ‘I’m going to pray’ rather than the more meaningful ‘I’m going to stay’. Most of this re-write works, though, from the slower tempo to the mass vocals to Cat’s weaker older fragile vocal. Even so it’s the original of this song that was already near-perfect. How many other artists could truly record what they first wrote at eighteen-nineteen and have it mean even more as they reach their late sixties?! No one – which is why Cat’s decision to re-record these songs is so clever and so unique, this track especially, turning a song of self-warning to do better into a song of triumph about having achieved what you set out to do. Let’s hope that Cat really does get to see his grandchildren grow old, though, rather than simply ‘born’.

‘Mighty Peace’ is a lovely song – a new one as far as I know, though it has elements of all of Cat’s early 1970s recordings that are so special, with everything from ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ to ‘Peace Train’ in there somewhere and a synth opening that recalls Jean Rousell’s work on ‘Foreigner’ and ‘Buddha’. Cat is nostalgic, realising that he knew more instinctively as a child playing games with his friends than he ever did as a lonely adult. He sounds downright resentful that the ‘moon’ had to take over from the ‘daytime’, bringing him more adult woes, but when he looks back ‘oh what might peace I find!’ Cat next imagines himself as a ‘cloud’, watching the people below ‘rushing around’ and enjoying ‘nothing more to do than to rain and watch the colours change’. The hint here is that he’s looking forward to death, when he’s merely a part of the atmosphere and not running the show and can be part of everything and feel at peace. As distressing as it is to hear Cat talk about death and as tearjerking as this song is with another truly sumptuous melody that looks back with a real sniffle in its nose and a tear in its eyes, we’d still rather hear a goodbye song as moving as this and embracing death than one trying to run scared from it. The song really does skirt awfully close to ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ at times, in melody, lyric and a rather stuck-on sound effect of children laughing. But you may as well rip off the best, especially when that means ripping off your self, and the elegiac mood is just different enough to make this song work, with Cat remembering snippets of all sorts of other old songs in a ‘second’ career farewell to rate alongside ‘I Never Wanted To Be A Star’ (though the album references old melodies this time, not old lyrics). One of the real highlights of the album and of Cat’s comeback years as a whole.

After sitting through Wings’ la-lahed ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ I never thought I would want to sit through another song based on that nursery rhyme. But the subtly different ‘Mary and the Little Lamb’ is sweet and utterly in keeping with the Cat Stevens philosophy about being true to yourself and spreading love. In the song Mary is still laughed at and called names by her schoolfriends for never playing any of their human games when she has a lamb to kiss and cuddle. A switch at the end has the whole neighbourhood blown away in a storm, with everything Mary ever knew taken away, except for the one lamb who loves her so much he holds on tight and never lets go, saving her life. Given what we know about Cat’s conversion, of course, it seems more likely that this loose Christian parable is now a Muslim one. God is Mary (maybe even the Virgin Mary – Cat always liked swapping his religions around), we are her flock and it doesn’t matter how many people laugh at Cat for being a believer, he has a real love in his heart and it’s a love that saved him – literally given that Mary nearly gets washed away in a storm (which is very much what happened to Cat). The lamb is also one that follows Mary around so much she could never get rid of him as he was always there – which is a sort of parable for how Cat felt about his religion, that he was being ‘followed’ by something spiritual tapping on his shoulder until it got to the point where he couldn’t ignore it as he nearly drowned and lost himself. Thankfully, though, the parable is there for you to see if you want to – or to ignore and enjoy as a sweet updated nursery rhyme if you’d rather. One thing I don’t get, why would it ‘be too late for him’ in the song? Surely it’s never to late to be a ‘believer’ if you’re that way inclined? It certainly wasn’t for Cat, however long he ‘delayed’ his conversion. The ending is lovely too, whatever you think of the rest of the song, as after all that drama there’s a bona fide drama, Mary ‘snuggling next to him’ while the stars come out and shine down on them, Cat actively becoming ‘the lamb’ in the first person. I’m not sure I want a whole album of re-written nursery rhymes, but on an album that’s so concerned with re-writes, childhood and nostalgia Cat can get away with this surprisingly catchy and commercial song more than he could on another record.

‘You Can Do Whatever!’ is an almost exact re-write of ‘If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out!’ Cat isn’t here to preach (which ten years on from ‘An Other Cup’ is a relief!) and merely wants us to remind us that we get as much out of the world as we put into it. We can be a child or an adult and get something out of it; we can ‘laze around in our jeans or put on a suit’, we can be a boss or ‘just join a queue’ and we can either ‘close out eyes to the darkness or make it right’. We have a choice join how to live our lives and we ought to make it a good one – but if we don’t then, well, we still have the right to live and make what we want of our futures as it’s no one else’s concern what we do. What we don’t have the right to do is ‘steal’ or covet another person’s life – because we have our own to lead and all Cat asks is that we’re ‘true’ to our own intentions. A triumphant singalong song isn’t quite as effortlessly catchy or as original as the ‘Harold and Maude’ soundtrack and lacks that song’s delightful bounce. This is much more of a ‘list’ song that feels slightly more artificially constructed. However this is still a good song, with lots of funny lines as Cat allows us to ‘ride the tiger or walk the dog, it’s really up to you!’ Of all the Cat Stevens songs I wanted a sequel to, ‘Sing Out’ wasn’t one of them given that it’s such a simple and direct song anyway (one of Cat’s simplest across his long career). However as sequels go this is rather good, Cat even acknowledging the fact as he ends the song by saying that we have to choice to say quiet ‘but you can still sing out!’ The Alun Davies-Cat Stevens partnership is at its best on the album here as Cat’s acoustic dances in one channel and Alun’s electric hums in the other, both leading completely different yet compatible lives.

I was always rather fond of the 1968 ‘New Masters’ recording of ‘Northern Wind’, one of Cat’s weirdest songs. Sensing that change is in the air a few months before he gets really sick, Cat hints at ‘feeling kinda strange’ on an epic that builds for several verses and was clearly from the heart, even if it’s been re-written for the pop market and becomes a letter from the Wild West back home to ‘Billy’. This re-write is slightly less successful, perhaps the weakest on the album. The slower tempo isn’t a patch on the relentless pull-and-tug of the original and Cat really can’t sing in his old key, so instead he drops his vocal a full octave to the point where it sounds alarmingly frail and off-key. Unlike the other three ‘New Masters’ re-makes there seems less reason to re-record this one from an older perspective, although the verse about ‘wanting to live and make the stars shine bright’ does bring a lump to the throat when Cat sounds so frail and vulnerable and there is an overall sense that this next ‘Northern Wind…making me feel kinda strange’ might well be bringing death (‘I don’t want to gight it, Billy, ‘cause I got to go!’) The new string arrangement is rather good too, though I could have done without the choir that aaah their way through the song like an outtake from ‘Numbers’. Interestingly this is the only one of the re-makes not to have a single word changed, even though it would have only have taken a bit of tweaking to make this song even more pertinent and moving. I’m glad to see such a great song getting so much attention, but Cat’s original was much more moving than this slower slushier re-make.

‘Don’t Blame Them’ is a lovely final new song, the one track on the album that seems to deal with the ‘outside’ world – the mainstay of the last three ‘comeback’ albums. Cat is fed up of a whole culture of blame and jealousy. He sees a girl, perhaps in his neighbourhood or perhaps on the news, being criticised by Christians for wearing a veil or a burkha. He doesn’t see the problem? In the ancient past the Virgin Mary would have worn the same. He then sees the world criticising a boy for being angry and ‘shaking his fist’ and attempting to get his own back on the system for keeping him down in a world of Credit Crunch and no opportunities (that sees millennials branded as lazy and workshy, for having no work to go to) and says that in the Bible, too, David chose to fight Goliath. A very Cat Stevens lyric about perception perhaps lacks the gorgeous melody of old but the lyrics are very clever indeed, as Cat says that all blame comes from people who are afraid of the unknown and that the best solution, as it always has been, is to love. ‘Beware’ Cat sighs, urging us that what we have to be afraid of most is our own prejudice and that if we fight it head on ‘understand your hate and your hate will disappear, like it wasn’t there’. Though much of this song is slow, sad and melancholy, it suddenly reverts back to being a jumpy jaunty pop tune at the end as Cat urges us ‘don’t blame the child!’, the ‘Father’ now sticking up for the ‘Son’ rather than arguing with him as in the days of old. This is such a distinctly early 1970s Cat Stevens style song (again recalling ‘If You Want To Sing Out’) that I wonder if this ending was an unfinished fragment that never got finished. It’s a clever finale too: you can’t blame the food for the tummyache if you eat too much, or the money for making people greedy, when it’s all the fault of faulty motivations and greed. And as the last line says, if you blame everyone else for your life not being perfect, then eventually they’re going to blame you.

The very end of the album though is a final re-make of a ‘New Masters’ song. ‘I’m So Sleepy’ was in 1968 a pretty song that’s the perfect song for me and my fellow sleepy spoonies. There was an always an ‘edge to this song though, especially the sudden violent switch to a minor key that worries ‘Soon I’m going to slip away, I won’t fight it I’ll just write it!’ This re-make, like all the others, is slower and more fragile, making it all the more believable that Cat might just slip away one night and making an eerie coda to the album, especially when someone (Alun?) urges Cat to ‘hush’ at the end and the song (and album) trail away mid-note. Parts of it work well: Cat sounds better for being older and more audibly tired and the song suits the ‘Tillerman/Teaser’ acoustic format far more than the original’s booming overpowering strings (surely too noisy to send anybody to sleep!) However I could have done without the twee xylophone accompaniment that makes this song ever more likle a lullaby and this song’s lyrical tweak is the least successful of them all on this album: ‘I could lay my head on a book I’ve read’ is a religious reference too far compared to the original’s perfectly suitable ‘piece of lead’. The result is a bit of an anticlimax as an album ending (the title track might have been better) but isn’t bad by any means as another overlooked song gets another welcome airing.

Despite the title of that last track and the fact that this is largely an album of re-makes and updated outtakes, it’s amazing how wide awake, bright-eyed and bushy tailed Cat Stevens seems again. Freed of the need to make big statements, the way he has with his last three albums, as the pop world’s ‘go-to Muslim’, Cat has re-energised himself by ignoring world politics and going back to his own roots for inspiration. Though ‘Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone’ tried a similar trick, that album messed up by trying to pretend that the older, wiser Yusuf of 2014 was still exactly the same boy that once sang R and B songs like he meant them and exploring an angry, acerbic side that never felt as if it fitted Cat that well.  On this album Steven Georgiou’s stepped back in time in more ways than just going back to his ‘old’ name of ‘Cat Stevens’ and sounds at home singing about peace and everything he wanted for his own life and family, making this a much more ‘real’ and heartfelt record than we’ve had since ‘Roadsinger’ and even compared to that return to form is arguably more consistent, if not quite as ambitious. You could argue that re-recording old songs and making your teenage self do all the work for your old age pension is taking the easy way out. I thought that too when I heard what Cat was planning with this album, until I heard it. There are many parallels between the youthful illness of 1968 and Cat growing older and feebler and this album makes them all without ruining the originals or throwing in a bunch of new songs that stick out like a sore thumb. Instead ‘The Laughing Apple’ works ridiculously well for an album forty-nine years in the making and released on the fiftieth anniversary of Cat’s first record. Would that all singer-songwriters still found as much to write and sing about – or that they had such talented beginnings they could still be mining their ‘forgotten’ songs for inspiration and have them still sound so suitable nearly half a century later. I’m not sure I’d ever take this album over ‘New Masters’, one of the unsung highlights of Cat’s discography, but there was always room for another album like it and this ‘New New Masters’ is very clearly taken from the same source of orchard. Let’s just hope that the air of doom and finality that hangs over this record is as premature as it was back in 1968…

 Other Cat Stevens articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Matthew and Son' (1967)

'New Masters' (1968)

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970)

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970)
'Back To Earth' (1978)
'An Other Cup' (2006)

'Roadsinger' (2009)

'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' (2014)
Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2015
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1969-2009
Non-Album Recordings 1966-2014
Compilations, Box sets and Alun Davies LPs Part One 1963-1990

Compilations, Box Sets and Religious Works Part Two 1995-2012

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Four 1983-1990

"Greatest Hits"
(MCA, April 1983)
Substitute/The Seeker/Magic Bus/My Generation/Pinball Wizard/Happy Jack/Won't Get Fooled Again//My Wife/Squeeze Box/Relay/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Who Are You?
"Upperd and downers - either way blood flows"
The first compilation that has the added bonus of being able to see The Who's canon as an entire, beginning-to-end thing and what do they do? They ignore length and go for compactness instead. Actually, considering the length, the selections aren't too bad at all: album favourites from the 1970s like 'My Wife' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and even 'Relay' which don't always get a look in on compilations appear alongside a selection of hits from the 1960s which go beyond the obvious ('The Seeker' 'Happy Jack' and 'Magic Bus'). It's all far from complete or representative  (no 'Baba O'Riley' or 'Pictures Of Lily'?) and the shortened single edits of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and 'Who Are You' rather than the full-length album cuts normally used on sets like these will make you want to hurl something at your speakers in true Who fashion. However if this is all you can afford - or at least if it was in 1983 and your record still works perfectly fine (as this set still hasn't appeared on CD just yet) then it's plenty good enough really. By the way, this isn't the same as the longer two-disc CD set released in 2003 and you'll soon be able to tell the difference - instead of The Who having a typically 'smashing' time this album cover features a buttoned up Union Jack shirt which is smart, but pointless (it should be a jacket!)

Pete Townshend "Scoop"

(Atco, April 1983)

So Sad About Us-Brrr/Squeeze Box/Zelda/Politician/Dirty Water/Circles/Tipperary/ Quadrophenia (Unused Piano)/Melancholia/Bargain/Things Have Changed/Popular/Behind Blue Eyes//Magic Bus/Cache Cache/Cookin'/You're So Clever/Body Language/Initial Machine Experiments/Mary/Recorders/Goin' Fishin'/To Barney Kessell/You Came Back/Love Reign O'er Me

"I know when I'm right - and I know when I'm wrong"

'This is a Pete Townshend recording, with traffic noises in the back, it's a collector's item and it must be, uhhm, treasured!' So starts Pete's first collection of demos, released in the mid-1980s as a special present to fans still lamenting the death of the band. Across the next two volumes and eighteen years Pete will treat the world to how many of The Who songs first sounded back when they were still figments of their author's imagination committed to tape for the very first time. Sometimes demos can be boring and yes, not everything here is that revealing. However The Who are a particularly good band to hear demos for because Pete's more vulnerable nature and especially vulnerable voice will often take his songs in a quite different direction to the one he knows Roger's roar and self-confidence will deliver  as Who recordings. Several of the band's better known songs sound, if not better than at least equal as demos - especially in later years when Pete captures his colleagues' bass and drum styles down pat too. On this first volume a folky 'Sad About Us', a gritty 'Melancholia' and an accordion-filled 'Squeeze Box' sound particularly hot, while a couple of the songs that never came out such as 1967's wry dig 'Politician' and undated comedy song 'Cookin' (which tries to praise his wife's cooking and claiming that's why he loves her - before breaking down into laughing and admitting real love is being with her despite her standard of cooking) both more than deserve release before this, being as charming and revealing as any song Townshend ever wrote. Lifehouse demo 'Mary' also receives its first release here too (though it sounds more at home on the 'Chronicles' box set) and is another golden gem; 'You Came Back', which again makes more sense on the 'Quadrophenia' director's cut, is a minor gem too. However not everything on this first set deserves to come off the shelf: the screechy 'Zelda, the ragged 'Dirty Water' and especially the synthesiser instrumentals that will plague all three 'Scoop' sets really shouldn't have been given the green light over some of the gems that came out on the next two volumes - or indeed some of the demos still hidden away in the vaults. You really really really don't need to hear Pete Townshend singing 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' in a variety of weird voices - they will give you nightmares!  However this glimpse into an alternate world of Who-ness and newness is worth the time and effort of getting to know, even if it does suffer from the random chronology and grab-bag approach. Arguably, too, this first volume is the least interesting in the trilogy with less Who demos than either and with less consistency than the second set and less truly fascinating moments than the third. We look at all the 'Scoop' demos individually in more detail in a separate section at the end of the book; all you need to know now is that this scoop comes up with a variety of flavours of all tastes and ages and is pretty darn tasty, with a neat self-portrait watercolour on the front cover that makes Pete look suitably 'sketchy' along with his songs.

"Rarities" (Volumes One and Two)

(Polydor, '1983')

Volume One: Circles (Instant Party)/Disguises/Batman/Bucket T/Barbara Ann/In The City/I've Been Away/Doctor Doctor/The Last Time/Under My Thumb/Someone's Coming/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Dogs/Call Me Lightning/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Volume Two: Join Together/I Don't Even Know Myself/Heaven and Hell/When I Was A Boy/Let's See Action//Relay/Waspman/Here For More/Water/Baby Don't You Do It!

"From tree to tree, from you to me, travelling twice as fast as on any freeway"

A random selection of B-sides and EP tracks that isn't quite as good or as comprehensives as the 'Who's Missing' and 'Two's Missing' set from a few years later. Though welcome at the time for the chance to own the superior 'American' version of 'Circles', the Rolling Stones covers, rare 1968 singles 'Dogs' and 'Call Me Lightning' and, erm, 'Waspman', all of these recordings are now available on sets that are easier to find and more fulfilling. Note that the vinyl version features the rarer B-side recording of 'Mary Anne', but the CD accidentally replaces it with the 'Who Sell Out' recording instead which isn't actually rare at all (oops!) The two sets were at least in the proper chronological order - unlike the later 'Missing' compilations - and feature a nice cover of a 1978-era Who leaning against a wall covered with a union jack. 

Roger Daltrey "Parting Should Be Painless"

(WEA/Atlantic, February 1984)

Walking In My Sleep/Parting Should Be Painless/Is There Anybody Out There?/Would A Stranger Do?/Going Strong//Looking For You/Somebody Told Me/One Day/How Does The Cold Wind Cry?/Don't Wait On The Stairs

"Desperation angels waiting, leaning on the walls"

Most fans reckon Roger's 1980s output is awful: they're mostly right, with later horrors like 'I'll Wait For The Movie' and 'Rocks In The Head' so unlistenable in every way. However I quite like 'Parting' and 'Raging Moon', which aren't quite as ridiculously 1980s in sound or as relentlessly the same in content. There's actually space for Roger to sing on these two albums and some quality material, even if none of these solo albums bar the first two are ever going to truly impress anyone. This is the first album Roger made after The Who's split and thus the first record where he gave his music his full attention rather than fitting it in between sessions for the band and it introduces his deeper voice and a more relaxed vocal sound.  Sometimes when the material is the equal of that voice this album works well - Kit Hain's title track for instance or the surprise cover of Bryan Ferry's 'Going Strong' which is the closest thing here to a 'Who' recording. However at other times 'Painless' is actually quite painful, with Roger sounding like a drunken karaoke singer tackling songs that simply aren't right for him, such as the numbers by pop writers Nicky Chinn and The Eurythmics' synth-based 'Somebody Told Me'. There is, at least, a slight theme here in the old 'Who' tradition, as Roger deliberately picked songs that summed up his feelings now that his 'day job' was no more and the mixture of relief at not having to cope with all the problems anymore mingling with the regret at not seeing his mates anymore and feeling a bit adrift. The title is ironic by the way: parting clearly was painful for the singer who struggles to find a new voice for himself or come to terms that things really are over now. The cover rather sums this album up: a bare-chested Daltrey with his hair now cut scarily short seems lost and pale, about as unlike his former 'Tommy' rock idol self as it's possible to be, while he's diving downwards off some stairs, apparently into oblivion.  It shouldn't have been like this for a singer of such talent but one can sympathise with Roger's confusion in this period, his desperation to move away from the harder-edged rock sound John especially had been pushing for within the band and the few moments when this album shows well this new sound could have worked given more time and confidence.

'Walking In My Sleep' is an apt starting point in as much as it has Roger walking around in a daze, on automatic pilot, lost in a world of pop synths where he doesn't really belong. Sadly, though, that's the problem - he really really doesn't belong here.

Title track 'Parting Should Be Painless' is better, with an atmospheric sound and an emotional lyric Roger can actually interpret and re-act to. The song was written by the bassist for Marshall Hains, Kitt Hain, and has an intelligent lyric about how even close friendships are doomed to fade the complex feelings of love and mistrust they leave behind. The couple always said that they would never let get things this bad - that they might fight and argue but would never be cold and distant - and their mutual feelings of horror that this is what's happened, which sounds very like The Who's real story by 1984.

Nicky Chinn's cod-horror 'Is There Anybody Out There?' though has Roger singing too deeply on a song that's too silly. Roger's narrator is feeling lonely and afraid of the nasty creature he turns into when he's left alone. That goes double as a singer left alone with some synthesisers by the way.

'Would A Stranger Do?' is a more hopeful and prettier song about trying to move on and where two hurt and heartbroken people wonder whether it's worth coming together. The song was co-written by Steve Climie of Climie-Fisher and has a similar slow, sultry feel to their band recordings that rather suits Daltrey's voice.

Bryan Ferry's 'Going Strong' actually features some drums for a change and Roger instantly sounds happier given a band to interact with again. The song isn't that strong, despite the title, with a generic lyric about digging deep and doing better that is all too obviously a Roxy Music outtake rather than an inspired song tailor-made for Roger to sing.

Hainn's second song 'Looking For You' opens side two with a bang, as heavy drums and sax combine for another atmospheric song about waiting for a sad time to end and for someone kind and good to come along to help you move into a new phase of your life. It's one of the better songs on this album, with Roger happier on the rockers than the ballads.

The Eurythmics' 'Somebody Told Me' really was written at Roger's request after the singer befriended them at a showbiz party and mentioned that he was looking for songs. However Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart apparently had no idea who he was because they just deliver a typical Eurhythmics song full of synths and drama that isn't quite good enough for them to have done. Poor Roger sounds lost and this song is blatantly a poor fit for him, but you can't turn down the gift of a song now can you?

'One Day' is an interesting song about being in competition with someone - which makes sense when you realise how many Who solo album spin-off albums were released round here. 'Well, you won't last long without me!' is the tone of Gerald Milne's lyrics, but the way Roger sings these words is gentler and more sorry that he had to split with his pals at all. Still way too many 1980s synths here though.

'How Does The Cold Wind Cry?' adds a dollop of country and western and while that sounds really doesn't suit Roger's voice either it makes a pleasant change away from 1980s synth pop. Though the mood is quite jolly, the sentiments are sad as Roger sings about being wrong and 'blind' to a difficult situation that he perhaps should have handled better.

The album ends with the usual Daltrey swagger of old, though, as 'Don't Wait On The Stairs' is a Stones-style clone about a man so angry with his girlfriend he tries to push them out of his life and tells them there's no going back. Roger is clearly aiming this at his old band, via songwriter and rock journalist Steve Swindells and he almost sounds like the Roger of old, this track recalling 'Another Tricky Day' though not even that good.
Overall, then, this low-charting, unwelcomed solo album really isn't a match for Roger's long career with The Who - but it is, in part at least, better than some of what had come before and it's one heck of a lot better than what will come in many respects. Roger can still sing well, he occasionally has the material to match his voice and the songs are picked with care, if not always for quality. This album is still painful, though, for anyone who was after a Who-soundalike record.

"The Singles"

(Polydor, November 1984)

Substitute/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/My Generation//Summertime Blues/Won't Get Fooled Again/Let's See Action/Join Together/5.15/Squeeze Box/Who Are You?/You Better You Bet

"You'd have thought I'd need a crystal ball to see right through the haze"

A sensible release of all the 'Track Records' singles, which contains everything you might want except for the rather obvious handicap that Polydor don't have the rights to the songs released on 'Brunswick' (so no 'I can't Explain' or 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' and 'My Generation' only appears in truncated live form) and some of the band's most famous material was never released on single (so no 'Baba 'Riley' or 'See Me, Feel Me'). As if that wasn't enough confusion, 'I Can See For Miles' has been taken from a TV broadcast with overdubs and isn't the 'normal' single mix, for no apparent good reason that I can see. If you can look past that - and the absence of relative flop singles like 'Call Me Lightning' 'Dogs' and 'Athena' - then this set is a fine purchase, but there are better Who sets out there. Japan have their own version of this set, issued on two CDs in 2011, which includes the missing 'Brunswick' tracks and two more late-period singles ('Don't Let Go The Coat' and 'Athena') plus, surprisingly, the Stones cover 'The Last Time' and is far better than what the rest of the world got - hopefully we'll get the same edition one day.

Roger Daltrey "Under A Raging Moon"
(Atlantic, September 1985)
After The Fire/Don't Talk To Strangers/Breaking Down Paradise/The Pain You Hide/Move Better In The Night//Let Me Down Easy/Fallen Angel/It Don't Satisfy Me/Revel/Under A Raging Moon
"My time is wasting, feel I'm moving too slow"
A slight resurgence, as Roger gives into the inevitable and accepts that as every fan expects his solo records to sound like The Who he may as well make them that way, especially as the band are no more. This is even a concept album of sorts - the only one Roger ever made on his own unlesas you count the film soundtracks - and it's an apt one, with Roger wondering what to do next now that the band is over and his life is put on hold. It's kind of like the middle age crisis on 'Who By Numbers' minus the pretty ballads, with Roger going into old age fighting and sounding younger than he has in a while. Roger's always done slowly brooding madness better than most and this record suits him far much than the silly pop songs or even sillier heavy metal thrashing of his recent records. It's a softer, gentler record than any he'd made since 'Rock Horse' albeit with a few tracks that still resort to endless shouting to make their point. Who fans will be most interested in the album's clear highlights - the first song Pete had written especially for Roger since 1982 'After The Fire' which nails the album's theme of 'what happens next?' and Roger's own impressive tribute song to fallen friend and drummer 'Under A Raging Moon'. Both are worthy songs, amongst the best of Roger's solo ouevre, and a couple more are up to standard but this is at best another patchy effort and doesn't allow Roger the space to breathe as a singer the way Leo Sayer's songs once did. A mixed bag then, but a better one than we've had for a while. Roger said in press interviews that 'it was the album I always wanted to make' though and it speaks volumes that he didn't say that about any of the others - this really is the 'true' essence of Daltrey captured on vinyl without help from Pete, John, Keith or Ken Russell's funny wigs at last. Zak Starkey, Keith Moon's God-child, appears for the first time on a Who project and Roger will be sufficiently impressed to recommend his new pal for almost every Who reunion to come.
Pete's 'After The Fire' was released as a (semi) hit single and is the single most Who-like of any of Roger's solo recordings. Snarling like 'The Real Me', Roger refuses to bow out gracefully and explains why he continues to keep going: injustice. Pete's lyrics have him ready to give up and hand the stage to someone younger and hungrier before he hears the souhd of a child crying who hasn't been fed and knows he can't rest until justice is done for everyone. Sadly the tune isn't quite up to the words and sounds more like a triubute band than the real 'Oo but even so this is a strong song performed with real gusto by Daltrey near his best.
Roger's co-write 'Don't Talk To Strangers' is more heavy metal shouting - ironically the very sort Daltrey had complained about when John kept writing them for the final Who albums! A very paranoid song, it features lots of crazy 1980s OTT stylings so doesn't exactly have many brooding shadows to hide in as the lyrics call out for.
'Breaking Down Paradise' features the retunr of Russ Ballard for the first time since 'Rock Horse' though again it's a very contemporary noisy track. The sentiments could be seen as Roger's feelings when The Who ended (he was their most enthsuiastic member in the final years) as he wonders why something so good has to end at all.
Roger's co-write on 'Pride You Hide' is weird - a gospel/world music song that sounds like either Michael Jackson on a particularly good day or Paul Simon on a particularly bad one. This track about 'poor people are people too' has charity single written all over it and may well have been inspired by The Who's performance at Live Aid a mere two months before this album's release. Roger isn't that sort of a singer though and sounds distinctly unconvincing.
Maybe it's just by comparison to the two records to come, but I quite like the hysterical heavy metal thrashing of 'Move Better In The Night', which at least has a decent riff and a vocal from Roger that's fully committed and youthful. Shame about the lyrics though which are just generic dross about taking life slower so Roger doesn't end up gone before his time like Moon.
The vinyl copy skips it, but the CD version comes with the bluesy track 'Love Me Like You Do'. It's no great loss if you don't have it on your copy as at six minutes it's too slow and too long, but the guitar work by future Paul Mccartney 1989-93 bandmate Robbie McIntosh is nice.
Bryan Adams' lightweight 'Let Me Down Easy' isn't that suitable for Roger (who has to sing at a higher pitch than normal here) but it is at least a good song, with a catchy chorus and a lyric that borders between excitement and expecting rejection.
Kit Hain's 'Fallen Angel' is one of the better album songs, with Roger 'a stranger in a state of change' as he tries to decide whether his demons will cause him to become evil or whether his lighter, brighter side will pull him through. The heavy metal stylings actually work on this track, though there's a nice quiet understated synth riff trying to pull Roger through to the good side too.
Roger's co-write 'It Don't Satisfy Me' is disappointing though, being more 1980s hysterical shouting for the sake of it. Roger's gruff vocal and harmonica sound good, but what they're singing and the context within which they're being used certainly isn't. This re-write of 'Too Much Of Anything' isn't a patch on Pete's song.
Bryan Adams returns for 'Rebel', another of this album's better songs and full of Who-style nostalgia and gang mentality behind all the pyrotechnics. Roger's heading back town, his head full of all the places he's seen and the people he's met, only to find people who toed the line still struggling to make a living and make ends meet. He pities all of them for not seeing what he's seen and yet still feels as if he's among his 'people'.
The album finale and title track 'Under A Raging Moon' is better still though. Written in tribute to Keith, Roger recalls what it was like to be on stage trying to sing over the sound of a superhuman figure making noise beuind hin, pushing him on and drawing the best out of him. Keith reaches out an arm with a drumstick to cue him and suddenly the band are running madly in tandem, trying not to trip up in a 'sea of hands' while they all 'wear the rebels's crown'. Roger still misses his old friend and asks pleasdingly 'do you remember me like I remember you?', wondering what daft tricks Moony is up to in heaven (or hell). The track could have been better (it could have been more Who-like ie more rock and roll than heavy metal for starters while spare a thought for poor drummer Mark Brzezicki forced to play a Moon-like solo; even Keith didn't perform many) and it ends before really saying much, but it has just enough autobiography and is sung with just enough power to get by. John certainly liked it, asking the rest of the band if they could play this at their 'Live Aid' reunion after hearing a rehearsal tape of what Roger was working on - allegedly Pete said no. That's a shame because it's a sweet heartfelt tribute that goes some way to paying Keith the tribute he deserved. The title is rather clever too.
Overall, then, 'Under A Raging Moon' is a mixed blessing. When this album works it's as great as anything Roger ever made in his solo career - especially the Who tribute songs that bookend it. When it doesn't work it's as ghastly as anything Roger ever did too with contemporary styling and needless shouting. It's one of those records that's best heard as a highlights set next to other highlights on a Daltrey compilations ('Madmen and Martyrs' is still the best) but does at least show a little more of what Daltrey was capable of as both singer and songwriter than his other 1980s efforts.

(Polydor, October 1985)
I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/My Generation/Substitute/A Legal Matter/The Kids Are Alright/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Boris The Spider/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Won't Get Fooled Again/The Seeker/Let's See Action/Join Together/Relay/Love Reign O'er Me/Squeeze Box//Who Are You?/Long Live Rock!/5.15/You Better You Bet/Magic Bus/Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over/Pinball Wizard/The Acid Queen/I'm Free/We're Not Gonna Take It/Baba O'Riley/Behind Blue Eyes/Bargain
"I'd pay any price just to get you, surrender my good life for bad"
The first real Who compilation to be released on CD - though this set did appear on vinyl and cassette as well - is a pretty good stab at summing up the band's career across two discs. It could be better - the artwork is basically graffiti on concrete, which probably didn't tax the Ploydor art department too long and the running order is a mess, peaking with the most modern song 'You Better You Bet' in the middle and going backwards in time across side two. However most of the important stuff is here (all the singles through to 'I Can See For Miles' and all the important ones from then on, even 'Magic Bus' and 'The Seeker') as well as one or two good solid choices for album tracks including 'Long Live Rock!' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and 'Bargain', which makes for a particularly inventive finale. Note that 'Won't Get Fooled Again' has been remixed and trimmed slightly (it's longer than the single edit but not as long as the album edit) and 'Magic Bus' is an 'extended' version taken from the original tapes rather than the single recording - both were re-used on later compilations but feature for the first time here. Not definitive by any means, but as good a collection of Who songs as you were ever going to fit into two hours. Not to be confused with 2002's 'The Ultimate Collection' (which, confusingly, this set is and that one isn't!)

"Who's Missing"

(MCA, November 1985)

Shout and Shimmy/Leaving Here/Anytime You Want Me/Lubie (Come Back Home)/Barbara Ann/I'm A Boy/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Heaven and Hell/Here For More/I Don't Even Know Myself/When I Was A Boy/Bargain (Live)

CD Bonus Tracks: Doctor Doctor/Someone's Coming/Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde/Fortune Teller/Postcard/Baby Don't You Do It

"Although he may think we are broken, we get up and take two steps more"

Back in the mid-1980s, when vinyl was still just about hanging on as chief format and there wasn't yet such things as CD re-issues with copious bonus tracks, someone at MCA had the bright idea of putting together some of the Who songs that hadn't yet appeared on an album or compilation. The Who were, after all, enjoying a higher profile than they had in years thanks to their reunion performance for 'Live Aid' and people genuinely though at the time that, no honest, this second 'farewell gig' would be the last time we'd ever see the band (we didn't know at the time about the 1989, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2015 reunion tours etc etc...) Most of these were B-sides fans had been trying to get hold of for years, with this set particularly strong on John Entwistle flipsides ('Heaven and Hell' and 'When I Was A Boy' are the highlights here, plus there's Pete's rare country and western B-side 'I Don't Even Know Myself' and Roger's even rarer and even more country and western B-side 'Here For More'). To this day even these tracks are hard to track down on any other release, thanks mainly to the fact that the 'Tommy' and 'Who's Next' CD re-issues are already so over-stuffed there isn't room even for gems like these. Sometimes there were rare mixes that had leaked out down the years but hadn't been readily available everywhere - a, erm, shakier version of 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' and the 'Meaty, Beaty Big and Bouncy' harmony take of 'I'm A Boy'. There's also a rare live recording of 'Bargain'  from a San Francisco radio broadcast in December 1971 when the song was in its prime, later re-issued on the '30 Years Of Maximum R and B' box set (weirdly there are still only two tracks from this live show officially available though more presumably exist). However at the point of release - and for the next twenty years before Shel Talmy finally came to his senses and allowed a proper version of 'The Who Sings My Generation' out for the first time - the biggest selling point were the unheard outtakes from tat debut album. Though none of these abandoned covers are as good as the tracks that did make it to the final edit, fans felt a warm glow of completeness at the chance to hear the band in all their early prime attack 'Shout and Shimmy' 'Lubie' and 'Leaving Here' while 'Anytime You Want Me' is a rare example of a completely abandoned cover ballad, even if it is clearly an early and Motown-influences one rather than a true lost gem. All in all a pretty remarkable set for its day and even though around half of it is easier to find elsewhere nowadays the fully-committed Who fan will still need to track this set down for a number of still absent friends that deserve a wider release. Fans of The Who's pop-art stage will also be interested in the front cover, which is artist Peter Blake's second for the band following on from 1979's 'Face Dances' and features drawings of all four band members on top of a giant 'arrow' logo.

The set has been released on CD twice in the years since 1985, both times with sister set 'Two's Missing' (the second time collected as a set weirdly re-named 'Then and Now' to cash-in on the compilation of the same name, even though the two sets between them don't date from any later than 1971). They both contain an interesting array of bonus tracks too - this first volume alone includes another three Entwistle B-sides, an abandoned studio take of 'Fortune Teller' and John's 1973 recording 'Postcard' both previously released on 'Odds and Sods', rare 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning' and a second live recording from San Francisco in December 1971, a cracking version of 'Baby Don't You Do It'.

Pete Townshend "White City"

(Atco, November 1985)

Give Blood/Brilliant Blues/Face The Face/Hiding Out/Secondhand Love/Crashing By Design/I Am Secure/White City Fighting/Come To Mama

CD Bonus Tracks: Night School/Save It For Later/Hiding Out (12" Mix)/Secondhand Love (Live)/Face The Face (Live)

"Give blood, parade your pallor in iniquity"

Pete's subtitle for this album was 'A Novel', simply because that's how this concept piece first started back in the days when he was working for publisher Faber and Faber. However in many ways it's his most autobiographical work of them all and his least character-driven (it probably helped that he'd  just started work on his own autobiography at the time and was remembering his childhood in relatively-deprived inner London). Pete didn't quite grow up in London's deprived 'White City' estate but he lived very close and knew lots of people who did - all of them suffering by the sound of this album. Though racial and sexual tensions are about to explode in the world around them, the people who grew up there feel a real sense of solidarity and a sense of 'us against the world' and belonging that feels much bigger than their gender or the colour of their skin. Pete knows he can rely on the people he grew up with, even though they have 'nothing' in an outsider's sense to offer in the way of emotional or financial support and even though some of them are quite dangerous and scary characters. It's the same sense of 'belonging' and 'identity' he was searching for throughout his life and which Tommy found in pinball and Jimmy found in being a mod, but that schizophrenic sense of belonging and wanting  to escape all at the same time is here even earlier by the sound of things. Though the album moves away from this central conceit quite clearly and becomes a more boring, generic 'Romeo and Juliet' love story, at its heart is the violence and battles of growing up writ large and Pete really taps back into the early sounds that inspired him.

The characters in this album all swagger and fight and feel frustrated at their lack of prospects and chances in life and even when the music is, typically, trying to be arty and conceptual and operatic and high brow, there's the greatest sense of anger and frustration since 'The Who Sings My Generation'. That brings its own problems: Pete is now celebrating his 40th birthday (an age his 1965 'My Generation' writing self would have been horrified to have reached) and doesn't have that same anger flowing through his bones except as a 'memory'. He also isn't the right singer for this album (if ever a Pete Townshend solo album missed the presence of Roger Daltrey's screams this one is it) and in the final analysis 'White City' ends up sounding a less interesting album than it could have been, with a few too many pretty but empty ballads and a lot of silly pop songs. You can tell, in retrospect, that Pete is losing interest in his music and it makes sense that his next album won't be for another eight years (and that 'Psychoderelict' became even harder to finish off than this one). However the idea is sound and there are moments on this album ('Give Blood' and 'White City Fighting' especially) when Pete fully re-connects with his inner angry disenfranchised cynical mod teenage self and it sounds glorious in a way that only a young Pete Townshend can. Just for a moment you can hear the album The Who might have made if they'd stayed mods forever and had never heard of mini-operas, and even though this album is ironically more of a mini-opera than any previous solo work, it's also the most rootsy and gutsy Who-related work in many a decade. Perhaps Pete's most under-rated solo work and perhaps his best after 'Empty Glass', even if the album is far more wildly inconsistent.
Opener 'Give Blood' is a thrilling pot pourri of the early 1965 Who sound with everything Pete has learnt in the twenty years since piled on top of it. Musically this is an adrenalin, pill-charged angry song of denial and togetherness that really benefits from special guest stars Jon Carin (whose counterpoint 'divisive' keyboard runs really work well) and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (whose restless, relentless guitarwork adds a 'Run Like Hell' style scream throughout the song). Lyrically, though, this is pure Townshend: though the song ends with a cry of 'give love' this is the more real, tribal bond between soul brothers who've been through hell together for which the metaphor of 'giving blood' to each other, so that it's further away from the heart but still helps keep each other alive, is perfect. A song about underprivilege and poverty that doesn't talk down to or patronise it's subject matter is long overdue and the sheer kick-in-the-stomach sound of the song is the perfect way to celebrate Pete's 40th birthday and prove he isn't growing old gracefully.

'Brilliant Blues' has Pete's narrator about to leave the estate and set off on his own merry adult life. Only he's bittersweet about moving on: sure the money's better and his new estate will be warmer and keep him in better health, but even the 'blues' he felt at his old place were 'brilliant' because of who he shared them with. Another strong song, if a little bit more naturally middle-aged, with multiple Pete's singing a pretty Beach Boy style harmony.

Alas album single 'Face The Face' is pretty awful. A noisy, shouting, aimless song it's more like the sort of thing Roger ends up doing on his period solo albums without anything to say beyond the aggression. 'The Face', of course, was an old mod slang term for trendsetter (as in 'I'm The Face If You Want It...') but Pete wasn't using Mod music here but wrote the song after an 'obsession' with a new keyboard sound (The DX7), coming up with a string of ideas he asked co-writer Rabbit Brundrick to turn into a song. And that's exactly what it sounds like: a string of ideas that don't go together. Like 'Eminence Front' the sound is very contemporary, but unlike that song it doesn't sound very Townshendesque either. Released at the single, it flopped - especially in America where the record company had to recall the single and re-release it when an 'inferior' mix of it got released by mistake.

'Hiding Out' sports some lovely words, as one of Pete's typically passionate-but-scared teens hides out in his bedroom, his only safety from the cruel world outside and worries about all the humans around him in pain he doesn't have the power to save. Unfortunately what could have been a very original song gets a very generic 1980s pop melody and performance to go with it, while Pete's vocal is more commercial than caring.

'Secondhand Love' has the narrator realising that he's been betrayed by his girlfriend and one of his 'White City' mates and given that the brotherhood between the estate is about the only thing they have going for them he feels it keenly. Pete's anger isn't often heard in song without Roger to express it and this track doesn't really suit Pete as a vocalist or character, but the moment when Pete drops his guard and sings a sad repeated version of the 'Give Blood' chorus from the opening track in a minor key is very Who-like.

'Crashing By Design' sounds like a simple pop song, but the lyric sheet reveals one of Pete's 'busier' songs full of metaphors and philosophy. The song deals with the fact that some people are just born unlucky and tries to work out what makes them so - is it nature or nurture and does being brought up on the White City estate help or hinder that? Pete's narrator is waking up out of the thought that someone might come along and 'save' him - he sits afraid in his 'single roomed courtyard building' afraid of the outside world and feeling like a 'broken toy' - his answer lies in people outside himself and he's doomed to 'crash' if he keeps thinking the same way. A very involved and revealing song, even if the poppy melody could have been better.

One of the album highlights is 'I Am Secure', a track that dodges the 1980s production handicap of most of the album by being solo and acoustic and therefore pretty timeless. Pete is now looking out from his cocoon to the outside world, dreaming of having the courage to go outside and walk with the 'heroes and princes' he views from his window. For now, though, it's experience enough to embrace the world outside. A nice counterpart to Pete's later song 'I Am Afraid', this song has a sense of 'I Am One' about it, of everything coming together after battles hard fought and is rather lovely.

The de facto title track 'White City Fighting' is another special song. Though Pete's narrator hated his formative years and reveals how black they were despite the estate's name, he also embraces everything they taught him and how much he loves to 'go home' and remember old friends and places. The place taught Pete everything that made him what he is today: his 'guilt' and 'shame' but also the drive to get out of there that led him to drive past in middle-age, in a 'German car' he could never have imagined owning when he lived there. Pete knows that he can't quite remember what it was like, that the 'blood' he once tastes in his mouth has been 'turned into fiction' and that though the battles he fought there have been 'won' he still feels their lessons. All this and a terrific driving beat that's very Who-like, switching from a 'Bargain' style sigh of an opening to full on attack, with a returning David Gilmour (who wrote the main riff) on fine form. The first track written for the album which kind of set the tone, Gilmour actually commissioned Pete to write a set of lyrics to go with his riff for his second solo album 'About Face' but admitted he didn't have a clue what the oh-so-personal lyrics were about so he 'let' Pete keep this one and got the much nastier 'All Lovers Are Deranged' for his album instead. The pair should have written more songs together as they clearly have compatible styles.

Alas 'Come To Mama' is a bit of an overblown finale, with the 1980s production pomp at its biggest. Further exploring the mother-son bond on 'Tommy', this song wonders about the mutual bonds that tie families together long after they've stopped physically being near each other. This feels like a song written for a different project and which doesn't really belong on this album except for the theme of looking backwards and the album should really have ended at track eight.

The original album ended here - at 38 minutes it's very short by Pete/Who standards - but the CD does contain four bonus tracks which makes things a little more palatable. One of these is an unnecessary 'extended' 12" mix of 'Hiding Out', which like a lot of 12" promises much but fails to deliver anything extra. However, a studio version of The Beat's 1978 song 'Save It For Later' (as performed by Pete at his Brixton Academy show in the same year) is a good 'un that fits nicely with the album's theme of entrapment and escape. Better yet, the uptempo funk of the unreleased song 'Night School' is a much better second attempt at the modernity 'Face The Face' was trying to for, with lyrics about self-improvement and hard work as a sea of backing singers slowly count up how Pete's grades are going up from U and F to something a bit higher. The Japanese edition of the CD additionally includes two songs released on the 'Brixton Academy' album.
Overall, then, 'White City' is a curious album that ranges from inspired songs about youth and desperation and more tired pop songs about looking backwards to your past. Had Pete stayed in the 'moment' more and written more songs firsthand about his emotions as a teenager who doesn't know he can 'escape' the world around him and less about wondering what it all means while trying to sell pop records this might have been his greatest achievement since 'Quadrophenia' and 'Who By Numbers'. Instead, 'White City' is an intermittent ball of fire that ranges from damp squib to the kind of excellence fans had been longing for from a member of The Who since at least 1970, maybe even 1965. 'White City' doesn't quite turn the clock back, but twenty years on its fire and danger makes it one of Pete's most neglected and satisfying works, some of the time at least.

Pete Townshend "Deep End Live!" aka "Live At Brixton Academy"

(Eel Pie, Recorded November 1985, Released August 1986/November 2004)

Deep End Live! Tracklisting: Barefootin'/After The Fire/Behind Blue Eyes/Stop Hurting People/I'm One//I Put A Spell On You/Save It For Later/Pinball Wizard/A Little Is Enough/Eyesight To The Blind
Brixton Academy Tracklisting: Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Won't Get Fooled Again/A Little Is Enough/Secondhand Love/That's Alright Mama/Behind Blue Eyes/The Shout/Harlem Shuffle/Barefootin'/After The Fire/Love On The Air/Midnight Lover/Blue Light/I Put A Spell On You/I'm One/Driftin' Blues/Magic Bus/Save It For Later/Eyesight To The Blind/Walkin'/Stop Hurting People/The Sea Refuses No River/Boogie Stop Shuffle/Face The Face/Pinball Wizard/Give Blood/Night Train

"Who've you been hanging round with this time?!?"

To promote his 'White City Fighting' album, Pete appeared on German TV's excellent 'Rockapalast' series with a one-off show and two shows in the UK at Brixton Academy for Pete's own 'Double O' charity (which helps treat victims of drug, sex and child abuse - fittingly most of the money comes from royalties for the similarly abused 'Tommy'). The first 'real' return to college campuses by any of The Who since 'Live At Leeds' and its sister gig in Hull, this would be it until 1998, so for a while the shows were much talked about amongst fans and achieved something close to legendary status - especially when a home video was released, all too briefly, of highlights from the gig (that's a surefire re-release for DVD one day). Later listening, especially with so many other Townshend solo gigs out there to choose from, is less kind but there's no denying the thrill of the audience at seeing Pete for the first time in three years or his abilities as a frontman after watching Roger so closely for so long. Pete's band includes some of his most faithful companions including Peter Hope-Evans on harmonica, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on keyboards and a whole host of extras including a guesting David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, then touring his second solo album (at which Pete occasionally made guest appearances too), a female choir and a whole horn section! Frankly it's all a bit too much, with Pete trying to compensate for the lack of The Who by filling his songs and the stage with superfluous noise, but it's a valuable lesson he'll get right for his 1990s and 2000s gigs which are more stripped bare. The track selection is already pretty much spot-on for most Who fans curious enough to pay to see just one member at a pricey gig: lots of Who semi-rarities not often heard in concert including a sweet but rousing 'I'm One' and a surprise aggressive re-make of Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Eyesight To The Blind', a favourite from 'Tommy'. Pete also throws in a few real oddities: his only recorded covers of Robert Parker's 'Barefootin' (which is noisy jazz way beneath his standards), his own version of 'After The Fire', a forgettable tribute song to The Who that was first recorded on Roger Daltrey's album 'Under A Raging Moon', Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You' (which would be unlistenable if not for Gilmour's guitar - he later re-cut this song for a Jools Holland CD) and - most unexpected of all - an acoustic cover of noisy 1978 hit 'Save It For Later' by relatively obscure ska band The Beat. Most casual fans would have bought this record in anticipation, got confused by the lack of names they recognised on the back cover and complained that out of ten tracks the only songs they recognised were one charting band song ('Pinball Wizard' at its most OTT), one charting solo song ('A Little Enough' which sounds about the best thing here) and perennial favourite 'Behind Blue Eyes' (which just sounds messy).

At least, that's true of the 'original' version of 'Deep End' - the set was re-issued in 2004 to be more in line with the modern-day Townshend live shows and it gained - and I mean gained - an extra seventeen tracks. The longer show is so much better in every way, with far more interesting songs to the point where I'm convinced whoever put the original version of the live show together was deaf, dumb and blind (well, at least deaf). I doubt you'd have got anyone to agree to a bet of 'Who Sell Out' rarity 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' to start things off but that's what we got, followed by a roaring acoustic version of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' , two of the better 'White City' songs in 'Give Blood' and 'Secondhand Love' that work rather well live, the only known live version of the 1982 solo pleas 'Stop Hurting People' and 'The Sea Refuses No River' plus a longer guest appearance by David Gilmour who sings his own songs 'Blue Light' and his Pete co-write 'Love On The Air' (which is closer to Pete's 'White City' style than David's 'About Face' version). All that as well as even weirder covers: Elvis' 'That's Alright Mama', recent Stones cover 'Harlem Shuffle', Miles Davis' 'Walkin', Jimmy Forrest's 'Night Train' and a nonsense jam named 'Boogie Stop Shuffle'. Pete is clearly having fun, far more so than on the last few Who tours and this pair of gigs (with the best bits taken from each) was clearly a rejuvenation for him. However, the sheer size of the spectacle and the strange choice of some of the tracks makes his later live albums a better bet for most Who fans who don't want to own everything Pete released. 

"Two's Missing"

(MCA, April 1987)

Bald Headed Woman/Under My Thumb/My Wife (Live)/I'm A Man/Dogs/Dogs (Part Two)/Circles (Instant Party)//The Last Time/Water/Daddy Rolling Stone/Heatwave/Goin' Down (Live)/Motoring/Waspman

CD Bonus Tracks: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde/Call Me Lightning/Melancholia/Eyesight To The Blind (Alternate Version)/I Don't Even Know Myself

"A kiss and a cuddle, a hot meat pie, two dollar tickets and a starry sky"

This second set with an even funnier name wasn't quite as interesting as the first, but it was still an interesting collection of rarities and oddities - especially back in the 1980s when this material was much harder to get than it is in the present day. The formula was much the same with an emphasis on the earlier years of The Who (and thus now largely collected on the CD re-issues of 'My Generation' and 'A Quick One') with such highlights as the first European release for the superior first version of 'Circles' released on the American version of the 'Who Sings My Generation' LP, the Lifehouse outtake-come-B-side 'Water' and the quirky 1968 flop single 'Dogs'. At the time unreleased material included 1965 James Brown cover 'I'm A Man' (sung when Roger really was 21!), 1965 Ivy Jo Hunter cover 'Motoring' and weirdest of all 'Goin' Down', a noisy  blues pastiche jammed by The Who on-stage in 1972 with all the sexual subtlety of a gorilla that must be one of the strangest AAA recordings ever. However that's not even the strangest song on the set, given that 'Two's Missing' also contains 'Dogs Part Two' (a rocking instrumental with dog barks and writing credits to Keith plus John and Pete's pooches) and 'Waspman' (in which Keith goes insane for three whole minutes and brings out his inner 'sting!') The end result is a collection so mad and weird that only true fans could love it - and yet we do, even though it sounds like loony Moony madness to most 'normal' people. Sadly the album's packaging is far too 'normal' for such a weird set, with a striking drawing of a pop-art era Who above a half-naked woman straddling a 'Who' logo (which makes this look far more like a Stones set of the era!) The CD adds several extra songs again although at the time the only release of any note was the glorious  'Who Sell Out' outtake 'Melancholia' (which now has a far more suitable home on the CD re-issue of that album), with other oddities including an alternate vocal take on 'Eyesight To The Blind', an inferior 1973 re-recording of 'I Don't Even Know Myself' which isn't a patch on the more common 1971 version already featured on 'Who's Missing', an American mix of 'Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde' and forgotten 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning'. Given what we know now was still there in The Who's archives at the time waiting for release it does seem as if we got all the dog-ends on this set ('Dog Part Two' included) so two-boo-hoo I suppose, though there are some gems in here too.

Roger Daltrey "Can't Wait To See The Movie"

(Atlantic/Rhino, June 1987)

Hearts Of Fire/When The Thunder Comes/Ready For Love/Balances On Wires/Miracle Of Love//The Price Of Love/The Heart Has It's Reasons/Alone In The Night/Lover's Storm/Take Me Home

"The voice of reason can't seem to find a listening ear"

...Because it can't possibly be as bad as this 'soundtrack' LP. Soundtrack to what you may ask? I don't know and I'm pretty sure Roger doesn't know either as his seventh solo LP is more of the same, only not even as good as last time (although one track did end up in a film that nobody saw: 'The Price Of Love' being in the flop period film ironically titled 'The Secret Of My Success'). Like far too many Who-related period releases, this one is dominated not by guitar, bass or drums but by a million synths. You'd have thought, given The Who's major role in making the synthesiser such a common sound on rock records, that the people involved would know how to work it, but no - it drowns out everything here with its 1980s tininess, including the star vocalist. Sometimes everything being drowned out is a good thing because, quite frankly, there's not much here for Roger to get his teeth into and the passionless, automatic pilot way he sings is distressing, almost as if he hadn't even heard the songs until he turned up on his first day at work. Also Roger goes for the worst solution yet to replace Moony: a metronomic drum machine that makes every drum track sound the same! I can hear Keith hurling something of Roger's into a swimming pool from here...but then this isn't meant to be a Who album, with the tones more muted and the depth decidedly shallow. The trouble is, ever since his strong start as a balladeer of lush, emotional songs Roger's struggled to work out what exactly he can be and in the end decides that sounding like everybody else around in 1987 will do. Plainly, it won't - for an artist of Roger's calibre this album is a terrible disappointment as, yet again for the solo Who in this period, rigor mortis truly sets in and the agility of old is long forgotten. The album's saving grace though, not for the last time in this book, are the pair of songs that Roger wrote himself: the theatrical 'Balance On Wires' and the sax-filled funk of 'Take Me Home' (it's not much of a tune but, hey, there ain't much synth either!)  If only Roger had written the whole album himself, hired a proper drummer (Zak Starkey, then in his early twenties, was crying out for a starring role and still in touch via the Moons, his Godparents) and drowned the synthesiser in a bath fit for an acid queen this album could have been just fine.

Producer Russ Ballard's 'Hearts On Fire' is exactly what noisy 1980s synth-filled pop sounds like - without the vocals this song could be by Starship, David Lee Roth or any Stock-Aitken-Waterman band. In fact I still have trouble convincing myself that weak singer buried in the middle of the mix and way out of his depth behind all the backing singers really is Roger.

'When The Thunder Comes' is a little better, if only because this one has a proper tune and Roger plays a bigger role, although considering that the synthesiser is meant to sound like thunder, how come it comes over more like a party-popper being blown by a frog?

'Ready For Love' is one of the better songs, with Roger in a dreamy mood about wondering whether he's ready to take the next step in a relationship after having his heart broken. He sounds more like his old self here, at least until the massed backing singers come in.

'Balance Of Wires' is the album highlight, with an unusual atmospheric sound that really makes it stand out on this album. Roger's lyrics about trying to hide a deep wound from the world are perhaps the most Townshendesque out of his whole solo discography, even if they are a little more melodramatic.

'Miracle Of Love' is just like every other 1980s perm-haired pop ballad ever released, complete with yukky saxophone solo. In John Entwistle's 'Heaven and Hell' the heaven would sound like 'Live At Leeds' and the hell would sound like this. Horrible.

'The Price Of Love' at least has a decent tune and enough space in the production for the lead singer to have a bash. Roger is on top form as it happens, trying to make his mind up whether a new love affair is worth it.

'The Heart Has It's Reasons' is a cute song too about a one-sided love affair where he builds a 'bridge' and his partner a 'wall'. You'd think he'd get the message but Roger's narrator is deaf, dumb and blind to her needs and ends up making a fool of himself anyway.

'Alone In The Night' is written by Richie Zito, who actually sounded quite good on one of Grace Slack's solo albums from the 1980 (if equally horrible on the other). More noisy synth-shlock that has the drum machine as the loudest thing on the track. No wonder Roger was alone in the night singing songs like this one.

'Lover's Storm' features a lyric by Gary Usher, Brian Wilson's first outside collaborator with The Beach Boys. Unfortunately this song is no 'In My Room' or 'The Lonely Sea' and is just more needless shouting about a couple having a row. The melody is, naturally enough, aggressive which is a shame because if played soft and slow it might have sounded rather nice.

The album ends with Roger's own 'Take Me Home', a track which sounds suspiciously like it's playing at the wrong speed. Roger sings in his best 'Keith Moon' voice on a track about alcoholism, but far from being a moment of vulnerability and emotion a la 'Who By Numbers' it's just an excuse for an odd drinking song a la the 'Tommy' film soundtrack. John Entwistle must have been fuming when he heard the 1980s slap bass.

In all, then, there are few AAA records I hate as much as this one. Roger's strengths as a singer - his range, his emotional connection and his choice of material - have all been ignored in favour of an ugly, overly-obsessed with period stylings album that wouldn't have been wearing if the album had come out in 1967, never mind 1987. Roger's career was clearly floundering as he put himself in the hands of the wrong people too many times, but then even some of the 'right' people worked with him on this album and they all seemed to fall into the same traps too. Something of a disaster at the box office, most reviewers wrote this record off at the time as 'Can't Wait To Sell The Album'. Roger won't make another record for six years and that one only sounds better by comparison if you've got the rocks out of your ears enough to give it a proper listen. Not a good period for The Who or their singer. I mean, there are blooming Spice Girls songs better than this record - not many of them I admit...

Pete Townshend "Another Scoop"

(Atco, July 1987)

You Better You Bet/Girl In A Suitcase/Brooklyn Kids/Pinball Wizard/Football Fugue/Happy Jack/Substitute/Long Live Rock!/Call me Lightning/Holly Like Ivy/Begin The Beguine/Vicious Interludes/La-La-La-Lies/Cat Snatch//Prelude #556/Baroque Ippanese/Praying The Game/Drifting Blues/Christmas/Pictures Of Lily/Don't Let Go The Coat/The Kids Are Alright/Prelude: The Right To Write/Never Ask Me/Ask Yourself/The Ferryman/The Shout

"It ain't true rock and roll unless I'm hanging on to you and when I hold it next time, I won't let go the coat"

Four years after the first popular collection, Pete and his compiler (known only as 'Spike') rummaged through his endless collection of tape boxes again for a second volume of demos. Better even than the first volume, this 27 song set features a full 11 as recorded by The Who (plus a handful more intended for the band) and many of these are amongst the most popular songs in The Who pantheon such as hit singles 'The Kids Are Alright' 'Substitute' 'Pictures Of Lily' 'Happy Jack' 'Pinball Wizard' and 'You Better You Bet'. All sound different enough from the finished versions to be interesting (and all feature Pete's sweeter style compared to Roger's sneer) with a laidback cackling 'Pinball' (written in a hurry though you wouldn't know that from the demo) and an emotional 'You Better You Bet' particularly good. However it's the lesser known Who recordings that are the highlights of this set: the earliest demo so far released is a primitive but fascinating version of primitive but fascinating flop 1968 single 'Call Me Lightning', Tommy's 'Christmas' is a sadder, more heartbroken lament over spiritual impurity performed by Pete solo on piano and 'Don't Let Go The Coat' - not much cop when finalised for release on 'Face Dances' - is a fun ska song about hope and drive in the demo version.

Almost as good are some of the Townshend songs totally discarded along the way: the-football-chant-with-strings Baba parable 'Football Fugue' where life is a game of football tactics, the beautiful 'Street In The City' style string ballad 'Brooklyn Kids' about two lovers pining for each other who can never be together and 'Lifehouse' demo 'Girl In A Suitcase', a lovely sweet song of mutual support. Not everything is great - 'The Ferryman' is just the sound of a man reading aloud over a synth doing weird things and 'Driftin' Blues' is proof that bouncy Tigger Pete is not a natural Howlin' Wolf. But overall it's the consistency of this double set that impresses the most as this is a terrifically good album in its own right even if you'd never heard of The Who and - as with the other two volumes - Pete's already putting such heart, soul and commitment into these demos that they sound a cut above your average demo collection. But then again that makes sense - more than ever these 'Scoops' sets reveal that Pete was not your average writer and The Who were not your average band. An almost embarrassment of riches. 

"Who's Better, Who's Best"

(MCA, April 1988)

My Generation/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/The Kids Are Alright/Substitute/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Who Are You?/Won't Get Fooled Again/Magic Bus/I Can't Explain/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/Listening To You (See Me Feel Me)/Squeeze Box/Join Together/You Better You Bet

CD Bonus Track: Baba O'Riley

"I don't mind how much you love me, a little really is alright"

A popular and for years pretty much standard Who compilation, this wittily titled set was the pioneer of The Who's catalogue in the CD age and was released in tandem with a set of music videos using the same name (but not quite the same track listing). The track listing contains much of what you'd expect to be here (every hit single) but doesn't really get to the heart of The Who as a band with 'The Kids Are Alright' the only album track featured, plus 'Baba' on the CD version (not even a 'Boris The Spider'!) The running order is an odd jumble, starting off in relative order and ending there too with the title track-ish, but going crazy in the middle. Watch out too for a few 'alternate' versions: 'Won't Get Fooled Again' is the American single mix cut to smithereens (and losing about 90% of the impact, although thankfully sense prevailed in the CD era where the track was kept intact), 'See Me Feel Me' aka 'Listening To You' is rather sharply edited from the start of 'We're Not Gonna Take It' while 'Join Together' is a unique edit that cuts off the coda. All that means that there are better Who compilations out there nowadays - 'My Generation' being the best of an altogether rum collection of Who best-ofs - but if this is all you can get your hands on then it will probably do the job all the same and pique your interest enough to buy the 'proper' stuff.

"Won't Get Fooled Again" (EP)

(Polydor, August 1988)

Won't Get Fooled Again/Bony Maronie/Dancing In The Street/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand

"They decide and the shotgun sings the song"

Well, this was a surprise. A UK only CD EP compromising one recording everybody knows (the title track), one recording only fans really know ('Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands' and two otherwise unreleased live recordings. 'Bony Maronie' is on stuttering form when played at the 'Lifehouse' shows at London's Young Vic Theatre in 1971 and perhaps a rehearsal away from greatness, although it's a valiant attempt despite Roger seemingly battling a cold (this recording was later re-issued as part of the deluxe 'Who's Next' CD). 'Dancing In The Streets' is a weirder choice: it was performed by the Kenney Jones-era Who in Philadelphia in 1979 and features that period's kind of lumpy 'arena sound' and The Who don't sound as if they know it that well, which is odd because they'd been performing it live off and on since at least 1966. Frankly one of their earlier live recordings of it would have been better as The Who sound lost on this one and as bad as they ever do live, although at least the ending is worth listening to as a clearly annoyed Pete starts improvising his own lyrics over the song's riff, turning it into a political rant named by fans as 'Dance It Away' ('Young people being born today, we can tell them what to do or say, until they dance it away!') To date this track has never appeared on any other LP or CD. My guess for this weird release is that the usually apolitical Who may have been having fun at then-UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's expense here, with the 'bony' 'Mary Ann' perhaps Thatcher herself alongside The Who's most famous song of civil unrest and political ill humour. A lot of rock bands were doing something similar in this era, although in typical Who form if they were they never brought attention to the fact.
Pete Townshend "The Iron Man"

(Atlantic, June 1989)

I Won't Run Anymore/Over The Top/Man Machines/Dig/A Friend Is A Friend/I Eat Heavy Metal/All Shall Be Well/Was There Life?/Fast Food/A Fool Says.../Fire/New Life (Reprise)

"You can bet you'll forget when the rock starts to roll!"

I don't often allow my prejudices to get in the way of my reviews, dear readers - after all that's why I stick to reviewing the people I actually like - but every so often I have to make a confession. I hate Ted Hughes with a passion. Every poem, every book, every novella all read the same and are all deeply depressing: they're all about death, essentially, and nearly all feature crows. They werre my running joke throughout my university English and Creative Writing classes where, when in doubt about what a metaphor meant or how to finish a story, we'd just bung in a crow and said 'Ted Hughes got away with it!' My antipathy runs so deep I still don't know 'The Iron Man' story properly, even though people with more tolerance for banal metaphors than me tell me it's one of Hughes' better ideas (just my luck, I must have been continually been given the worst!) You can see why it would have appealed to Pete Townshend though: it's the Tommy-like tale of a robot giant who starts off wounded and lonely and ends up saving the very people who've been persecuting him ('listening to you the world!') There are hints of 'Lifehouse' in the work too, with details of technology and electronic equipment that lure the Iron Man to his new resting place on Earth. Pete was so involved in this work he even worked on a  'musical' version (written back to back with 'Tommy' in 1993 so the links would have been even more obvious to him), although this work ended up being performed not on Broadway but at London's Young Vic Theatre, last home to The Who in 1971 and thus a sort of coming home.
The work is patchy at best, boring at worst and lacks Pete's usual eye for detail, ulti-layered brain and big emotional heart and is arguably his weakest solo album (although, like I said, a work based on a Ted Hughes composition was never going to be, you know, a favourite or anything).It also comes over like the orchestral theatrical guest-star version of 'Tommy' - this is an album that should be small and simple, not handed over to a raft of camera-eyeing speaker-melting extras. The work is of most interest to fans for a Who reunion, a 'thankyou' of sorts from Roger and John for agreeing to their 'Tommy' tour in 1989, on two tracks 'Dig' and fellow Track records star 'The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown's 'Fire' (which is an odd decision - water is The Who's metaphor of choice, although I'm just grateful it wasn't another sodding crow again!) Most Townshend compilations (and there are a lot of Townshend compilations!) tend to ignore it completely, which will tell you everything you need to know. Dig? Erm, not exactly!

Deborah Conway guests on 'I Won't Run Anymore', a synth-orchestral song that has shades of 'Baba O'Riley' in it's swirling scales and crunching windmilling guitars. It sounds great, but the more you analyse it the more you realise Pete is writing generic everyman (everyGiant?) words about being small and scared and lonely. This song doesn't compare to the genuine confessions of 'Who By Numbers' or 'I Am An Animal'.

John Lee Hooker ramble through 'Over The Top' a cheery song about getting on with it which seems a very un-Townshend philosophy of life. Hooker plays the song more like a favourite uncle than an Uncle Ernie.

'Man Machines' features the vocal debut of Pete's younger brother Simon, longstanding member of The Who touring band and he's rather good, outsinging all the guest stars on this project (even Daltrey!) He sounds much like Pete only deeper and higher all at the same time! The lyrics debate the difference between organis life and battery-operated utensils and whether robots can think or feel, though not to any great philosophical measure.

'Dig' suggests what a late 1980s Who album might have sounded like - a cross between Roger's electronic nonsense and Pete's sillier, simpler songs is the answer. Sounding not unlike 'Mirror Door' from the future 'Endless Wire' album, this song about digging deep uses perhaps too many gardening metaphors for it's own good but it's ok as a song - actually it was one of the few highlights of The Who's 1989 reunion tour.

'A Friend Is A Friend' is the first of only three Townshend vocal cameos on his own work and it's a rather sugary Dinesyfied song about being nice to people and they might just be nice back to you. The sort of song that feels as if a children's chir is going to start up any minute (though thankfully none ever do), this is the one song here that seems overly kiddie-friendly, as if Pete suddenly realised what audience liked the original book. I say being friendly is a good motto to everyone despite being a reviewer, but there's something about the false grin and over-friendliness of this track that just makes me want to smash up a drumkit or something (maybe it's the Ted Hughes link?)

'I Eat Heavy Metal' is the return of John Lee Hooker as he - unconvincingly - pretends to be the title giant enjoying a nuts and bolts breakfast. The backing sounds a little like 'Eyesight To The Blind' but without the raw passion (Eyesight To The Bland?)

Deborah Conway returns on singalong 'All Shall Be Well', another oddly optimistic song with a distinct gospel feel most memorable for Pete's ad libbed yelling in the background ('Get me a horse!') This is pure musical fodder though, the sort designed to stay in the ears of the audience rather than the minds.

'Was There Life?' is Pete singing a contemporary-edged jazz tune that's digital and dull and a little off-key. The title points towards some great 'Quadrophenia' debate over what it means to be alive, but no - the giant's discovered feelings and realises other 'people' have them to. That's the full plot right there. It's a sentence, not a song.

'Fast Food' has Nina Simone, of all people, as a 'space dragon' singing about the benefits of junk culture. Something tells me Pete came up with the part of the book that needed a song and wrote this one from one single line - it certainly sounds like it, with the track repeating ad infinitum. Nothing like as interesting as a song about a space dragon scoffing McDonalds and KFC buckets ought to be by rights.

'A Fool Says' is the album's clear highlight, a moody Townshend minor key acoustic guitar ballad that sounds as if it comes from the heart rather than mangled from a plot. As the narrator. it's Pete's job to tell us what his characters are thinking and feeling and he takes the listener aside here to explain that we can all see their foibles and faults and that things are going to go wrong, but the characters can't because they're only 'human' - even the giant!

Of all the songs I thought I'd hear The Who cover, Arthur Brown's 1968 mega-hit 'Fire' wasn't one of them - especially when re-cut as a strutting heavy metal song that doesn't sound like The Who at all. Roger sounds oddly at home digging out his inner Van Halen, but John's bass and guitar are just lost on this needlessly noisy and unexciting digital re-print of the original. I say instead of fire we need 'Water' about now (or failing that, somebody's daughter?)

'New Life' sounds like more excuse for needless shouting as the world is saved (hallelujah!) and the Iron Giant feels human. Or something. I fell asleep. It's one of those generic big finales where everyone comes on to do a turn (i.e. scream) without any evidence that anyone in this work has learnt anything.

Overall, then, 'The Iron Man' is a mess. The wrong singers sing the wrong songs and the plotting makes less sense than 'Tommy' and 'Lifehouse' combined. You do wonder if Pete's regard and friendship for Ted Hughes simply got in the way of his talent and it does seem odd that two of the moodiest, depressed, inward-looking writers of the 20th century should come up with such a curiously cheery, breezy affair. The kind of work where everyone should feel loved at the end but just walk out having a headache, 'The Iron Man' is the weakest link yet in Townshend's songwriting and you suspect that even without the irritating mis-cast guest stars even The Who couldn't have salvaged this album. 

"Join Together"

(Virgin, Recorded 1989, Released March 1990)

Disc One: Tommy (Complete)

Disc Two: Eminence Front/Face The Face/Dig/I Can See For Miles/A Little Is Enough/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Trick Of The Light/Rough Boys/Join Together/You Better You Bet/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again

"We don't move in any particular direction but we do take lots of collections, won't you join together with the band?"

This is where it really starts going wrong. In 1989 The Who reconvened to celebrate their 25th anniversary and pay off some debts and the result was a surprisingly grumpy tour with the band still struggling to find a replacement for Moon (Simon Philips plays as well as anyone can but doesn't even have Kenney Jones' flair or attack) and rather resenting the fact that none of their three solo careers ever really took off. By the end of the tour even Pete was taken to telling reporters The Who as a band were really dead and they were only doing this tour for the money and alas it shows. While the DVD of the show works surprisingly well, once you’ve given up trying to work out who each band member is under all that big hair (it’s the first disc of the 3DVD ‘Tommy/Quadrophenia Live’ – why on earth wasn’t the band’s 1992 revival of ‘Quadrophenia’ released if they needed the money?!) this CD-only souvenir works rather less well, without the histrionics and stage set to keep you interested. Alas Roger's voice is worn with age, Pete is so rusty and embarrassed about his years away from the stage that he sticks to playing acoustic rhythm guitar throughout, John can barely be heard in the mix and worst of all the troupe of female backing singers take away even the last ounce of integrity from this touring show. 'Tommy' has never sounded worse, over-dressed with too many synths and singers and with no guest stars to alleviate the pain, not that the main oldies set sounds an awful lot better. The only good point is the many songs exclusive to this set (done by The Who anyway), including the OK ‘Dig’ from an abandoned Townshend solo project and a few songs from Pete’s superb ‘Empty Glass’ album which sound pretty good compared to everything else. Plus the revival of the title track of course, a semi-flop single and long neglected minor gem from 1972 that works well here even if the excuse to use the title seems, in retrospect, mockingly ironic. In truth The Who had never been further apart, even during the interim seven years they weren't working together. The irony is that this third officially sanctioned set is one that hurts The Who's reputation so - and yet it was released before the 'Isle Of Wight' 1970 set and we're still waiting for the one from Woodstock!