Friday 4 July 2008

Pete Townshend "Empty Glass" (1980)

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On which the Who guitarist finds the glass of life half-empty and listeners find it full to overflowing…

Track Listing: Rough Boys/ I Am An Animal/ And I Moved/ Let My Love Open The Door/ Jools And Jim// Keep On Working/ Cats In the Cupboard/ A Little Is Enough/ Empty Glass/ Gonna Get Ya (UK and US tracklisting)



For The Record:

Ones to watch out for: I Am An Animal plus the fantastic closing trilogy A Little Is Enough, Empty Glass and I’m Gonna Get Ya.

Ones to skip: The dirge Keep On Working and - to a lesser extent - the silly opener Rough Boys.

The cover: Rather like the cover of Breakaway (see elsewhere on this list), picturing a wasted, partying Pete who seems at face value to be enjoying himself but with more than a hint of a get-me-out-of-here cry for help in his eyes.

Key lyrics: “I was always here in the silence, I was never under your eye, gather up your love and surprises, every memory shall always survive, and you will see me, I am an animal” “Cats in the cupboard, you gotta set them free” “They say that love always passes in a second and you can never catch it up, so I’m hanging on to you as if eternity beckons even though the match is rough, you may be an island on a distant horizon, but the little I see looks like heaven to me and I don’t care if the ocean gets rough – when just a little is enough!” “Why was I born today? Life is useless like Ecclesiastes say” “My life’s a mess I wait for you to pass, I’m at the bar I hold an empty glass”

Original UK chart position: #11 – by far the highest position that Pete’s half-a-dozen or so solo albums have ever reached and impressively equalling the position reached by the last Who effort It’s Hard just two years later.

Singles: Rough Boys made #39 and Let My Love Open The Door #46, although the best known track, A Little Is Enough, surprisingly didn’t chart over here.

Official out-takes: The CD annoyingly disappeared before I could get a quick glance at the bonus tracks (see ‘availability’ below), but there are quite a few goodies to tell you about even so. The first is a 1978-vintage Who demo of the title track, a fascinating alternate glimpse at how this great song might have been with crashing Moon drums and rumbling Entwhistle bass (it was included as a bonus track on the Who Are You? CD release, see review no 72). Readers of the other Who-listed albums on this list will be familiar with Townshend’s treasure-trove of demos in his Scoop series which seems to get mentioned quite often on this list. Perhaps surprisingly, there is only one alternate version of a song from this productive Townshend era a rather rough and wild version of Rough Boys (then still known as Tough Boys) on Scoop 3 and only one true unreleased song: the bluesy retro rocker Dirty Water (heard in two separate versions on Scoops 1 and 3). There are also two fine B-sides released in this period (both included on the Let My Love Open The Door single) which are actually Townshend demos from the Lifehouse-era but fit his later writing style better; the plain daft Classifieds and the haunting piece of lethargic love Greyhound Girl.

Availability: Re-issued on CD in 2005, like all Pete’s solo albums it seemed to pretty much disappear overnight. Where did all those CDs go?! Surely they can’t have been deleted that quick! (Though the Spice Girls’ Greatest Hits CD is on for world record given the speed at which it seems to have vanished—and that’s even before this website started being rude about them. Ha ha evil chuckle). A fairly comprehensive six of this album’s 10 tracks made it to Pete’s 2CD best-of Anthology, which remains at the time of asking the easiest place to hear these tracks if you don’t own a record player or all the second-hand vinyl ships round your way are busy turning into Starbucks-es and Tescos-es like they are round mine.

This album came between: Pete’s previous ‘solo’ album (sort-of) was the almost equally-classic Rough Mix, a 1977 collaboration with The Small Faces’ Ronnie Lane which came within a gnat’s crotchet of making the list itself, although annoyingly the pair only truly work together on one track. Highlight: Townshend’s pastiche of moody philosophical songwriters Misunderstood, plus Ronnie Lane’s delicate slice of autobiography April Fool (his birthday really was the 1st of April); The follow-up album was All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982), which nearly achieves the same high level as this album – but not quite (You’ll need to own it for The Sea Refuses No River and Somebody Saved Me though, semi-autobiographical classics both which are in a similar vein to most of this album.

Line-up: Pete Townshend with James Asher, Mark Brzerzicki, John ‘Rabbit’ Brundrick, Tony Butler, Jon Carin , Peter Hope-Evans, Kenny Jones and Simon Phillips (produced by Pete Townshend)

Putting The Album In Context:

IT MIGHT lie forgotten now at the back of ‘The Who’ racks at second hand shops and record fairs, it might have only just have crawled its way back onto CD via a poor-selling CD reissue, but Empty Glass is nevertheless a neglected gem from The Who’s main driving force, written at a time when circumstances in his life were causing him creative overload (the years between 1978-1982 saw three Who albums and two solo sets, which for this traditionally less treadmill-like period in musical history is quite a lot for an established artist to make). Ironically, Empty Glass sounds far more like a Who album than either of the two woeful group albums that came after it (Face Dances and It’s Hard) because whereas both of these albums tend to float and meander, Empty Glass goes straight for the throat. Yet Glass is not a particularly heavy-sounding record either, albeit it contains a few more rockers than Pete had been writing of late. It’s more that Empty Glass is made up of the brave, confessional confrontational style which Pete had used on the last few albums and – ironically – Pete seemed to have got most of his ‘personal’ songs out of his system after his first couple of solo records. Sadly, for all its glory and its happier moments, Empty Glass shows that five years on from Who By Numbers Townshend still had some mighty scary demons following him around – the title, by the way, is plainly a joke: the glass isn’t even ‘half empty’ anymore for Pete, its completely empty, with life drained of nearly all hope according to most of this album’s lyrics.

But only nearly – Empty Glass is still a thoughtful, exciting, pioneering record with enough fresh inspiration for the guitarist to make a last great effort to haul himself out of trouble and do what he always did best. Hard on himself as ever, Pete seems to have missed the fact that the range of styles and ideas on this album mean he was actually filled to overflowing with inspiration during this troubled period and the glass, it seems, is about to get filled. By Townshend standards, Empty Glass is quite a spiritual album, with ghostly presences hovering just out of view throughout this record and its interesting to note just how many of these anguished rockers seem to have angelic falsetto choirs interrupting them for brief middle eights, as if there’s a source of ‘goodness’ trying to break into Pete’s work but he’s not quite ready enough to accept their help yet. Contrasts is a key Townshend songwriting device throughout his career, but nowhere are there more devilish songs evolving into brief snatches of harmony or angelic songs devolving into demonic howls than there are on this record, the true glass half-empty half-full concept album.

Recorded at a time when Pete’s life-threatening drinking was just about coming under control, when the band’s legal hassles were just about coming to an end and when the trauma of Keith Moon’s death was just beginning to fade, there’s something of a cathartic goodbye going on in the album’s anguished lyrics, rather than the how-long-will-this-last-and-have-I-the-strength-to-get-through-it feeling that runs through much of the two previous Who albums on this list. Pete’s final self-bashing album in a trilogy of three (all of which are noticeably good enough to make this list), Empty Glass’ growing self-awareness, soul searching ballads, pretty pop songs and bare knuckles rockers marks the  point where the glass started re-filling again for Pete. A deliberately low key audio diary of Townshend’s multi-layered head at the close of the 70s, it’s a forgotten dust-covered gem that deserves re-instating to its major place in the Who’s canon.

Perhaps, after all, its only right that Townshend kept these songs for himself rather than giving them to Daltrey to sing for the Who as they suit him so well (Roger did, after all, refuse to do I Am An Animal during an unknown Who session for being way too personal for him to sing and you sense that Pete got too worried about showing him the other songs here in case they were rejected the same way; ironically Pete’s attempts to re-create the template Who-sound on the band’s last two albums sound even less suited to the group’s canon than Pete’s early solo work, given that there was almost always a bit of autobiography going on in their classic tracks anyway). Always fairly honest in his writing, Pete has however admitted in interviews that he often used Daltrey as a ‘filter’ for his more personal work, allowing the singer to come up with his own interpretations of the songs Pete gave him, creating along the way a frustrated everyman that Who audiences could better identify with rather than just good ol’ Pete moaning about life again. The Who mined that territory better than most bands, creating a genuine emotional attachment with their audience that is greater than most artists on this list and still lasts with most of them to this day, despite a 25 year absence from making music and only a fairly awful re-union album to break the silence after all those years. Yet, just as on the most confessional material on Who By Numbers and Who Are You?, Pete is no longer willing to use even this slight barrier from the pain inside his head anymore. On this album it’s not just that the glass is empty but that its finally transparent, with Pete channelling the guilt he feels about all sorts of issues  (most recently Moony’s death) that has been rattling around in his head finally laid to rest on this soul-bearing confessional album (barring the mixed-sources Chinese Cowboys , its notable that Pete goes back into writing ‘concept’ albums for pretty much the whole of his solo run from this point on, as if his personal ‘honesty’ writing between 1975-80 was just a phase he no longer felt had to apply to all of his work).

Pete’s nice sweet high-pitched vocals always acted as the ‘conscience’ to Roger’s bark in the classic Who days anyway and here, nakedly alone, they play the same role but even more so – only this time around all we here is Pete’s conscience, no longer interrupting the everyman characters of this song but becoming arguably the whole of the song. While Pete’s leads might not have had the range and weight of Daltrey’s tones (actually another naturally high-pitched singer on paper, but with so much of a lived-in growl added to the note he sounds much lower than that on record) Townshend’s vocals still offer a pleasing, under-rated and nicely emotional sound. Notably, however, there is relatively little guitar-work on this album, a fact that moves these recordings away from the old Who roar and into something a little bit more openly confessional. However, to cover that loss, Pete’s choice of backing musicians is inspired, with old band friends like Rabbit Bundrick joined by new friends who will play a far greater part on Pete’s later solo albums. The interplay between the musicians – Pete included – is remarkable, taking even sometimes ordinary material to new heights. Missing from Who write-ups and discussions for too many years, taking this bitter pill of an album in one swallow might well choke you – but a few sips taken at regular intervals reveals what a wonderfully rounded, mature creation it is.


The Music:

Opener Rough Boys is one of the most Who-like songs on the album, a fast-flying rocker about the growing (and by the time the album came out fading) trend of punk rockers. Like many a Who song it seems to offer macho bravado at face value, but is actually about another of Pete’s vulnerable characters looking for some heavy metal armour to protect himself from the pains of life. Yet the undercurrent of this song is arguably like that of Who By Numbers and Who Are You – Pete wants his songs to be taken seriously by the current new wave generation and is at pains to sound like them – unlike most cultural and particularly musical revolutions, which normally finds the kids wanting top be taken seriously by their elders. Like many a new wave lyric, this song does its best to glamorise the underbelly of life in the late 70s, but the narrator is quickly confused by the mixed messages he gets while out and about on the town (‘I want to bite and kiss you’ as the lyrics put it).

The middle eight (‘I want to get inside…your bitter mind’) is a typical Townshend trick, qualifying the narrator’s previous thoughts by realising that he will never quite break down the barriers between himself and his idols (and perhaps also Pete’s desperate attempts to understand the new music business phenomenon he doesn’t quite understand. Punk, don’t forget, had the doubly unwelcome effect of cutting the Who’s sales by aping their own early energetic no-holds-barred material and allowing critics to sneer that the band had gone too far down the ‘progressive’ road, attacks that must have hurt the creator of two of Britain’s best-loved double-disc concept albums). I.e. The whole of this song is the ‘you’ll never be like us’ theme of My Generation from the opposite viewpoint, with Pete wanting to act younger than he really is, re-identifying and re-underlying the ‘I’ll never be like you’ punk snarl of his 60s days, while at the same time acknowledging that the generation coming up behind him now thinks of him as the establishment, a thought that confuses the hell of this troubled writer after 10 years of leading the rebel cause in the 60s/70s and it’s an idea he’s still trying to come to terms with now. Intriguing as the song’s concept is, however, Rough Boys hides its concepts under one too many noisy smoke-screens and its attempts to replicate the energy of new wave bands falls flat compared to the more genuine rock and roll of the Who’s early period, leaving this song as a fair album track but a curiously unpalatable single and a most unwelcoming opening song.

After Who By Numbers it seems extraordinary that Roger Daltrey would ever refuse to sing a Pete Townshend song for being ‘too personal’ but, as discussed, I Am An Animal must have struck a chord with the vocalist as that’s what he reportedly said. True enough, this gorgeous ballad does have a fixation for its author’s darker characteristics, full of scared-rabbit-in-the-headlights imagery and tales of letting your ‘dark side’ get out of control. But as Pete’s songs of this period go, it is not actually all that personal or revelatory bar the very real feeling of being ‘out of control’ that Townshend has since admitted to feeling at the time. In all, it’s a shame this fascinating track didn’t make its way onto a Who album as it certainly deserves a much better profile than it got on this LP, celebrating all of the most self-pitying aspects of Townshend’s character but ones that most people can sympathise with at one time or another. Unlike Who By Numbers or even much of Who Are You, however, the tone is still pretty upbeat, with Townshend veering from his I’m-no-good persona to sing a couple of lines where his ego runs away from him and he declares himself a ‘king’ or a ‘god’ (albeit one that ‘doesn’t know what I have anymore…’). The opening is particularly ear-catching (‘I was always here in the silence...’) with Pete trying to blame his less-respectable urges on some animal force inside him, but that theme is never really developed. The glorious tune could have been a big hit for some outside singer, delicately dancing its way through some ear-catchingly loud and then suddenly quiet passages, but no one else would ever have dared sing a composition quite as edgy sounding as this one. Rabbit Bundrick in particular proves himself a worthy collaborator on this track, adding some piano flourishes that seem to offer emotional as well as musical support, although judging by Pete’s equally fine vocal the guitarist can’t decide whether he actually wants help or not. A fascinating song and one whose even vaguely-naked sounding honesty its author will not repeat again for a very long time. 

And I Moved is a similarly spectacular production, made up of a ghostly mix of piano, drums and synthesiser with an is-it-there-or-isn’t-it? vocal flickering in and out of the mix. This song might not have anything like as much substance to it as some of the other songs on the album, but its hypnotic trance is impressive and the fragmented lyrics make for a fun drugged-out re-write of folk song And She Moved Through The Fair (Pete goes on to do a fair number of these traditional tales, including the semi-hit North Country Boy, so its possible he may have picked up on this song as well; Art Garfunkel does it too for the benefit of our regular readers). Pete’s vocal now works in competition rather than complementing Bundrick’s energetic piano chords, reflecting the awe he feels when meeting his possible ‘maker’ (although in common with much of Pete’s work its probably a reference to Meher Baba again and how spirituality came in through Pete’s ‘doorway’ even though he felt he was moving in quite the opposite direction at the time, what with his rock and roll lifestyle and all). Studied closely, this song is all about how spirituality seems to be an active trait rather than a passive one – to experience a deeper understanding of life, Pete’s narrator has to ‘move’ towards his girlfriend to experience love and later ‘move’ towards his maker despite not wanting to or being afraid to. A song about sacrificing the ‘ego’ or self will a la George Harrison or the Moody Blues, this is also a typical Townshend song in the way this most spiritual and reflective of lyrics is stapled to a dancy, rocky tune that fittingly given the title you can’t but help to move around to or at least tap your feet to.

Let My Love Open The Door promises to be more of a traditional pop song than its close cousins, with its strident sturdy synthesiser licks and breathtakingly commercial tune, harking back to those far-gone days when Pete was writing innocent singles like Happy Jack and Magic Bus. The lyrics dig a bit deeper than this, though, and although on first hearing the singer sounds like a hero – the sort of ‘rock’ a troubled partner can depend on in times of trouble – dig a little deeper and the narrator starts sounding like a controlling obsessive. In this context lines like “this is the only thing that’s gonna set you free, let my love open the door” and the opening sneer “when everybody keeps repeating that you’ll never fall in love” become less like the sort of friendly chat-up line the song tries hard to be and more of a cue for the narrator’s intended lover to run for the hills. The song’s instantly catchy tune also becomes more eerie the more you play it, going through some weird horrific mutations during the song’s coda and literally taking the wrong turning in the song somewhere towards the end, suddenly finding itself in a completely ill-fitting key that it does its best to break out of. The effect is to turn one of Pete’s most breezy and effervescent tunes into a monster, by sending it crashing headlong into an uncomfortable minor chord just as the narrator’s true nature becomes apparent. Many tracks on Empty Glass study the theme of complexity and not taking things at face value – with its peculiar mix of catchy riffs and eerie atmosphere, Let My Love Open The Door seems to be that theme in a nutshell. Having said all that, Door still works as an innocent catchy pop single too, with some great hooks and strong synthesiser work to recommend and sounds mighty fine when heard out of context from the album too.

Jools and Jim ends the side with Pete’s second knee-jerk response to punk and new wave, styles which with their basic crunching guitar sound and noisy out-of-tune singers mirrors the early Who (but not – on the whole - quite as successfully; their music sounded far better at the time than it does now, whereas with much of The Who’s stuff it’s the other way round). With its short, fragmented lyrics attacking music critics who should be doing something more fulfilling with their lives (oops, you’re great Pete, just in case you’re reading this review and fancy adding another verse to the song) and their unsympathetic response to Keith Moon’s death and The Who’s growing sense of mortality, this is Pete’s angriest recording since Who Are You, lashing out at some hypocritical holier-than-thou characters along the way, with sideswipes at religion and false leaders in there somewhere too. Copying the short snappy protest sound of The Jam to the letter, Jools and Jim sounds even more like a Paul Weller song than The Jam’s two classic Who covers (So Sad About Us and Disguises) and although it doesn’t stand up to Pete’s best material it’s a welcome return to the two-minute bursts of adrenalin The Who used to do in their sleep. A welcome chance for Pete to get this little rant off his chest, this song isn’t that great in its own right but coming where it does in this album it seems to mark the welcome return of Pete’s swagger and anger and on those terms alone can be judged a success. (One puzzling thought though: why oh why oh why does this otherwise straightforward song end with the lines ‘Oklahoma OK’, seemingly out of nowhere?!? Is Pete laughing at critics who think his work is as ‘simple’ and as straightforward as a typical Hollywood musical? Or is he gradually coming to terms with the thought that his life is returning to normal now that rant is off his chest? Or have I, dear reader, gone completely monkeynuts again and Pete is just having fun with this nonsense lyric? Answers on a postcard to Jools and Jim, courtesy of the retired home for loony rock journalists…)

Keep On Working starts off Empty Glass’ second side by slowing it down to a crawl. A sleepwalking monotonous song that sounds as if Pete is half-asleep himself and trying hard to convince himself of the message in the lyrics, never mind passing that message on to the rest of us, this is one of the most peculiar tracks in the Townshend catalogue. Telling us of his financial worries and his need to work, Pete seems to be deliberately writing down any old rubbish just to get paid, so sick of the working of the music business is he (for those who think this song is actually a straight plug for hard work getting you out of any difficulties, just listen to the way Pete’s voice lights up on the line ‘but if you don’t enjoy yourself you might as well be dead’ – hinting that Pete wants to get this rubbish out of the way now so he can go and party). Pete was, however, genuinely one of the hardest-working musicians in history judging by the amount of demos he recorded never mind finished songs throughout his career and if anyone could lecture about the importance of hard work then its him – but somehow, his heart’s just not in this song at all. Ironically, Working’s lack of tune, memorable hook or interesting lyrics suggests that the song – compared to the others on this admirable album at least - needs more work.

Cats In The Cupboard is one of those delicious nonsense songs Pete used to throw into the mix from time to time. However, compared to many of the muted songs on this album, Cupboard is notably delivered by Pete with a definite sense of conviction despite the stupidity of the lyrics (just compare his towering rock performance here to his earlier confused weary tone on I Am An Animal). A terrifically on-form band featuring Who sideman ‘Rabbit’ Brundrick on piano and Pete Hope-Evans playing a mean harmonica rise and slacken the tension perfectly, with Pete hollering his lyrics about cats in cupboards and rats in high streets being set free over the top. These words truly are gibberish which is unusual for Townshend—there’s usually something going on in there somewhere even if—just as on patches of Tommy—the storyline gets so complicated and vague that any number of things could be going on. There is a sense of things being trapped though, perhaps forgotten promises lurking in the dark ’cupboard’ spaces of the inner mind, but why these thoughts should have turned into cats and rats is anyone’s guess. The breathless race to the finish – a trick The Who used a lot in their career - is particularly good, possibly Pete’s best use of this tactic since Baba O’Riley nine years earlier.

However good the rest of the material is, though, it’s the closing trilogy that makes this album so special. A Little Is Enough is another terrific pop song with an edge and would have made a fine Who single, complete with its sneaky pinch of a famous Prokofiev phrase on the synthesiser and Pete at his vocal best. With an addictive, rich melody your ear keeps coming back to long after playing the album and complex lyrics to match about an equally addictive relationship, this single is infectious and deserved a much better fate than to miss the charts completely in the UK. The song finds Pete’s narrator yearning to lose himself in a multi-layered relationship before realising he gets a kick out of even the smallest reaction from his partner – so even though he knows the pair aren’t truly, madly, passionately in love a little sign of being needed by someone is all he really needs. Like soon-to-be-recorded Who single You Better You Bet, his partner’s half-hearted response sounds less than encouraging, but Pete’s too wrapped up in the drama of the moment to notice. In fact, many of Pete’s songs of the period contain some variation on this theme and the idea of a ‘match being rough’ (indeed, that phrase may well have inspired the title of the 1977 LP Rough Mix, as well as being a pun on the idea of a tentative production ‘mix’) and its clear that Pete is often doing things he knows he shouldn’t most of the time, only to worry about it all in lots of songs afterwards. Despite this song’s breezy optimism and belief in the hidden ‘diamond in you’, with the gem of someone’s character buried under intense pressure, this depth is hinted at in the song’s instrumental passage, another eerie journey through some weird chord changes which gives the song an added kick, revealing that addiction rather than romance might be the motivation behind the relationship. Like its subject matter, the song is intoxicating enough to make you want to dive in head-first despite your doubts – so exhilarating is the sound of one of Pete’s career-best vocals, the many layers of swirling synthesiser licks fighting for attention and this song’s glorious repetitive melody.

Empty Glass is another classy song, a Who Are You refugee that’s better than most tracks on that album, despite that group release being another album archive favourite selection. With angry fed-up verses reflecting on the stupidity and pointlessness of life turning to a more hopeful, reflective chorus about looking for redemption, this song is like hearing all of Pete’s career themes compiled into a single song, veering from all-out angry rock to philosophical concept and back again to confessional singer-songwriting. Glass also uses one of Townshend’s better metaphors too: using his drinking days as inspiration, he pictures himself at a ‘bar’, waiting for some divine spiritual intervention to ‘fill his glass’ and help him carry on with life. The very fact that Pete’s narrator is looking for inspiration in a bar suggests what he’s really looking for is escape rather than spirituality, however, and the real motivation for the narrator is in question throughout the song. The narrator, you see, seems to turn his back on spirituality when it is quietly offered to him in the song, returning to it only after another verse of vented anger as if he’s busy weighing up whether he really does have the courage of his convictions to let his ‘empty’ party lifestyle go or whether he just enjoys moaning at his problems too much.

Pete really barks out his vocal on a song that would have suited Roger Daltrey down to the ground in some alternate Whoniverse out there somewhere and the little-boy-lost middle-eight is classic Townshend, pushing the song to a deeper level just as your interest is beginning to ‘peter’ out. Listen out for the use of the staggering slashing guitar phrases (three on top of each other!) that leap out of the speakers at the end of an otherwise meandering solo, with Pete clearly enjoying the fact that he didn’t have to make this song suitable for The Who’s stage act (where they only had one guitar player). Even by the end of the song, the narrator can’t make up his mind about whether he really wants guidance and intervention  and this song does, in fact, have a number of false endings, dodging backwards and forwards before more melancholia and a surprisingly moving upbeat passage tells us the recovering Pete’s new philosophy: ‘Don’t worry, smile and dance, you just can’t work life out, don’t let bad moods entrance you, take the wine and shine’. That’s that, we think, and turn our attentions to the next song – but Pete second-guesses us and kicks the song back in again, turning one last time towards the empty glass in his hand. Confused, isolated and desperately seeking help, this is one of the barest and bravest songs of Pete’s career, with even all of his old musical tricks and styles unable to keep him company on this lonely journey.

I’m Gonna Get Ya takes the last song’s drama a scene further and might well be the highlight of the entire record, despite its rather off-putting name. In fact, I’m not too sure why this song works so well and I must admit that when I first bought the record and read the lyric sheet I thought this was going to be one of the biggest clunkers of all time, so basic and banal are the lyrics. For once on this list, though, forget the words: this track has one of the greatest persistent grooves of all time and is played by another noticeably ‘together’ band. Complete with a classic call-and-response arrangement and a long, ever-circling piano solo that skirts as close as it can to the song’s main riff without ever actually playing it, the energy in the recording room simply fizzes out of the speakers. The theme of this song seems to be addiction (again), with Pete vainly searching for…something (what is the ‘ya’ he’s trying to get hold of? A partner? Spiritual enlightenment? Punk and new wave? The listener? A nice hot cup of tea? We never quite find out).

The noisy riff does its best to shake us off the scent at every turn, twisting its way through several complex passages with only a group of backing singers who don’t seem to take a breath in throughout most of the song there to ease the journey. The highlight of this song is the piano solo in the middle, already an unusual variation seeing that most of the beginning of the song has been dominated by typical Townshend windmilling guitar chords. Compared to most of The Who’s straightforward band attack this segment takes an age to find its way back into the main riff – a good two minutes in fact – but the anticipation and excitement of how long this piano solo can hold off the inevitable may well be the best thing on the whole of the record. The way that Brundrick tries to musically fight its way out of the narrator’s imprisoned situation is well worth the extended running time, with the piano knocking on every door and musically trying every major and minor key to see if it can break the lock of this song’s desperate unfulfilled need. The tension builds and builds and builds until at last it settles down (in yet another false ending, which seems to be a running theme on this album) before finally exploding into a stupendous rousing climax. One of the greatest recordings of Pete’s career, it even makes you think the unthinkable: perhaps Pete really didn’t need The Who after all with players this good?

So, the last three closing tracks aside, there are minor criticisms to be made about Empty Glass. It’s way too short for starters at only 35 odd minutes, which is stingy even in the pre-CD age, but for charisma, commitment and excitement it’s a definite classic. Pete has done plenty of fine stuff on his other solo albums – and even finer stuff with The Who – but this album contains some of his better material and some of his most consistently brilliant performances, no question. If only Empty Glass had been a Who album it would have been one of their finest and most respected creations – as a Pete Townshend solo album it deserves a much better fate than history has given it to date. Far from being empty, Pete sounds positively overflowing with ideas on Empty Glass and fans wouldn’t have one of rock’s greatest characters any other way. 

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

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

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

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

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

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

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

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

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

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:

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