Monday 6 November 2017

Liam Gallagher "As You Were" (2017)

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Liam Gallagher ‘As You Were’ (2017)

Wall Of Glass/Bold/Greedy Soul/Paper Crown/For What It’s Worth/When I’m In Need/You Better Run!/I Get By/Chinatown/Come Back To Me/Universal Gleam/I’ve All I Need

‘You were sold a one direction, I believe the resurrection’s on!’

For years now Liam has been having fun stirring up trouble on his twitter account, hitting it to his enemies, sometimes world leaders, sometimes his friends and mostly his brother. With every tweet for years he’s signed off ‘as you were’ as if he is offering us a re-set button, a chance to get back to where we started in the conversation, street slang from someone whose as street as it gets. In retrospect it’s such an obvious title for Liam’s first solo album that it’s a wonder it didn’t come before he’d written a note – this is, after all, an album delayed by the death of the much lamented Beady Eye who as we predicted in our review for ‘Be’ in these very pages had hit a brick wall and lost the momentum of their stunning debut record ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ and which comes a full four years after Liam’s last released note in the public eye – by far the longest gap there has been since he was a teenager. The irony is that this album isn’t as we were at all – ‘The winds of change must blow’ is virtually the last line heard on this album, ‘there’s no point looking back’. The truth lies somewhere between those two extremes: like ‘Different Gear’ it’s a subtly different update of everything Liam’s done before but in a very different setting: whisper it quietly but this album is almost ‘posh’ in places, with a massive production feel that even brother Noel’s records can’t match, a big epic update made with several outside writers and a whole bank of outside musicians that nevertheless still somehow manages to sound like pure Liam. The working title for this album, right up until the eleventh hour, was ‘Bold’ – named for the second song on the album. But Liam, rediscovering his sense of humour along with his confidence, realised that this made the record sound like a make of washing powder. So ‘As you were’ it was, even though it isn’t.

For a start there are two big differences that makes this album unlike anything else he’s ever done before. One is that he’s a solo star – a reluctant one, unlike his brother, with Liam snapping in the press (and his twitter feed, naturally) that he hated the idea of going solo and that his brother forced it on him by breaking up Oasis eight years ago. Liam once spent his twitter day comparing himself to a dog and Noel to a cat: he’s affectionate, loyal, needs to be surrounded by people and is quite a social animal while Noel walks to his own rules (and drinks a lot of milk). Noel often hints that he was looking to go solo the minute he joined his brother’s band, but Liam’s first drive for becoming a musician was social: he wanted to fill in time between signing on at the dole with people he enjoyed. Noel was born ambitious, desperate to make his mark on the world – at first, for Liam, his biggest ambition was annoying his neighbours and pulling the girls. Liam has never had a whole album resting on himself before (Beady Eye being a far more democratic unit than Oasis ever was) and clearly didn’t want to here. Signing with Warner Brothers, when asked how the early ideas for the album were going Liam sheepishly admitted that he wasn’t used to working on his own without good friends to bash his ideas and had only got two songs ready he actually liked. Warner Brothers then ordered him to work with two outside writers in Andrew Wyatt and Michael Tighe that he had never heard of, never mind worked with (the former is from the band ‘Mike Snow’, the latter had worked with Jeff Beck).

The second is that Liam hasn’t just split from his band since the last time we heard him but from wife number two too, leaving him alone in more ways than one recently. Funnily enough Liam married Nicole Appleton in 2008 during the dying days of Oasis. Their marriage lasted all through the Beady Eye years until 2014 when strain from the band’s low sales and the need for constant touring saw it begin to unravel and an affair Liam had with a female American journalist which resulted in an extra-marital daughter killed it. Liam spends much of this album guilty, clearly addressing ‘For What It’s Worth’ to his ex and admitting that no words can ever put things right (‘Sometimes we just lose our way’). Apologies are a big theme of this album actually: even though his twitter feed is frequently looking for a fight with Noel, actually Liam’s songs have always been the ones keenest to make up and have an Oasis reunion. Other than the cackling ‘Don’t Brother Me’, Beady Eye’s songs are littered with ‘please come back messages’ to big brother – the gorgeous ‘Kill For A Dream’, the eerie ‘The Beat Goes On’, the sighing ‘Just Saying’ and the sad lament ‘Ballroom Figured’. Even ‘Don’t Brother Me’ isn’t that big a dig (‘Three Ring Circus’ is arguably more so, though it’s rules are null and void now Liam is a one-man-band not part of a power trio). That continues on this album: though Liam cackles on excellent bonus track ‘Never Wanna Be Like You’ (a track that’s clearly looking for a fight with Noel, ‘Come on come on who are you? No one no one ain’t that true?’) elsewhere he’s much more apologetic. ‘For What It’s Worth’ works equally well as apology to brother as wife and ‘I Get By’ sounds to me like a song from one brother to another too. However it’s the band’s fans that Liam has most fun addressing, with ‘I’ve All I Need’ paying tribute to everyone who ever stayed loyal, Liam telling us that we’re his ‘real’ fans and he didn’t need the extras that came in the mid-1990s, even ‘thanking us for all our support’ which isn’t something Liam’s ever felt the need to do before!

That’s not very rock and roll is it? Songs about thanking fans for staying loyal and tracks about the missus and divorce played by a bunch of strangers? Music at its best is a bunch of mates fighting the whole world and representing the people without a voice – certainly that’s how Liam has always worked up till now. This album had the feel of  a Traveling Wilburys supergroup about it, not the best omen. Hearing the first two singles from the album (the weak-kneed Oasis sound of ‘Wall OF Glass’ and ‘Bold’) didn’t help my optimism much. Neither did a moving but messy performance at the tribute concert for the victims of the Manchester Arena attack when Liam stole the show from under Ariana Grande’s nose (Noel played the first concert when Manchester Arena was opened instead) where the singer was on top form but his band were a little wet behind the ears – an Oasis tribute act that couldn’t match Beady Eye’s raw precision. As one of the Eye’s biggest fans I was dreading this album to be honest, expecting it to be a step down (Noel’s solo records haven’t exactly warmed me to the idea of one brother working without the other – or their Beady Eye substitutes).

Somehow though it works. Often it doesn’t just work but blows my socks off. Liam sounds effortlessly like he always had but still goes somewhere new. His new writers have somehow understood his style – to the point where it’s the two songs Liam wrote solo that sounds the least like his traditionally grunt, while encouraging him to go back to the half-experimental style of Beady Eye at their best (‘Wigwam’ is still my pick as the best AAA song of the 21st century and Liam wrote that alone). The backing band have got it together, with a sweeter more saccharine production than anything Liam has worked on before, with multiple re-takes allowing them to shine (though I worry they’re a studio band, not a live one; against the odds Oasis managed to be both). And yet that’s not as distracting as it sounds because Liam hasn’t been watered down: raw, powerful, sarcastic and gritty, he hasn’t sounded this good since ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ over a decade ago now. Liam sounds a little like he always did, but with a slightly bigger backdrop behind him. I wondered, after a career in Oasis sounding like The Beatles and a post career where Beady Eye sounded not unlike Wings (though more particularly Paul and Linda McCartney’s ‘Ram’ album, polished but sarcastic) and Noel sounding not unlike Lennon’s solo career(drippy and brave in equal measure) what might come next. The answer is Badfinger: ersatz polished Beatles. That’s not the insult it sounds either, as this is Badfinger circa ‘Straight Up’, the period when they’d nailed their old sound and were writing top tunes and lyrics that had a feel all of their own, without their apple recordings falling too far from the Beatles tree either. We know Liam is a fan (he’s been trying to get a documentary about the Apple years, based on the business biography ‘The Longest Cocktail Party In The World’ off the ground for years now) and he sounds pretty good in his new home. One other influence is the ‘Lennon/.Plastic Ono Band’ which clearly inspired many of the ‘going solo’ sneers, though Liam is much kinder to the idea of reunion than his hero (‘It’s not goodbye, so dry your eyes’ is a long way from ‘I don’t believe in Beatles’ – Liam still clearly believes in Oasis and the change in career has been thrust on him when his brother quit, not taken by choice). Then again ‘I’ve All I Need’ was inspired by a quote first seen at Yoko Ono’s house and features multiple George Harrison references, so maybe Liam is after a quite different source of inspiration after all? This set does, after all, have much of the feel of George’s debut ‘All Things Must Pass’: worldly wisdom and personal songs, performed by a simple humble vulnerable narrator trapped in the middle of a big crazy production world where everything sounds epic and crazy. Oh and there are a few digs at his old bands in there too, just as George once did, though sadly there are no gnomes on this album cover, just a short of an oddly normal looking Liam, no make-up, no wild stare, not even a smile, just his normal reclining pose as this is the ‘real him’. There are, of course, endless Beatles references (particularly on that album closer) – oh and an art print of Liam by Klaus Voormann, the ‘discoverer’ of The Beatles back in their Hamburg days of 1960 and the album designer of 1966 fab four peak ‘Revolver’.

These reference s firmly in place, ‘As You Were’ still feels like the ‘real’ Liam, even though everything is a little exaggerated a tiny bit ‘off’. We’ve commented a few times on this site about how the opening track of an album is often the one given the most attention. It’s not that the first song is particularly the strongest, or the fastest, or the lead single – it just has a certain ‘feel’ about it, an adrenalin rush, an overflowing of ideas, lots of hooks to tune your ears into the album without whalloping you with too many big ideas all at once. For better or worse (arguably both) ‘As You Were’ sounds like a whole album of these songs. Every song here could have been an opening track on some other album: mostly slinky pulsating rockers, big on slogans and massive on tunes and full of something ear-catching to grab us by the lapels and make us listen. The good news is that makes ‘As You Were’ a much more interesting album than I was expecting: there’s a real fizz and fire and Liam nails pretty much all his vocals, his old sneer working better than I expected against such slick backgrounds, as if he’s the only ingredient with no additives in a world of syrup. The good news is no song gets left behind: every song gets the maximum treatment, even though some of the songs are very different to each other, with a few quirky low-key performances standing out the most simply by virtue of being the most different, while many songs come with sudden ear-grabbing switches of key, tempo or melody to keep things bubbling over. The bad news is that there’s nothing here that breaks that formula and digs a little deeper. There’s nothing close to ‘Wigwam’, all the songs come in at a compact three or four minute running time and the world won’t change depending if you own this album or not, the way it did the early and indeed the middle period Oasis records.

There are still, though, some fascinating and revealing lyrics which means that for all the extras in the sound and writing, this still feels like more real ‘Liam’ than we’ve had in o0ne go before. We get the ‘surface’ Liam: the mad-fer-it feral urchin still swaggering as if he rules the world yet is still wearing his Manchester working class roots on his big fur coat sleeves, to a point that will satisfy all the Oasis fans who stopped listening past 1996 when the band stopped making these sorts of songs. But we also get the surface level underneath: once Liam began writing songs around the millennium his tracks were often the most emotional and thoughtful of any Oasis or Beady Eye albums. That continues again here: ‘Paper Crown’ is a gorgeous Jam-style ballad about the heartbreak of being alone and worrying about money for the first time, a new landscape where even gold records won’t save you. ‘For What It’s Worth’ admits to being a ‘dreamer’, Liam apologising for everything he got wrong and hoping we don’t hate him. ‘When I’m In Need’ is the ‘Songbird’ of the album, a rare love song from someone who hasn’t had much love in his life lately. ‘Universal Gleam’ is a promise from singer to fans that he’ll try his best not to let them down but admits that he’s ‘older now’ and things don’t come as easy as they once did. Perhaps the most interesting and most substantial new song is ‘Chinatown’, a fascinating stream-of-consciousness number that has Liam talking to his ‘maker’ who instead of ‘making him cry’ as brother Noel did on ‘D’yer Know What I Mean?’ tells him to enjoy his luxury and make the most of every minute of his life when it’s going well and to ‘forget about the beginning and end’. Liam is at the ‘Chinatown’ of his career, pushed to the edges of his personal town where people are in danger of forgetting who he is, but he’s content to make music for the still-steady stream of visitors passing through his gates (a major step forward from the ‘but we should be famous!’ pleas of Beady Eye, sighing at being at the bottom of the bill and starting over again).

The result is an album that’s a lot better than I feared, more consistent than either Beady Eye album (or the last Oasis album come to that). It isn’t perfect: the three weakest (make that the most ‘traditional’) sounding songs are all at the beginning with most of the best saved for last. I would gladly swap all three rather dull opening songs for the typically great and adventurous fare Liam gives us for this album’s B-sides (and included on the album’s digital release – the one to get at the moment as it doesn’t cost much more than the ‘normal’ one. You probably don’t need the ‘super deluxe’ edition with extra crayons so you can colour in the monochrome front cover but, hey, you can if you want. Though most of the front cover is Liam’s thick black eyebrows anyway). You can tell sometimes that this album is written by committee not by Liam and though this record gets more daring as it gets going it’s safe to say there’s nothing that tries to be as bold and as brave as Beady Eye at their best or as nihilistically self-destructively brave as early Oasis. However Liam is forty-five now and this album’s best parts are the times he reminds us of that, when he stops pretending to be a young hungry twenty something. Good as his stomping snarling put-downs are, the best songs here are where he sounds vulnerable, aware that he’s no longer the king of rock and roll but all too often painted as the fading court jester and thankful for any attention that comes his way at all.

The epic backing, matched with Liam’s gritty vocals, works better than it has any right too, especially as Liam seems to have regained some of the voice he was lacking on the twin Beady Eye albums (making the most of overdubbing to get things right, rather than singing live with most takes of the backing tracks, in beady Eye’s ‘three-musketeers-plus-a-drummer’ mode). However it’s no coincidence that the songs that work most - ‘Paper Crown’ ‘I’ve Got All I Need’ and especially the AAA song of the year so far ‘Chinatown’ – tend to be where the ones there isn’t much here at all except Liam himself (he even makes a rare appearance on guitar himself on the latter). The result is an album that might not be a five-star classic (there’s too much repetition and resting on laurels for that) but which is nevertheless a very strong, impressive and consistent record from a talent who despite being the lead singer of one of the UK’s biggest selling bands still somehow gets overlooked far too easily. Liam is far more talented than his public image and critical standing has ever allowed him to become – hopefully the extra fuss that this record is getting after so many years away (with a nation starved of Oasis style rock and roll) will prove to the world that there was more to Oasis than the guitarist songwriter with the shaggy songwriter and that Liam has a lot to say and a lot of talent to say it with. It’s on that score that this album isn’t really as we were at all but that something big is happening at last. For Liam’s sake I hope it does: his songs have been the highlights of the last five ‘band’ LPs he’s worked on now (three Oasis and two Beady Eye) and he deserves his turn in the spotlight, even if it’s one that got thrust on him out of circumstances rather than choice. 

If I’d put money on the unlikely scenario of the first rhyme on Liam Gallagher’s solo album being ‘secrets in yer’ and ‘paraphernalia’ I would be a rich reviewer right now. Opening track and first single ‘Wall Of Glass’ is a real oddball. I can see why it got chosen: it sounds loosely like Oasis (though more like lesser Beady Eye), being confrontational and rhythmical, but also with a singalong melody in there somewhere. Liam is making a state of address to the nation here that modern music sucks, with digs at ‘One Direction’ by name and lots of other bands by association. It’s an apt place to start a solo career, given that it’s effectively a middle-aged man’s update of how Oasis started back in 1994, with Liam the last of the ‘real’ rock and roll stars, desperate to make music meaningful again and blow away the cobwebs of empty pop. Things aren’t the way they were though and the world treats him, as it did all his 1960s and 1970s heroes before him, as an anachronistic dinosaur: annoyed, he snarls that everyone taking pot-shots at him for being a caricature should take a note of how bad and limited their own musical views are, musicians throwing stones in a wall of glass. So far so good – while I wouldn’t seriously have put money on that rhyme I would have got even odds on Liam’s first song being confrontational and chucking a gauntlet at a group of younger kids who aren’t paying attention seems like something obvious too. But this song is decidedly heavy-footed, with a curiously unlovable stomp and an ugly variation of the ‘stompy’ sound Oasis used to do so well. This is the one song on the album where I miss either of Liam’s old bands the most as his backing band just can’t get this messy groove right at all and Liam’s voice is so badly ducked down in the mix. Somebody swallowing a harmonic in stereo is clearly meant to remind us of the glory days of ‘The Masterplan’, but sadly the playing isn’t up to Mark Feltham’s and this isn’t the kind of bluesy song that demands one. It’s the song that’s the most ‘wrong’ though – there isn’t much of a melody and the verses just kinda bleed into the chorus. The result is a song that’s brittle and feels like it’s about to break at any moment – apt given the sentiments, but it would have been better yet if Liam had sneered this with the arrogance and confidence of old, whether anyone’s listening to him or not! The album’s weakest track, so don’t be put off if it’s the only from the album you’ve heard.

‘Bold’ is the album’s second weakest track, a little too close to traditional style Oasis, particularly their moody middle period. Liam could be talking about either his ex wife Nicole or his ex bandmate Noel here as he becomes ‘bold’ and moves on from someone who used to mean so much to him. ‘Yeah so I didn’t do what I was told’ sings Liam, all but adding ‘so shoot me!’, but while the lyrics purr arrogance and egotism the mood is softer, Liam’s subconscious apologising with a sumptuous melody even if he hasn’t got round to putting those thoughts into a lyric yet. Some of these lines end up being ambiguous: ‘You soft soul’ murmurs Liam, but is he being sarcastic or paying tribute? Like his second ever composition ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ (which I’ve always figured was about Noel) this song is praising someone for breaking the rules and being so individual – even if their individual nature often puts them at odds with the narrator and means he struggles to understand them. It’s as if Liam is admiring someone from a distance now he no longer has to put up with so many petty differences in day-to-day life, with absence making the heart grow fonder.  Maybe that’s why this song is genuinely ‘bold’ because by Liam’s standards it is very soft and fluffy, although the effect is negated by the sneer in his voice that pulls and tugs at the genuine warmth of the melody. So far so brilliant, but the musicians again partly mess up a song that should purr and glow rather than fizz the way this song does and the song lacks anything interesting to keep it moving across such a slow tempo (the one style Liam’s never managed to write as well as his brother). A lazy middle eight of ‘lay it on me, yeah!’ is fooling nobody – this song is a ‘proper’ middle eight away from greatness and thus is slightly disappointing, even if the ideas inside it are rather fascinating.

‘Greedy Soul’ sounds like an outtake from lesser Beady Eye second album ‘Be’, a sneer in search of a song that never quite comes together but sounds fun to sing at least. Liam’s out looking for a fight again, snapping off his ‘motormouth’ in a series of tough and rather witty one-liners. It’s good to hear a brief return of the old swagger as Liam tells us ‘I got the Midas touch!’ but what’s heart-warming is that he attacks his rival not for being a pushover or a weakling but for their ‘greedy soul’. Liam sounds as if his rival has attacked someone he loves and feels entitled to let leash all his greatest fury – this might have been a better song if he’d made of that actually. Who is he singing about? Well, it could be Noel (‘You’ve been telling lies, the slippery kind!’ – Liam has always been adamant that the story concocted by his elder brother to end Oasis was an ‘excuse’ to make him look bad and encourage fans to follow Noel’s career when the split happened) and while we try to stay roughly neutral in the many wars of brothers that occur on  the AAA (Dire Straits, Beach Boys and Kinks as well as Oasis – if you can take any words of wisdom from our website then it’s for God’s sake never start a band with your brother if you want a peaceful life!) it is fair to say that Noel has been hanging round with some big stars lately, while Liam has been staying ‘street’, talking to either up-and-coming wannabes or fans rather than celebrities. In which case this song’s pot shots about someone ‘digging for their gold’ really hits home. However this also sounds like Liam, as technically a ‘new’ artist on the scene (at least as a solo act) damning all his younger musical rivals once more, angered at the way he has to do business to have a musical career these days, doing things the ‘wrong way round’ as he has to ‘kiss and tell’ rather than make music he really believes in. This song has some great lines (naturally, us being us, the 196-0s referencing ‘She’s got a spinning head, like the un-Grateful Dead’ is our favourite), but alas not enough of them and even though this song is short with lots of repeats Liam runs of ideas quickly and resorts to swearing, just for the hell of it. Oh and why has he got a ‘rhino heart’? (Especially as most of the rest of this album proves what a big heart Liam’s got – why else would be he so cross about people doing things for the ‘wrong’ reasons?) The melody too doesn’t do much except rat-a-tat in an argumentative but not a very musical way. The rest of the album gets much better.

‘Paper Crown’ for instance is a gorgeous song, a really beautiful acoustic reflective mid-tempo song that’s instantly better than the three rather messy tracks before it by featuring Liam on his own singing in double-tracked harmony to his own acoustic guitar. That’s fitting for a song about being vulnerable and isolated, abandoned by everybody, which is how Liam felt after Beady Eye split up due to disinterest of band and fans and Liam found himself a house-husband in a house with a wife that was leaving, stuck at home cooling his heels, ranting on twitter and doing the odd school-run. Sounding very like the ballads Paul Weller used to write once an album just to show off that The Jam could do more than shouting (it’s very ‘English Rose’ and starts off with a line about a rose), ‘Paper Crown’ is a worthy piece of self-analysis, ‘halfway down the road’ of his career and already surrounded by ghosts of what could have been from his past. Liam finds solace by remembering that his wife isn’t used to being alone either and they’re enjoying a sort of solidarity in separation (or is it Noel again?), afraid of the ‘wolf at the door’ that makes them carry on doing more and more even though they can never do it as well as they once did. Liam may well be singing about the end of Oasis here as he tries to surf the waves of emotions that came with being in such a turbulent band, only to surprise himself when he suddenly finds himself hitting his head on the sore, waiting for the next wave to come and take him somewhere else. A final dig at (surely) Noel is rather unnecessary (referencing Noel’s first album, full of sun imagery, Liam pictures his rival ‘making sure everyone could see his face’ in the sunlight – it’s worth remembering that British tabloid The Sun were particularly keen at printing stories about the Gallagher’s brotherly rift – and stepping on the people he’ll need later in his attempt to climb upwards), but generally this is a strong song. Liam still wears his crown as someone who once mattered with pride, even if he lost his ‘real’ crown long ago and has to put up with a paper one in this day and age everyone laughs at. He knows how hard that crown was to earn and he loves wearing it. The melody on this song is as gorgeous as the words are ugly and while we’re used to hearing both Liam and Noel referencing The Beatles in the lyrics this is one of the few that features Beatley harmonies, which sound gorgeous here.

‘For What It’s Worth’ is another strong song, Liam taking the opposite tack and offering up an apology, either to his brother or (More likely) to his ex. Liam spends the verse sounding like a little boy in trouble, gazing at the floor and coming up with excuses: he’s born like that, he didn’t mean to hurt anybody, ‘my intentions were good’, there’s been a ‘devil on my doorstep since the day I was born’). However you sense that all the person he’s wronged is waiting for is the gorgeous chorus, which stops passing the buck and starts apologising. Liam clearly means it, as a quite beautiful orchestra swell and a classy pop chorus makes it feel like the sun coming out on a rainy day. The first use of an orchestra in years recalls old Oasis A-side ‘Whatever’ and the mood is similarly tragic-comic: do we take this song seriously or not? My guess is yes – at the time – but Liam and his lover both know that this is the kind of man whose going to make all these mistakes again some day soon, that’s just how it is. Nice to hear the apology though and it’s hard not to love his cheek or his enthusiasm as Liam announces that he’s a ‘dreamer’ who can see a day when ‘we can put all this behind us’ and come together again (that line at least is surely for his brother). Liam admits that he’s got a bit lost in the argument and ‘forgotten what I was fighting for’, carrying on simply because that’s his stubborn nature. But he believes in giving peace a chance (odd that line wasn’t here actually!) and that though he lost his way he thinks he’s found it now. A proper classic classy pop song in the grand Oasis tradition, even the backing band really cook on this one.

We now take an acoustic interlude for the very mid-1960s ‘When I’m In Need’. Is Liam in love again? Well, not that I’ve heard, but this song brings out his sweeter gentler romantic side the way ‘Songbird’ once did and lines like ‘I’m counting the days till she’s mine’ rather hint at it, so my guess is yes. Liam has been so down and miserable, but this new girl gives him cause for joy. The pair of them can ‘fly’ in tandem, both of them discovering to their surprise that they don’t have to be lonely and trapped inside their own heads but can share the worlds they keep hidden from everyone. Very John and Yoko, this psychedelic spacey track has the feel of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ about it and even starts off with the word ‘surreal’ in the first line. ‘She’s so Purple Haze’ another line admits, referring to the Jimi Hendrix song, before adding ‘well, you know what I mean!’ There’s another quite brilliant power-pop chorus in this one that’s really mid-1960s Lennon and sounds quite delicious when an entire choir of Liams (no backing singers on this album!) start aahing along in tandem. The song recalls Oasis single ‘She Is Love’, but sounds less forced. A Noel-like guitar from the ‘Be Here Now’ period then props up the middle of this song, toughening it up from a light and pretty song about a fragile love into a powerhouse of strength, of two people who can never be split apart. The long finale features brass, horns, backwards guitar and sound effects galore as Liam’s love builds from the gentle sigh of the opening and its delicious, the one moment of pure undiluted happiness on what’s at heart rather a troubled album. Why this wasn’t the first album single I’ll never know.

‘You Better Run!’ is, so we’re told, most definitively a statement about today’s musicians. IT starts off as just another weak-kneed Oasisy rocker, with a swagger but no heart, more like a drunken man trying to stand upright than a real attempt to take on any rival like the lesser songs from ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ and the first and third tracks of this CD. Suddenly though something changes. This 4/4 ‘common time’ song in the key of C (the simplest) suddenly goes somewhere very weird indeed, reaching out for a new key and switching tempos altogether even though the song’s stomp remains the same. It’s as if Liam is taunting his rivals: ‘Call yourselves musicians? Well let’s see you compete with this!!!’ ‘I’m gonna steal your thunder, so you better run and hide!’ is an opening that seems very at odds with the vulnerability of what we’ve just heard and the entire track sounds like Liam getting his confidence back in the process of making this album as he feels his way back into what he used to do so effortlessly (‘Wake up!’ he tells himself, ‘you’re onto something!’, trying to gee himself up out of his lethargy as much as the world at large, which turned away from rock and roll when Oasis stopped being popular around 1997). His vocal is what makes this song though, a delicious sneer that damns everyone to hell as he pronounced himself the biggest beast in town and that everyone else is a ‘butterfly’. I don’t usually like snarling put-downs but if you need to hear one then this is it, Liam bringing along with him a slinky groove that spits like a panther, another stompy backing track and an entire horn section as part of his posse.

Without a pause for breath, we’re suddenly into the fastest rocker on the album, the cute ‘I’ll Get By’. Liam is back in a bad place, ‘all messed up’ as he tries to get ‘over you!’ This song too could be about the brotherly rift but with its mentions of love and heartbreak sounds much more like a song to wife Nicole. An angry blistering choppy guitar riff makes it clear how desperate Liam is to get on with his life, but also how much fury he still has pulsating through him. As tough as he tries to sound, as macho as he pretends to be, there’s no ‘holding back from the truth’ – that underneath it all Liam has a very fragile heart indeed and it’s just been shattered into a million pieces. What’s more it was broken by someone who seemed so kind, so quiet, so shy, so fragile and yet who seems to be walking out of this relationship unscathed while Liam is desperate, howling in pain, pleading with her over her ne-found power that ‘you’ve got my life in your hands!’ Liam quotes from CSNY as he tells us that ‘only love can break my heart’, but sounds as if his heart is already far past repair as his usual sneer is turned into a desperate wild primal cry that’s truly haunting: ‘Weeeeeell, I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I’ll Geeeeeeet Byyyyy!’ He’s clearly lying to himself whatever he tells us about always telling the truth and blatantly still hurting, so desperate to put his life back on track that he’s ‘scrutinising everything’, haunted by this failure of something that once seemed so perfect. A glorious sudden change to a minor key that knocks us off our feet (‘Never look back, go where you’re going to, I’ve waited a lifetime for you!’) sounds like one last attempt to put things right, to set this song back on its feet, but Liam’s too late, the song instead ending unexpectedly in a painful howl of chords (that could have been better still for being a bit rawer, actually), this grand fairytale abandoned partway through. The best rocker on an album where otherwise the ballads come off best, this is brilliantly played by a cooking band and once again Liam’s the star in the room, everything revolving around his tough-as-nails, fragile-as-snails vocal. However it’s a shame the middle eight riff so strongly resembles Small Faces classic ‘Call It Something Nice’ (you may as well rip off the best if you’re going to do that sort of thing I suppose!)

Better yet is album highlight ‘Chinatown’, a fascinating stream-of-consciousness matched to a pretty tune that sounds unlike anything else Liam has ever done before. My take on this weird song full of one-liners and metaphors is that it’s Liam finally coming to terms with Oasis’ bumpy ride and that it’s now over. Back in 1994-1996 Oasis wanted to rule the world –n once they got the keys to it in 1997 they decided that actually that much power made them unhappy; every year after that was about trying to work out how to reconcile the two extremes of their songs, both optimistic about a brilliant future and away that selling it to their fans is a myth. Here, though, Liam is at a comfortable place in his career and with fame: people respect him rather than worship him, people like him rather than love him and a manageable amount of people listen to him rather than billions of people greeting him as the Messiah. Walking out round town Liam seems struck that he’s now in the ‘Chinatown’ of his career, pushed to the fringes of a world he used to ‘own’ (most big city’s ‘Chinatown’ district is on the edge of a map), popular enough but at a more manageable level that will let him do what he wants without so much expectation, selling enough copies to live off but not enough to set new sales records like the days of old. The singer also talks about his old neurosis and how they’ve cleared up now, enjoying the luxury of nobody knowing who he is. Liam hasn’t sounded this comfortable in his own skin for a long long time and this delightful ramble, in both senses of the word, is cute. His hilarious summaries of modern-day living, sung with more hu7mour than the venom of the rest of the album, are genuinely clever too: ‘The cops are taking over while everyone else does yoga’ may well be the best AAA couplet of the year so far, the old anger and passion Liam used to carry around with him no longer needed in a world where everyone is trying to be blessed out and mellow. Liam even has Oasis’ second ever conversation with their maker, recalling the line from ‘D’Yer Know What I Mean?’ where ‘I met my maker and made him cry’ – this time God tells Liam to simply enjoy the moment and the make the most of life in the present, ‘don’t worry about the beginning or end’. A gorgeous production adds a nicely psychedelic edge to this song, with lots of spooky echo and lots of overdubs to make a noise ‘definitely Maybe’ style, but this song never forgets that it’s meant to be a quiet, spiritual track. Liam’s vocal and his own acoustic guitar picking remain central to this song, the ‘root’ from which every other branch of this tree grows. Quite brilliant and the best song any of Oasis have written since ‘Wigwam’, though why this un-commercial number only really major fans like me will ‘get’ rather than any of the eleven over commercial songs on this album (fourteen on the deluxe edition) is a mystery. Listen out for the obscure Beatles reference to ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ at the start, along with the line that ‘telephone doses eliminate neurosis’ – is Liam having a long distance love affair?

‘Come Back To Me’ is another turbulent song surely written in the messy wake of Liam’s divorce, but again perhaps written about the rivalry with Noel. An angry spitting rant, this is Liam sounding desperate as he uses his sneer of old in a new setting, sounding desperate and wild, out of control rather than his usual tense stare. Liam feels he’s ‘gone far’ with his post-Oasis career, ‘my head held high’, but it’s not enough: he wants to be back in Oasis, to do what he feels he was put on this earth to do. It’s not fair: ‘Everyone out there’ praises Noel for his solo records and blaming Liam for splitting the band in the first place, both of which Liam argues against. He doesn’t want another row though: he just wants his band back! Liam thinks this public spat is stupid: he knows his brother and ‘I want to touch you, because I know that you’re lonely!’ Ever since the 2009 split it’s been Liam trying to put the band back together – he’s said in interviews that however well his records do he would reunite in Oasis in a heartbeat for ‘50p’, he never wanted to lose the band in the first place. Liam is ‘tired of myself’ and admits that he ‘still cares’ for his brother, however much he enjoys slagging him off in public. He wants his brother back, he knows his brother secretly wants to come back, so what’s the problem? ‘Please’ Liam purrs, ‘won’t you come back to me?’ The first version of this song was, apparently, very Lennony and used lots of mellotrons sounding like ‘I Am The Walrus’. Figuring the album already had its fair share of psychedelic ballads, Liam reworked this into a bare-bones rocker; the right call I would say, especially with another quite brilliant Liam lead vocal, this time double-tracked. The other of this album’s best rockers.

‘Universal Gleam’ starts off like ‘Go Let It Out’ before turning somewhere softer as Liam has an ‘epiphany while waiting so patiently’. Liam doesn’t need the crowds or adulation he once needed – all he needs is one fan to sing to, one person to get excited in his music and that will do, promising like one of the last Oasis B-sides that ‘I’ll never let you down’. He knows the power of music, of the connection between band and fan and he promises to offer ‘universal gleam’, to let his fans feel less lonely, afraid and misunderstood – whole making them feel better about the future. However things have changed from the old days: he can still ‘spit things out from my motormouth’ but he’s older, wiser. He knows he can never have the hunger and drive of his younger days when failing meant starvation and going back on the dole, rather than disappointment and a few half-full gigs. Another quite beautiful tune is quite beautiful and lovely, Liam pushed so far by his own emotional that he ends up singing in a  delightful falsetto as he makes his promise (oddly sounding not unlike Noel in the process), before heading into some cathartic ‘ahhhhs’ in the chorus. The production is another first for Liam, as the upbeat mood of the song unusually but inevitably leads him to the warm arms of gospel. This isn’t the stupid idea it sounds on paper: Liam is good at using his usual sneer for warmth on this track and a backing choir of Liams sound rather good as he ‘brings you love and light’, while a clap-happy backing and some excellent use of strings and brass really turn this one into a singalong epic.

The album then rounds off with ‘All I Need’, a song that sums up the prettier, gentler side of this record with a new-found mellow flavour as Liam counts his blessing. Addressing what might be his only fan, he announces ‘if you’re all I have then please be true’. This slow and rather boring opening then turns into another slow-burning epic as the song gets bigger and more upbeat. Oasis seem to be over, leading Liam to quote lots of Beatley lyrics from ‘All Things Must Pass’ to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (though oddly not ‘Let It Be’ or ‘The Long and Winding Road’, the songs this track most resembles in thought and tone). ‘There’s no time for looking back’ Liam sings, before he stops himself: out of endings come beginnings and he’s found a new way of presenting his voice to the public. Where Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all sounded relieved to have ended The Beatles and were dismissive of their past, Liam is proud of what he did but hopeful about what he can do next. Rather than Lennon’s curt dismissals of Oasis, Liam relishes the idea of building on what he did before, telling his audience that he feels like he used to again and that ‘it’s not goodbye, so dry your eyes!’ It’s a very emotional moment for any fan whose ever gone any part of the journey with him and Liam breaking the fourth-wall to talk to ‘us’ directly (‘Thankyou for all your support!’) is a sweet touch unlike anything Oasis have ever done before. This is a band who were always close to their fanbase at the beginning but ended up rather distant – that was the problem, really, with their later albums which were written from the point of view of rockstar millionaires not wannabe kids struggling to make their mark on the world (that’s what Beady Eye did so well by returning to that sound and thought, though Liam does it better on his own here). The idea of ‘gathering your Wings’, which so many fans have taken to be a McCartney reference, was actually inspired by a trip Liam took to visit Yoko at the Dakota in New York during the early Oasis days. Asking what a Japanese wall mural said, Yoko giggled and replied that John had asked exactly the same when visiting her parents for the first time: it reads ‘hibernate and sing, whole gathering your wings’. Oddly it didn’t make it into a Lennon song, but Liam was keen to use it in something and kept it running round the back of his head for twenty years or so before realising this song of rest and comeback was perfect. Alas the result isn’t quite the epic closer it could have been and ends rather oddly, like much of this album it has to be said. Personally I’d have switched it round with the last track but it’s still a strong song.

Overall, then, ‘As You Were’ is clearly nothing of the sort. Well, maybe the opening three songs which go where Liam’s always gone but not quite as well – odd that the three weakest tracks should all be at the beginning, but that’s record company politics and worry about demographics for you. If you carry on listening you can hear how quickly and how well Liam has adapted to this new situation in his life, finding new outlets for the restless energy and anger that being forced into this situation by the split of the ‘family business’ leads to and also finding new ways to move on and be thankful for what he has. Liam seems to have made this album for himself as much as anybody, using the lyrics to vent his unresolved feelings about the end of two bands and two marriages, while stretching himself creatively and going into new avenues he would never have been able to do with Oasis (maybe Beady Eye a little). Thankfully and against the odds the record label conglomerate he signed with seem to have done everything the right way – allowing him room to breathe and be himself, placing him with oddly sensitive collaborators (only on a few clumsy middle eights does this album not sound like 100% Liam; he himself admits he gets bored and needs a band to ‘finish them off’) and giving him a big budget push that was the only thing (in my eyes) that prevented Beady Eye from being ginormous. The result is an impressive and likeable debut, one that takes a new sound of epic proportions but never forgets the raw power of that voice and the real deal emotions in these songs in the process. The AAA album of the year so far (with only Noel’s rival disc still to be released, as far as I know – Neil Young has probably planned another seven!), ‘As You Were’ is an impressive release from an under-rated talent that rocks with the days of old but doesn’t pretend to be still young with lessons unlearnt.

Plus, from the deluxe edition:

Non-Album Recordings Part #17: Liam and Noel Gallagher
You can always tell how good a project is by how good the extras were – whether songs were within a fraction of making the album proper or were hidden away on B-sides and as ‘extra tracks’ because they make the writers a quick buck on the side. Oasis were always expert at these little extras and it’s good to see both Liam and Noel continuing the grand tradition, with three additional songs included on the ‘deluxe’ version of ‘As You Were’ that could all have made the CD proper. [  ] ‘Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’ is the best of the trio, with a nifty slinky riff and a chorus that goes from threatening to uplifting, as Liam’s raw vocal gets treated with all sorts of sound effects. The closest any of Oasis ever came to House music (at least since their Stones Roses origins in 1993), this song takwes the claustrophobic relentless beat and adds in some paranoid lyrics. Liam seems to be addressing this song to some significant other (like much of the parent album it could be about both brother and ex-lover), Liam pouring scorn on the idea that they’ve left something perfect to go ‘chasing rainbows’. Liam spends most of the album feeling sorry for the break-up, but he’s at his cackling best here as he boasts that he’s an ‘ace racer’ who can beat them in a straight fight anyway (ok, so this does look more like Noel doesn’t it?...), but that he doesn’t want to fight – that it doesn’t ‘have to be that way’. Liam calls himself a ‘dark star’, referencing George Harrison’s ‘Dark Horse’ as he calls himself the brother that nobody really reckoned on, laughing at his public image as ‘something the cat dragged in’, keeping it real compared to his p.r. perfect brother. ‘The dogs are barking’ Liam laughs, in reference to the critics snapping at his heels, ‘but they haven’t bitten me yet!’ The best part of the song comes at the end when Liam stops sneering and starts sighing and asks Noel outright why he’s doing this to himself. ‘I don’t know how you stand the pain, hoping things will never change’ Liam cackles, stabbing Noel in the back at the same time he offers him an olive branch of reconciliation. Great stuff! Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)
[  ] ‘All My People-All Mankind’ recalls ‘Soldier On’, the last song on the last Oasis album, which is rather fitting for the context. Liam tells his brother that, after a difficult decade full of Liam-bashing, this is ‘my time’ and he’s going to both revitalise his career and be there for his brother when he’s the ‘star’ and Noel is forgotten. Full of a ‘Revolver’ period Beatles sneer, there are several in-jokes here, from the ‘fat cats who look pretty green’ (Liam keeping those who believed in his ‘Prety Green’ business fat out of loyalty) and the chorus where ‘all true seekers sheee-iiiine’, referencing the loyal fans who fell for Oasis ever since hearing Liam mangle that very word on ‘Rock and Roll Star’ twenty-three years earlier. Liam urges his brother to ‘get on up’ so he isn’t too embarrassed as he gets ‘left behind’, but at the same is having fun, mocking the modern age of celebrity culture for doing nothing (‘Selfies, what a fucking disease!’ is his comment on the developments of the past ten years). More ambiguous and therefore less immediate than most of the parent album, this is still pretty good for an extra. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)
Liam ends with one last playful dig at his brother on [  ] ‘Never Wanna Be Like You’. ‘C’mon, c’mon’ the song starts, ‘Twist and Shout’ style, as if spoiling for a fight. However Liam’s merely playing around with words, using ‘I Am The Walrus’ silly sneering as his next template as he adds ‘good lad, scumbag, goo ga joob!’ A playful nursery rhyme number, full of silly verses linked by a darker chorus that again seems maliciously pointed against Noel (‘if the fan boys only knew what I’d uncovered they’d be swerving you!’), it sounds very much like the ‘Ram’ style of protest against the other Beatles, which Beady Eye had already mined on ‘Three Ring Circus/Three Legs’. Here, though, Liam is more vague: he needs his brother, he even likes his brother (sometimes), but he could never act the way his brother does, touting celebrity and taking the high road over something Liam still blames him for. Threatening yet playful, dark yet silly, this is a fun ‘extra’ that may well be the most revealing song from the whole sessions. Find it on: the deluxe edition of ‘As You Were’ (2017)

A Now Complete List Of Oasis and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:
'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015)

Who Built The Moon? (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) (2017)
Non-Album Songs Part One: 1993-1998

Non-Album Songs Part Two: 2000-2015

The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Six 2001-2014

You can now buy 'Gettin' In Tune - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Who' in e-book form by clicking here!

Pete Townshend "Live At La Jolla Playhouse"

(Eelpie, Recorded June Released November 2001)

Show One: Pinball Wizard/Let My Love Open The Door/Cut My Hair/Slit Skirts/Drowned/ Greyhound Girl/Tattoo/The Sea Refuses No River/St James Infirmary/Eminence Front/Won't Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again (Electric)
Show Two: Pinball Wizard/Let My Love Open The Door/Heart To Hang On To/Cut My Hair/Slit Skirts/Drowned/ Greyhound Girl/Tattoo/Collings/Eminence Front/Sheraton Gibson/Won't Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)/I'm One/Behind Blue Eyes/Driftin' Blues/Eyesight To The Blind/Won't Get Fooled Again (Electric)

"Can't pretend that growing older never hurts"

Pete's latest solo - and for once we really do mean solo - show was a fundraiser for a concert hall he always felt quite fond of: it was where the musical version of 'Tommy' was first performed before moving to Broadway. Realising that he's playing to Who purists rather than casual fans Pete throws in more surprises than ever before including 'Tattoo' (a song not heard in concert since 1970), 'Cut My Hair' (one of the rarer songs off 'Quadrophenia'), 'Greyhound Girl' (a Lifehouse extra never really heard in concert before), a sweet reading of 'Sheraton Gibson' not heard since 'Who Came First' in 1971 and 'Collings' and 'Drifton' Blues', two songs only ever released in demo form as part of the 'Scoop' series. Plus there's one song exclusive to this set, a rowdy tongue-in-cheek cover of famous blues standard 'St James Infirmary' - this tale of injustice and working class slogging would have made a great Who song but really needs Roger to sing it to give it full weight. Pete is also having fun chatting between songs, letting his guard down more than normal and revealing the inner self-deprecating comedian that's trying to get out ever since Pete started in the music business. The problem lies in the fact that this double-disc set features two complete shows, complete with repetition, when it could easily have been re-edited to become a rather better single CD featuring one version of these songs plus the tracks only played at one show and not the other. This is an entertaining, revealing show with many things about it to recommend, but still not quite up to the very best of Pete's archive shows.   

Pete Townshend "Scoop 3"

(Eelpie, '2001')

CD One: (Can You See) The Real Me?/Dirty Water/Commonwealth Boys/Theme 015/Marty Robbins/I Like It The Way It Is/Theme 016/However Much I Booze (No Way Out)/Collings/Parvardigar (German Language Version)/Sea and Sand/971104 Arpeggio Piano/Theme 017/I Am Afraid/Maxims For Lunch/Wistful/Eminence Front/Lonely Words

CD Two: Prelude 970519/Iron Man Recitative/Rough Boys (Tough Boys)/Did You Steal My Money?/Can You Really Dance?/Dirty Jobs (Variations)/All Lovers Are Deranged/Elephants/Wired To The Moon (Part Two)/How Can You Do It Alone?/Poem Disturbed/Squirm Squirm/Outlive The Dinosaur/Athena (Theresa)/Man and Machines/It's In Ya

"I have to tell the story of my life in order to avoid being thrown out there and then"

The third and - to date - last set of Townshend demos, 'Scoop 3' delivers much of the same but with an emphasis on demos recorded since the two demo sets were released in 1983 and 1987 (and therefore with most of the set dating from after the Who era). As a result the bulk of it is less interesting than its predecessors, with a few too many boring synthesiser instrumentals and abandoned projects that were clearly never going to get anywhere, while naming several new instrumental bits and pieces after 'variations' from past classics while they share nothing in common except chord structure is just cruel. However the best of this set is greater than anything the first two sets came up with and reveals far more about Townshend than we've ever heard revealed before. Check out, for instance, 'I Like It The Way It Is' - a gorgeous ballad from 1978 that Pete never returned to in which he pours out all his infidelities to wife Karen and pleads for forgiveness, whilst simultaneously confessing he rather likes the life of a two-timing rogue he's living (the irony being that the lovely string arrangement, which fits Pete's singing so well, is arranged and conducted by her father Ted). Or the original 1975 stomping demo for an even more wild and unhinged 'However Much I Booze' from 'Who By Numbers' complete with an extra verse that tells the tale of being thrown out of a club that will find its way into the song 'Who Are You' three years later. Or Face Dances' 'Did You Steal My Money?' back when it sounded genuinely pioneering, hip and contemporary before The Who watered it down with its criss-crossing vocals and rhythmic edge. Or 'Athena' when she was still more revealingly named 'Teresa' after Pete tried seduce actress Theresa Russell one night and she turned him down, with Pete's hurt and frustration still smouldering on this early demo. Most of the rest of this double-disc set is pretty disposable to be honest. Other Who favourites are disappointing, like 'The Real Me' which is actually a tour rehearsal that doesn't rock, 'Sea and Sand' which is a solo rehearsal for a more orchestral feel that's so bad you barely believe it's the same song as on 'Quadrophenia', 'How Can You Do It Alone?' where Pete sounds just like Roger anyway and worst of all 'The Dirty Jobs' which is just some dull piano recital). And the Townshend solo songs that didn't work in finished form really don't work in demo either ('Squirm Squirm' makes you, well, 'squirm', 'Outlive The Dinosaur' from 'Psychoderelict' is boring and  the Iron Man stuff is worse without a whole band to dress up with). Those four great moments really do make up for the rest though, even if that doesn't exactly represent value for money. 

Various Artists "Jai Baba"

(Eelpie, '2001')

CD One: Poem/Evolution/Day Of Silence/Allan Cohen Speaks/The Seeker*/Begin The Beguine*/With A Smile Up His Nose They Entered/The Love Man/Meditation/Parvardigar (Live)*

CD Two: Forever's No Time At All/How To Transcend Duality and Influence People/Affirmation/Baba O'Riley*/The Song Is Green/Everywhere I Look This Morning/Dragon/Parvardigar (Studio)*/Hail Avatar Meher Baba/Give It Up/Without Your Love/His Hands/Just For A Moment/Baba Blues/Meher/Contact/Gotta Know Ya/Sleeping Dog/All God's Mornings/Lantern Cabin

* = Pete Townshend performances

"You look so young yet you've cone so far"

A re-issue of the three 'Meher Baba' albums included in order with all the contributions intact (for the first time ever this set is credited to 'various artists' rather than cashing in on Pete's name). The songs sound as good, bad or indifferent as you probably felt about the first time around, but it's nice to be able to track them down easier without them costing a fortune and the best of this set (Ronnie Lane's 'Evolution' and Pete's 'Forever's No Time At All' 'His Hands' 'Sleeping Dog' and particularly the original instrumental demo for 'Baba O'Riley') is well worth tracking down, even if you'll get mighty bored of Baba eulogies and sleepy instrumentals by the end of both discs. There's also a bonus for collectors with an alternate version of 'Parvardigar' recorded live in India in 1972 with Ronnie Lane in support - this version was also released as the lead track in a tie-in EP. The title, meant to be said by all Baba worshippers when meeting, translates as 'Praise Baba'. 

Pete Townshend "O Parvardigar" (EP)

(Eelpie, '2001')

Pravardigar (Studio Version/Live Version/German Language Version)

"You always were, you always are and always will be"

An EP released to promote the 'Jai Baba' compilation which includes three versions of what was probably the most irritating track of Pete's from the original albums anyway. As well as the studio version first released on 'I Am' in 1971 we get the live recording from a year later released on 'Jai Baba' and a bonus unreleased German language version also from 1971 - which is nice but also quite pointless for English speakers given that most of the original is sung in Indian anyway! 

"The Who Sing My Generation" (Deluxe Edition 2002) 

Out In The Street/I Don't Mind/The Good's Gone/La La La Lies/Much Too Much/My Generation/The Kids Are Alright/Please Please Please/It's Not True/The Ox/A legal Matter
Bonus Tracks: Circles (Instant Party)/I Can't Explain/Bald Headed Woman/Daddy Rolling Stone/Leaving Here/Lubie (Come Back Home)/Shout and Shimmy/Heatwave/Motoring/ Anytime You Want Me/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere (Alternate)/Instant Party Mixture/I Don't Mind (Unedited)/The Good's Gone (Unedited)/My Generation (Backing)/Anytime You Want Me (Vocals Mix)/A Legal Matter (Alternate Mix)/My Generation (Alternate Mix)

"I know it's wrong, we should enjoy it but the good's gone"

Astonishingly, one of the key albums of the 1960s went unreleased on CD until some seventeen years after the invention of the compact disc. Less astonishingly, the delay had to do with legalities still resulting from the Who's desperate attempts to flee record label Brunswick and producer Shel Talmy in 1966, a decision that led to the release of half a dozen unofficial singles with weird un-connected B-sides and The Who paying extra royalties to people who didn't work on their records no more for the rest of the decade. Finally the disputes were solved for a one-off only release agreed to by all parties (later a two-off release when the album was re-issued again on CD in 2012 as a single disc set this time). To celebrate the big occasion the album was mixed into stereo for the first time (in the 1960s this was the only Who album solely available on mono and the new stereo mix is a great one, fatter and angrier than the original mono with some of the surplus of-it's-time double-tracking removed, while Keith's drums have never sounded so loud or crucial to the band sound) and multiple outtakes, alternate mixes and period recordings were dug out of the Brunswick attic to join the party. The album sounded particularly fresh and vibrant and surprisingly 2002-like for an album that was enjoying middle-age (with much of the post-9/11 cynicism, anger and feeling of helplessness in the air at the time). 

A more cynical look at this cynical re-issue of this largely cynical album, though, (which seems only fair and what the 1965 Who would have wanted) does reveal some middle-aged spread. Rather than do the sensible thing and re-release every Brunswick recording to make this the ultimate 1965 Who set several key songs are missing (even the single 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere', although that is here in an alternate version that doesn't quite fly as high or travel as far, plus the alternate takes already released on the 'Maximum R and B' box set). A lot of the supposedly brilliant extras turn out to be alternate mixes that are here to pad out the track listing and persuade you that yes, honest, this album did need to be a pricey double-disc set instead of a single, even though most of them aren't that different at all. Fascinating as it is historically to hear the Roger Daltrey-backed cover songs that were meant to be on the original album (until Pete's string of hit singles changed the power dynamics within the band), most of them are pretty awful to be honest compared to period covers by The Animals, Stones, Kinks, Beatles and Hollies et al, with Roger a poor man's James Brown and The Who a poor man's R and B band. You can hear how inhibited the early Who are compared to what made it to the album on early recordings 'Bald Headed Woman' 'Daddy Rolling Stone' and 'Lubie (Come Back Home)' where the band are clearly told to play clean and pretty by a producer who hasn't got a clue that smoke and violence is what The Who were all about. The biggest talking point, the previously unheard  'Instant Party Mixture' (not the rather good 'Circles' but a whole new song intended for release as a B-side before The Who left Brunswick and Shel Talmy re-used the name) is a waste of time with the band messing around. Even my parties have been more enjoyable than this. That leaves only the rather pretty ballad 'Anytime You Want Me', an early obscure cover of a Garnet Mimms song with some striking harmonies (especially on the second vocals-only mix added near the end of the set), a 'Leaving Here' that's more primitive than the second go released on the '30 Years of Maximum R and B' box set and a fierce but messy attack on Motown cover 'Motoring'. Which seems a bit of a waste of £20 when you could be, I don't know, buying a union jack jacket and hanging out by the bins to re-create that famous cover or something.
However, if you don't own this album in any other form - and unless you got very lucky in the second-hand vinyl record bins, paid even more of a fortune on ebay or Amazon or still have your treasured battered copy from 1965 in your collection then you almost certainly didn't own this album before 2002. And if you're a Who fan of any era then you absolutely definitely have to own this album, which is where the Who sound all began and which has never sounded better or crisper than here. Buy the cheaper mono mix if you need to, but buy this album in some form or another and treat he seventeen bonus tracks as intriguing extras rather than songs you absolutely have to hear. The success of this deluxe set will lead to a further five releases in the series, sadly not all of them quite as worthy as this one. 

Pete Townshend "Scooped"

(Eelpie, May 2002)

CD One: Recorders/Pinball Wizard/(Can You See) The Real Me?/Dirty Water/Zelda/Pictures Of Lily/Body Language/Siege Theme 019/971104 Arpeggio Piano/Brooklyn Kids/Substitute/Elephants/Eminence Front/Baroque Ippanese/Magic Bus/I Like It The Way It Is/Unused Piano For Quadrophenia/Bargain/Lonely Words

CD Two: So Sad About Us-Brrr/Rough Boys (Tough Boys)/You Better You Bet/Mary/Begin The Beguine/Piano: Tipperary/How Can You Do It Alone?/Football Fugue/Behind Blue Eyes/Never ask Me/Circles (Instant Party)/Holly Like Ivy/Dirty Jobs Variations/Cat Snatch/You're So Clever/Love Reign O'er Me

"No one knows what it's like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes"

Collecting the best of the three pricey 'Scoop' sets together in one handy double-disc volume as an introduction for fans is a sensible idea. However this 'scoop' of 'scoops' is a little disappointing. The most intreresting tracks such as 'Did You Steal My Money?' and 'The Kids Are Alright' are missing, while the stuff you really don't need (such as a late-period revival of 'The Real Me' some piano based thing that baguely sounds like 'The Dirty Jobs', flipping 'Dirty Water' again and Pete singing 'It's a long way to Tipperary) are here despite being the verydefinition of filler (though at least you get 'I Like It The Way It Is' and 'Mary'). It's also a shame that this set didn't make most of the chance to look at the demos afresh and include everything in chronorlogical order - instead the order, which didn't bother the listener too much on the original volumes, seems like more of a mess than ever here as we jump around between 1860s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s recordings - all with their own particular sound and surface hiss depending on what tape machine Pete is using (actually these tapes are remarkably hiss free for simple demos and Townshend always bought the best equipment, but there's still a difference and it jars when tapes forty years apart are put together). As a sampler it rather fails too by probably not exciting anyone's interest enough to buy the sets proper. The compilers also missed a trick by not calling this set a 'Neapolitan scoop' given that it contains the best of 'three flavours'! 

"The Ultimate Collection"

(Polydor-MCA-Geffen, June 2002)

I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/My Generation/The Kids Are Alright/A legal Matter/Substitute/I'm A Boy/Boris The Spider/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Call Me Lightning/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/See Me Feel Me/The Seeker/Summertime Blues/My Wife/Baba O'Riley/Bargain/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again//Let's See Action/Pure and Easy/Join Together/Long Live Rock/The Real Me/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Squeezebox/Who Are You?/Had Enough/Sister Disco/You Better You Bet/Don't Let Go The Coat/The Quiet One/Another Tricky Day/Athena/Eminence Front
The American Edition is missing the following tracks: Had Enough/Don't Let Go The Coat/The Quiet One/Another Tricky Day/Athena

"I call that a bargain - the best I ever had!"

Yet another decade, yet another Who compilation - a big one this time with two whole discs that gives more space than ever before over to album tracks rather than just the hit singles. This is also the only set to date besides the '30 Years Of Maximum R and B' box set that includes tracks from all three Who eras: the Brunswick original, the lengthy Track Records years between 1966 and 1981 and the brief period on  Polydor in 1982.That's, generally, a very good thing - especially with all the songs in chronological order for once - and it's especially good to see so many tracks taken from 'Who's Next' and 'Quadrophenia'. However there's something about this set that still makes it feel as if it was picked at random by a monkey using a dartboard and the set is particularly mean to the 1960s Who (only one song from 'Sellout' and only two from 'Tommy'?!), while even in the 1970s the intense mature sound of 'Who By Numbers' is most definitely not represented by the hit single 'Squeeze Box'. By contrast the less well respected 'Who Are You' and 'Face Dances' are represented by three songs each, which seems like overkill even from a fan who happens to quite like both of them (or at least that's what you get on the European edition - all the 'Face Dances' songs plus one each from 'Who Are You' and 'It's Hard are dropped for the American edition for some reason). For all that, though, this still feels about as 'ultimate' as it's possible to get on two rather fat discs and until a truly definitive Who compilation comes along one day then this is probably as good as it gets for now. 

"Tommy" (Deluxe Edition 2003) 

CD One: Overture/It’s A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind//Christmas/Cousin Kevin/The Acid Queen/Underture//Do You Think It’s Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/Sensation//Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I’m Free/Welcome/Tommy’s Holiday Camp/We’re Not Gonna Take It

CD Two: I Was/Christmas (Alternate Take)/Cousin Kevin Model Child/Young Man Blues (Studio Version)/Tommy Can You Hear Me? (Alternate Version)/Trying To Get Through/Sally Simpson (Alternate Take)/Miss Simpson/Welcome (Alternate Take)/Tommy's Holiday Camp (Alternate Version)/We're Not Gonna Take It (Alternate Version)/Dogs (Part Two)/It's A Boy (Demo)/Amazing Journey (Demo)/Christmas (Demo)/Do You Think It's Alright? (Demo)/Pinball Wizard (Demo)

"Come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know"

At the time of writing you can buy The Who's most famous album on CD through a double disc 1984 CD set, a single disc 1990 set, a 2013 triple CD set with an extra live disc and you can additionally buy the 'orchestral' version from 1972, the film soundtrack version from 1975 and as a 1993 Broadway play. Before this book comes out there'll probably be a pantomime version ('The Acid Queen! She's behind you!') or a manga book version ('The Pinball Wizard bows to Tommy and says 'my son, you do playest the meanest pinball that ever there was in these lands!') as well. That's clearly overkill even for The Who and, well, we're not gonna take it because the only set you truly need is this one from 2003. The album is remixed and sounds as good as a recording made in 1969 is ever going to get (there was no need to remix it again and again!), the bonus tracks feature a handful of the fascinating Townshend demos (you really don't need them all) and there are some excellent and entertaining bonus tracks, the best of which include multiple stabs at 'Christmas' where the festive spirit is clearly ebbing out of the room the punky unused jam 'Trying To Get Through' and 'Sally Simpson' slowly being knocked into shape across even more multiple takes in which everyone takes it in turn to make a mistake ('Bad musicians!' Roger jokes before Keith brings proceedings to a halt by telling the others about an article he read in which The Who were described as Pete's 'bone' - cue so much laughter the others can't play at all!) The set isn't perfect ('I Was' is just sixteen seconds of nonsense, the B-side 'Dogs Part Two' and the studio take of 'Young Man Blues' were recorded at these sessions but clearly don't fit and break up the flow and for the price the sleevenotes could be longer and better), but 'Tommy' sounds, looks and feels his best here. 

"Who's Next" (Deluxe Edition 2003) 

CD One: Baba O'Riley/Bargain/Love Ain't For Keeping/My Wife/The Song Is Over/Gettin' In Tune/Goin' Mobile/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again. Bonus Tracks: Baby Don't You Do It/Gettin' In Tune (Unedited)/Pure and Easy (Alternate Version)/Love Ain't For Keeping ('Odds and Sods' Version)/Behind Blue Eyes (Alternate Version)/Won't Get Fooled Again (Alternate Version)

CD Two (Live At The Young Vic): Love Ain't Keeping/Pure and Easy/Young Man Blues/Time Is Passing/Behind Blue Eyes/I Don't Even Know Myself/Too Much Of Anything/Gettin' In Tune /Bargain/Water/My Generation/Road Runner/Naked Eye/Won't Get Fooled Again

"It all looks fine to the naked eye, but it don't really happen that way at all!"

There's a great deluxe version of 'Who's Next' to be made sometime at some point, gathering together every single one of the songs mooted for 'Lifehouse' at one stage or another along with demos to fill out the rest of a two-disc-set running time (and no, the six disc 'Lifehouse Chronicles' in 2000 doesn't count). However this set isn't really it. The 'new' stuff is a not-that-different-just-worse early take of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' which has a tendency to ramble (it's one of the few recordings released from the early, abandoned New York record Plant Sessions) and a second disc made up of a show at the Young Vic Theatre. Originally crucial to the 'Lifehouse' story these shows were filmed (when's the footage coming out?!) to be 'interspersed' with a vaguely planned film of 'Lifehouse' in which a rock band would 'unite' an audience and each of their individual 'vibrations' would be turned into pure music - or something like that. Sadly The Who were under-rehearsed, their storyline under-written and their fans under-whelmed so instead of being a truly celestial moment of growth and harmony the end shows resulted in a slightly grumpy band playing a slightly disinterested gig. Pete spends most of the set uncharacteristically apologising, for forgetting the chords to his new songs (he even asks a bloke in the front row to stop dancing at one point, albeit with the promise of dancing with him on stage during the older songs later in the set), for the lack of comprehension over the story and for his lack of poise after becoming a sleep-deprived father for the second time that month. 

By and large it's the messiest, loosest, least interesting Who gig from this classic 1969-1971 period released so far and must have confused the (heaven and) hell out of collectors who bought this set simply because it was the most famous album by the band and featured the world's greatest rock and roll band playing live for half the set. Given the price, unless you're a Who completist you're far better off sticking with the cheaper 'bargain' priced original CD version, already packed to the gunnels with fascinating extras (one of which, 'Baby Don't You Do It', is cut from this set anyway). There are, at least, some strong selling points though including a number of 'Lifehouse' songs the band never played live again: an opening 'Love Ain't For Keeping' is easily the best, halfway between the studio versions being played at speed and on electric instruments like the 'Odds and Sods' outtake but with Roger singing not Pete, while 'Too Much Of Anything' is pretty albeit ragged and an early 'Won't Get Fooled Again' is interesting for fans who love the song enough to chart it's gradual progression from limp new song to special set closer. Of the old songs 'I Don't Even Know Myself' sounds especially poignant given how unusually insecure The Who now suddenly feel, while an angry 'Naked Eye' is the one moment on this set when all the pieces fall into place and The Who sound as good as they ever did. generally speaking, though, this is the sort of set only a true fan could love. 

"Then and Now"

(Polydor-Geffen, March 2004)

I Can't Explain/My Generation/The Kids Are Alright/Substitute/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me/Summertime Blues/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Squeeze Box/Who Are You?/You Better You Bet/Real Good Looking Boy/Old Red Wine

2007 Re-Issue adds the following tracks: Baba O'Riley/It's Not Enough

"Then and now you hear a band and fall in love - you can't do a thing about it!"

In 2002 The Who discussed making a new album and set the wheels in motion for a full return in the 21st century until John Entwistle's untimely death in 2002 delayed the project and inspired a different concept. Pete and Roger met up to record a tribute to their fallen friend intended as a standalone single until Polydor got in touch and suggested the idea of sticking them both at the end of a best-of they were preparing to release. That sort of thing doesn't normally work - and forking out extra money to own two songs on the end of an album where you already own the other twenty might be good commercial sense but it's a nasty trick to play on fans. However the problem is eased through two things. Firstly, 'Old Red Wine' and especially 'Real Good Looking Boy' are excellent additions to The Who canon and worthy of inclusion even amongst the band's great hits (the latter, a song about the power of love and unity to make even the ugliest most tortured and lonely soul think they're pretty is perhaps the most suitable end there could ever be to a Who collection). Secondly, the track selection is pretty good, second only to 'My Generation - The Best Of' in terms of its mixture of essential hit singles and fan-loved album tracks. Or at least it was eventually: shockingly the original CD only ran to 70 odd minutes, with the extra space filled up with 'Baba O'Riley' (good move!) and Endless Wire oddity 'It's Not Enough' (bad move!)  following a re-issue three years later. This album also makes the most of healing divisions between the band and Shel Talmy, but note that set is missing the superb second single 'Anyhow Anyhow Anywhere' and hit single 'Pictures Of Lily'  so could never be classed as a perfect compilation even if the later album track selections are chosen with care and this set spends a roughly equal time on all Who era for once, not just the 1960s or 'Who's Next'. The name, by the way, refers both to the idea of the band's 'past' and 'present' being on one disc and the original intention to include solo hits as well including Pete's 1993 single 'Now and Then'. 

Roger Daltrey "Moonlighting: The Anthology"

(Sanctuary, February 2005)

CD One: One Man Band/The Way Of The World/Thinking/There Is Love/Giving It All Awayu/Come Over And Get Your Love/The World Over/Proud/Dear John/Avenging Annie/One Of The Boys/Martyrs and Madmen/Say It Aib't So Jo/Bitter and Twisted/Free Me/Without Your Love/Waiting For A Friend/Parting Would Be Painless/After The Fire/Under A Raging Moon]

CD Two: Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again/Quicksilver Lightning/Lover's Storm/Mack The Knife/The Pig Must Die/Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me/Rock and Roll/Whose Gonna Walk On Water?/Love Is/Blues Man's Road/Baba O'Riley/Pinball Wizard/The Real Me/Child Of Mine/Born To Run/Seconds Out

"The memories smoulder and the heart always yearns after the fire burns"

Released a month before the very similar collection of Entwistle's solo work, the title of 'Moonlighting' rather says it all. Nowhere across this collection does Roger really nail what his solo career was suppoosed to sound like or what he wanted to do with it - so instead he was simply 'moonlighting' away from his 'day job' with The Who (even if that day job ended back in 1982). The problem really comes, unlike John's set, in making this a two-CD compilation: the two discs have nothing whatsoever to do with each other and the second would be truly unlistenable if not for the curious decision to add a whole bunch of live versions of Who tracks fans presumably own several hundred times over by now. Choosing a little from each discs really helped John, who tended to release very patchy albums, but Roger's solo work isn't like that - a true 'best of' would feature most of 'Daltrey', a little of 'Ride A Rock Horse' and 'McVicar' and the two Who-related tracks from 'Under A Raging Moon'. Hearing so many songs from the unlistenable 'Rocks In Your Head' and 'Can't Wait To See The Movie' simply reveals what a shocking loss in talent there was across the years as Roger stuck to doing what everybody else in the record market was doing at the tine, however unsuitable that was. As for the new music, Roger should be aiming for higher in his career than covering boring songs made famous by Elton John, Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen (even if 'Bron To Run' sounds rather good in his hands). Even a nice cover (taken from 'McVicar') and some love and care in the packaging can't make up for the downfall in the music.

If that sounds a bit harsh then it is worth pointing out that the first half of the first CD is actually pretty darn good. Roger is a fine singer when he has the material to match the quality of his voice and if he'd spent the rest of his solo career recording only songs by Leo Sayer and Paul Korda I'd have been quite happy. It's after this early period - ironically it's when Roger stops 'moonlighting' and starts going after his solo career all guns blazing after The Who call it quits that things go wrong. Thankfully the very best of Roger's solo work is here: 'Giving It All Away' is a beautiful heartbroken ballad, 'One Man Band' is a worthy tale of busking music for the sheer joy of it rather than to become a success and 'Say It Ain't So Jo' is a classy singer singing a classy song. The Townshend writtewn 'After The Fire' and Roger-written Keith tribute 'Under A Raging Moon' are welcome additions for Who fans too. However unfortunately the second tier of Roger's body of work isn't here - the sweet but inconsequential ditties like 'The Story So Far' When The Music Stops' and once again anything from 'Lisztomania' (especially 'Orephus' Song') and the like are all missing and a set this big should be able to accomodate all of them. 'Moonlighting' isn't bad by any means but throwing a load of Who hit singles somewhere in the middle of the 'heavy metal' years, cutting the best period of Roger's work in half and extending his later, noisier years is not the way I'd have put this disc together. Few fans buying this  sampler set would really be interested in tracking down the rest, which is a shame because the early years at least have some nice songs on them, while if Sanctuary insisted on havinf some Who numbers on here then why not use the obscure ones that show off why Roger might be one of the greatest vocalists of the 1960s and 1970s? ('I'm Free' 'Bargain' 'Drowned' 'Imagine A Man' and 'Cry If You Want' would be my picks, doubtless you have your own). Collectors should note that this set was re-issued almost straight away as Roger's entry in Universal music's 'Gold' series (in a cover matching Pete's set)w with four songs removed and substituted by Raging Moon album track 'The Pride You Hide'. 

"So Who's The Bass Player? - The John Entwistle/Ox Anthology"

(Sanctuary, March 2005)

CD One: My Size/Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)/What Are We Doing Here?/Heaven and Hell/Ted End/Ten Little Friends/Apron Strings/Thinkin' It Over/Who Cares?/I Wonder/I Was Just Being Friendly/Do The Dangle/Made In Japan/Roller Skate Kate/Peg Leg Peggy/Lady Killer/Mad Dog/Cell no 7 (Live)/Whiskey Man (Live)/Boris The Spider (Live)
CD Two: My Wife (Live)/I'm Flash/Space Pirates/To The Chop/Blast Off/Try Me/Talk Dirty/To Late The Hero/Love Doesn't Last/Life After Love/The Real Me (Live)/Success Story (Live)/905 (Live)/Had Enough (Live)/Bogey Man/Back On The Road/When The Sun Comes Up/Don't Be A Sucker

"The arrows fall, the sky is red, the music gets higher and higher"

Fittingly, the Ox Anthology is a weighty tome featuring more or less half of most of Joh's mainstream albums as well as an impressive collection of outtakes and live performances. This set, released three years after the bassists' death, has clearly been made with a lot of love - and with a lot of patience too given the many licensing issues behind the scenes (John seems to have given up trying to get a full best-of like this one out in his lifetime). Two and a half hours' worth of material really is the best way to hear these patchy albums, which all had good moments ('Smash Your Head Against The Wall' especially) but which never really came together across a full LP. John's progression from thoughtful balladeer to thoughtless rock and roller for once makes putting all of these tracks together in the right order something of a shame but if there's any way to deal with such an eclectic writer well then it's this one, while the clever Who-like title and the marvellous monochrome early 1970s shot of John's sly grin with bass in hand (Keith or Pete were probably doing something outrageous just out of shot) is class too. The only problem is that the music isn't better, with the compilers' determination to include a bit of everything rather than a lot of the albums that work meaning that we get too many songs from Transformers-wannabe series 'Van-Pires' and noisy painful heavy metal strutting record 'The Rock'. To be fair, almost all the good stuff is in here too though, with the choices from 'Smash Your Head' and 'Mad Dog' particularly spot on, but given that we have two discs to play with it's a shame that such classics as 'Drowning' 'I Fall To Pieces' and the superior studio take of Who prison sbreakout song 'Cell no 7' aren't here as well. 

As for the unreleased material - most of it in concert - that's a clever way of ensuring Who favourites are present and correct (though it's a shame John never performed 'When I Was A Boy' at a live show so that isn't here) and some of it is really good: ''Whiskey Man' is slowed down to a wicked crawl, 'Boris' is hard and funky, 'My Wife' is gloriously messy and an unexpected '905' is much tougher than the 'Who Are You' studio version with raucous drumming and heavy metal guitar bursts. However some of it isn't: John hands lead vocals for 'Success Story' 'Had Enough' and a surprise cover of 'The Real Me' over to his bandmates who end up coming across as just another wannabe Who covers band (and which surely was the whole reason John went solo, because he was so sick of handing his songs over to Roger to sing). As for the two new studio cuts, both feature Alice Cooper on lead vocals and sound far more like his usual sort of material rather than John's and both 'I'm Flash' and 'Space Pirates' are more noisy rockers that take up space where more of John's songs could have fitted. To be frank Entwistle's a far better vocalist despite all the criticism he gained down the years and if nothing else this set reveals why he was so aggreived at always being told to hand his songs over to 'lead singfers' to perform - across the whole compilation John never puts a foot wrong as a singer, only when other people perform his songs do things go wrong. 'Who's The Bass Player' also reveals once and for all just what an eclectic, adventurous musician and songwriter John was and why his solo career might well be more interesting than the Who-like concepts of Pete, the middle-of-the-road adventures of Roger or the karaoke of Keith. What this won't do is come anywhere closer to matching what John was capable of in The Who and many fans who don't know any of these recordings may yet find themselves disappointed as it shares so little in commo with the power, wit and intelligence of the parent band. Still, though, if you have a dark humour, a soft spot for rockabilly and think like me that John's tracks were some of the best The Who ever did then this set is well worth trying. Despite the title of this album, John sounds so much more than just The Who's bass player here and it's deeply welcome to hear the much-missed bass player's work re-evaluated in such a loving way. It';s just a shame that this set was too late to make John a hero in his own lifetime. 

"Gold" aka "The Pete Townshend Anthology"

(SPV/Hip-O, November 2005)

CD One: English Boy/Secondhand Love/A Little Is Enough/Heart To Hang On To/Sheraton Gibson/The Sea Refuses No River/Brilliant Blues/Now and Then/I Won't Run Any More/Keep Me Turning/Let My Love Open The Door/Slit Skirts/A Friend Is A Friend/Let's See Action/Street In The City/Empty Glass

CD Two: Rough Boys/Give Blood/Exquisitely Bored/Jools and Jim/Crashing By Design/Don't Try To Make Me Real/Face The Face/Uniforms (Corps D'espirit)/My Baby Gives It Away/Outlive The Dinosaur/Keep On Working/White City Fighting/All Shall Be Well/Time Is Passing/I Am Afraid/Misunderstood/Pure and Easy/Parvardigar

"When everybody keep retreating but you can never get enough"

A sensible reduction of Pete Townshend's six main solo albums (plus the guitarist's half of 'Rough Mix' with Ronnie Lane very nearly complete), this popular set cashed in on the revived popularity of The Who around the time of 'Endless Wire' and was a worthy reminder of what Pete had been up to while The Who had been away. The compilation was actually released twice, titled 'The Townshend Anthology' in Europe and as part of Hip-O's long-running 'Gold' series in the US with both sets given different packaging (the European version is best with Pete looking pensive surrounded by smoke - on the American edition he has his face down staring at his guitar, which is a more characteristic shot but a surprisingly un-photogenic one). Both sets contain the exact same track listing though and are in every other detail the same so you really don't need to track them both down. You probably don't need these sets if you own all the Townshend solo albums either as there's nothing new here, not even an alternate mix, but if you're a curious fan on a budget rather than a certified collector then both sets offer an excellent beginner's guide to Pete's solo work. 

Most of the favourites are here somewhere, from the Pete-demo of 'Pure and Easy' and off-the-cuff 'Sheraton Gibson'  from debut 'Who I Am', the rocking 'My Baby Gives It Away' hilarious 'Misunderstood', earnest 'Keep Me Turning', epic 'Streets In The City' and sweet 'Heart To Hang On To' from 'Rough Mix' (only the title track instrumental and the cover version of 'Till The Rivers All Run Dry' are absent, which is arguably as things should be - at the time 'Rough Mix' was still Pete's biggest rarity due to contractual shenanigans and still missing from CD), the hit singles and title track from 'Empty Glass' (though personally I'd have had 'I Am An Animal' and 'Gonna Get Ya' in there too), 'Slit Skirts' and 'The Sea Refuses No River' which were easily the two best songs off 'All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes', 'Give Blood' and the title track from 'White City Fighting' which are easily the best songs there too and 'Now and Then', the clear winner from 'Psychoderelict', plus the addition of 'O'Parvardigar' the most substantial song from Pete's 'Mehere Baba tribute' albums. You still get noisy horrors like 'Jools and Jim' 'Face The Face' 'Crashing By Design' and 'A Friend Is A Friend' from 'The Iron Man', but these sets are very hard to get right and they both get things more right than most. The set's weakest links are undoubtedly their running order though: instead of being placed in the 'proper' order (and the Pete albums do feel as if they have a certain 'natural' order to them in terms of personal and production development) we get a jumble that means most (but not quite all) of the best songs are on disc two and most (but not all) of the weaker songs are on disc two. It's a shame too that room wasn't found for some of the better 'Scoop' demos as a third disc of the highlights (and we mean the highlights, not what ended up on 'Scooped') would have made a fine set near-perfect. Even so, out of the three major goes at getting the Pete Townshend solo years on compact disc, this is by far the best and a useful one-stop shop for fans who can't afford 'Rough Mix' 'Empty Glass' or 'Chinese Cowboys' just yet (though be warned that once you fall in love with the highlights from those albums you'll want to own the whole lot...)

"Amazing Journey - The Story Of The Who (Soundtrack Album)"

(Geffen, April 2008)

Leaving Here/I Can't Explain/My Generation/I'm A Boy/I Can See For Miles/Amazing Journey-Sparks/Pinball Wizard/Summertime Blues/Baba O'Riley/The Song Is Over/Sea and Sand/Who Are You?/Eminence Front/Won't Get Fooled Again (Live)/Real Good Looking Boy/Tea and Theatre

"Jumped every wall instinctively, unravelled codes ingeniously"

Yet another 'soundtrack' Who album, this time to go with the so-so documentary released the same year, regrettably this one is more of a 'greatest hits you heard snatches of' rather than a 'Kids Are Alright' style collection of rare recordings. Directly because this album is a soundtrack rather than a compilation, there are some oddball choices here: 1965 Who outtake 'Leaving Here' (wrongly listed in the sleevenotes as being the 1964 High Numbers recording) and Quadrophenia highlight 'Sea and Sand' pop up and take residence even when so many key songs like 'I Can't Explain' 'Boris The Spider' and 'You Better You Bet' are missing. The only previously unreleased recording here is a not-that-hot live recording of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' from a 2001 charity gig for 9/11 survivors, which isn't as interesting  or as emotional as it ought to be and frankly no substitute for the original. Overall, then, I'd give this weird curio a miss: it fails as a compilation set for newcomers and there's not enough here for this to be an interesting work for collectors in its own right. The Who definitely did have an 'amazing journey', but it isn't here on this CD. At least the set is the first compilation modern enough to include 'Tea and Theatre', though, which saves you having to sit through 'Endless Wire' for it.
"Greatest Hits"

(Geffen, December 2009)

I Can't Explain/My Generation/The Kids Are Alright/Substitute/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/Behind Blues Eyes/Baba O'Riley/Won't Get Fooled Again/Love Reign O'er Me/Squeeze Box/Who Are You?/You Better You Bet/Eminence Front/Real Good Looking Boy/It's Not Enough

Bonus Live Disc: I Can't Explain (1971)/Substitute (1971)/Happy Jack (1970)/I'm A Boy (1970)/Behind Blue Eyes (1971)/Pinball Wizard (1976)/I'm Free (1976)/Squeeze Box (1976)/Naked Eye-Let's See Action-My Generation Blues (1974)/5.15 (1973)/Won't Get Fooled Again (1973)/Magic Bus (1970)/My Generation (1965)/I Can See For Miles (1989)/Who Are You? (1989)/A Man In A Purple Dress (2007)

"I'll smile and admit you were never quite enough"

Basically a re-issue of 'Then and Now' with a couple of songs switched round ('Pictures Of Lily' and 'Eminence Front' replace 'Old Red Wine') released on new paymasters Geffen (a record label most famous for losing John Lennon and gaining Neil Young as his replacement - before doing the ultimate record company no-no and suing him). The Who get away lighter than Neil ever did, but even though there's nothing majorly wrong with this collection it is a little boring with a fully silver cover and no real changes since the last Who set just a few years earlier. Pairing this set with another Geffen-released CD, 'Greatest Hits Live', is also something of a daft idea given that almost all the tracks are replicated and only true fans who don't need to own yet another Who compilation will own all this stuff anyway.

"The Who Sell Out" (Deluxe Edition 2009)

CD One: The Album In Stereo plus Someone's Coming/Early Morning Cold Taxi/Jaguar/Coke (Jingle)/Glittering Girl/Summertime Blues/Girl's Eyes/Sodding About/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands/In The Hall Of The Mountain King/Rael 1/Rael 2

CD Two: The Album In Mono plus Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand (US Mix)/Someone's Coming (Single Mix)/Relax (Demo)/Jaguar (Mono)/Glittering Girl (Alternate Version)/Tattoo (Alternate Mix)/Our Love Was (Alternate Take)/Rotosound Strings (Jingle)/I Can See For Miles (Mono)/Rael (Mono)/Armenia (City In The Sky) Backwards (Hidden Track)/Great Shakes (Advert) (Hidden Track)

"In the back of their head was a voice that said 'someone will steal it all, you'll be lying in a gutter with an empty box while the theieves have a ball'"

The fourth 'deluxe' Who re-issue suffers like the others from giving us more of the near-same but makes more sense as a double set given how hard The Who worked in this period and how many outtakes there are to provide alternate takes and mixes rather than everything being taken from just the same album over and over. The first CD is basically just the old 1990s one out again with almost the same track listing just in a different order - the only absentees are, sadly, 'Glow Girl' and 'Melancholia' (arguably the two best Who outtakes of them all!) while instead we get a few unnecessary minutes of 'Sodding About', the rather staid studio take of 'Summertime Blues' (which is a million light years behind the one on 'Live At Leeds') and the presence of 'Rael 2' at the end of a new outtake of 'Rael 1' which is interesting but not ridiculously so. Disc two is more interesting, with a few subtle differences on the mono mix - particularly the psychedelic squeal on 'Armenia', a n alternate guitar solo on 'Our Love Was' and some of the harmonies on certain songs, notably 'Tattoo'. None of the alternate mixes really add much to your understanding of the album and - given that this is an album about crass commercialism - these are the 'vanilla filler' in the set you don't really need but can be produced cheaply. The 'extras' though are a revelation: an unused commercial for 'Great Shakes' (fictional milkshakes) that really should have made the final album, a rougher rawer 'Glittering Girl', a simple demo for 'Relax'   and best of all a 'hidden' unlisted bonus track at the end of the 'mono' disc that plays the complete looped 'backwards' guitars for 'Armenia', which is a whole trip in itself never mind the rest of the album. Yes we Who fans are all being taken for mugs again, forking out £20 odd for an edition of an album that didn't sound that much different in single disc form for a tenner, but somehow that makes more sense with 'Who Sell Out' than the others - both because it's an album where there are more details to hear being altered between mono and stereo mixes and outtakes and because the whole album is about the inevitable crass commercialism of true art anyway - it's amazing The Who didn't charge more for this knowingly capitalist pop art concoction.

"Live At Leeds" (Deluxe Edition 2010)

CD One: Heaven and Hell/I Can't Explain/Fortune Teller/Tattoo/Young Man Blues/Substitute/Happy Jack/I'm A Boy/A Quick One While He's Away/Amazing Journey-Sparks/Summertime Blues/Shakin' All Over/My Generation/Magic Bus

CD Two: Overture/It's A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey-Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/The Acid Queen/Pinball Wizard/Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror/Smash The Mirror!/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I'm Free/Tommy's Holiday Camp/We're Not Gonna Take It!

"Do you think it's alright to play the whole of 'Tommy' to a load of  Leeds students at full blast along with definitive live performances of some of our greatest hits? Yeah, I think that's more than alright!"

Re-re-assemble the musicians! 'Live At Leeds' gets the deluxe treatment next and its stunning, perhaps the single most important disc out there in the Who catalogue being nothing short of two and a half hours of perhaps the greatest concert ever played by perhaps rock and roll's greatest ever live band. Fans have known how good 'Live At Leeds' was for years of course, ever since the album was rush-released into shops just three months after the band played it at Leeds University. The original vinyl caused quite a stir from the beginning, but those who were there spoke with horror at how the album had been condensed from thirty-three songs of magic to just six. From a marketing point of view this was the sensible thing to do at the time: few bands, even The Who, put out double-live albums in this period and repeating the whole of 'Tommy' a year after release would have seemed like they were short-changing their fanbase rather. However rumours of how good the full Leeds set was continued to grow, to the point where when the Who albums were being re-mastered for CD release in 1995 the band allowed the release of fourteen songs - enough to fill up an entire CD - albeit with 'Tommy' restricted to just the two songs, the definitive pairing of 'Amazing Journey and 'Sparks'. That, the band thought, was that - with a live version of 'Tommy' already out on the 'Isle Of Wight' set they figured that fans would never buy a second version so soon. However the 'Journey > Sparks' medley  blew so many fans away that The Who continued to be lobbied about releasing the entire set and finally relented in 2001 with every single note performed at the 'Leeds' gig (including a few snippets originally edited out of the original 'highlights' LP) restored and reinstated.

The result is wonderful and the definitive way to hear both the 'Leeds' concert and The Who in general. Admittedly 'Tommy' didn't quite sound as solid as 'Journey' and 'Sparks' all the way through, but the sensible decision to include the whole of the rock opera on disc two with no cuts enables the listener to hear just how intense a listening experience it must have been for those in the audience: a full hour with no pauses between the songs, no interludes or pauses for breath, just one fast-flowing song after another. 'Tommy', always a little bit of a weedy kid on the studio original despite his charisma, is at his best here - despite the many makeovers down the years from orchestras, guest stars, Broadway stage productions and the other live versions out there, this is the single best way to hear The Who's most famous work, with some of the lesser songs chopped away and some of the more tentative arrangements now turned into solid gusty performances from a band who now know this piece backwards after six months of near-constant performances. As for the rest of the show, maintained complete from the 1995 CD re-issue but with a few hilarious bits of stage banter left complete (everybody played 'Fortune Teller' according to Roger, though he misses out the rather fine Hollies cover from his long list, while 'I'm A Boy' has Pete celebrating it, wrongly, as the band's 'first ever #4' - actually it made #2 in the UK singles chart). 'Well this is certainly the nicest thing that's ever happened to us' quips Pete just before the final encore of 'Magic Bus' - he's not kidding. Even with a pricier, even more deluxe set to come in 2014 (with a 'Live At Hull' gig the next day being only at 9/10 of the strength of this one and with lots of understandable repetition) this is the version of 'Leeds' to buy. The 'OO have never sounded  more 'orrible, 'orgeous or 'onderful. The best version of the best live recording ever made? Could well be!

"Greatest Hits Live"

(Geffen, January 2010)

I Can't Explain (1971)/Substitute (1971)/Happy Jack (1970)/I'm A Boy (1970)/Behind Blue Eyes (1971)/Pinball Wizard (1976)/I'm Free (1976)/Squeeze Box (1976)/Naked Eye-Let's See Action-My Generation Blues (1974)/5.15 (1973)/Won't Get Fooled Again (1973)/Magic Bus (1970)/My Generation (1965)//I Can See For Miles (1989)/Join Together (1989)/Love Reign O'er Me (1989)/Baba O'Riley (1989)/Who Are You? (1989)/The Real Me (2002)/The Kids Are Alright (2002)/Eminence Front (2009)/A Man In A Purple Dress (2007)

"It all looks fine to the naked eye - but it don't really happen that way at all!"

'Greatest Hits Live'? Surely that's just 'Live At Leeds' isn't it? Well, no: not in the land of Geffen anyway, where - taking their cue from the well received 'Backstage Pass' set in 2007 - they try and release a more mainstream version of the same idea which isn't quite as good, released firstly solely on iTunes in 2010 before becoming a CD proper later in the same year. The release was meant to tie-in with The Who's appearance on America's 'Superbowl' half-time entertainment where they played to one of their biggest audiences since 'Woodstock' and the track listing is slightly skewed towards their American hits (so more 1970s than 1960s). The Who recorded more of their own gigs for posterity than most and even broadcast quite a few of them around the world on various radio stations (mostly in Europe with commentators talking over the top). The chance to hear any of them in pretty much decent sound is superb and there are several must-have moments here, especially at the beginning of the set where three songs from a gig in San Francisco in 1971 features the band as raw and hungry as they've ever been (except for 'Behind Blue Eyes' which has rarely sounded more gorgeous). A 1976 gig in Swansea, Wales is pretty good too with cracking versions of 'Pinball Wizard' and 'I'm Free'. There's just one song from the much-loved and still-unreleased 'Charlton Sthletic Football Ground' show in 1974 but it's a good one and a long one, taking in the mid-01970s 'slow blues' version of 'My Generation', a stunning and dark 'Naked Eye' and a desperate pleading version of 'Let's See Action!' All three shows are gems. However releasing this trio complete on a three disc set (six disc set?) might perhaps have been a better bet as there's a whole second disc of 1980s and 2000s shows which are almost as unlistenable as 'Who's Last' and you can tell the difference straight away as the band on-stage gets larger but their sounds gets smaller and tinnier. The whole of the second half is redundant, bar a bluesy take on 'Eminence Front' with an extended synth opening that runs on for several glorious seconds before The Who clumsily hit their way into the song. The fact is too that if you're the kind of fan who buys up everything then you already own perhaps a third of this set from different places or - in some cases - you will do soon: there are two songs from Hull University the day after 'Leeds' and featured on that album's deluxe re-issue, there's a BBC session from 1965 where the band perform 'My Generation' which was already included on the official BBC set (there are lots of repeats that didn't make that set, so why not release one of them?) and even a slightly truncated 'Magic Bus' from 'Leeds' itself, which most fans likely to buy this set own six times over. Some good things then, nay some truly essential things if you love the early 1970s Who, but my collector's (Boris The) spidey senses tell me that the bits you need to own will get a full release one day before very much time has been passing so maybe we're all just better off waiting for that instead?

Pete Townshend "The Quadrophenia Demos"
(Geffen, April 2012)
Volume One: The Real Me/Cut My Hair/The Punk and The Godfather//Dirty Jobs/Is It In My head?/Anymore
Volume Two: I've Had Enough/Drowned/Is It Me?//Dr Jimmy/Love Reign O'er Me
"You were under the impression that when you were walking forward you'd end up further onward, but things ain't quite that simple!"
A two volume EP set released on vinyl seprately for Record Store Day 2012 (and only available through retailers, not online), this was a simple eleven song reduction of the twenty-six demos already released on the 'Quasfrophenia Director's Cut' released the year before. If you already own that set you don't need this one, although the covers are rather nice and better designed than the 'parent' set with a pretty collage of Pete and a mixing desk for a head (but in a nicer hue than the original!) and Pete at a piano, both overlaid with swirly symbols and writing. The demos themselves go for the obvious choices although it's a surprise the demo for the single '5.15' isn't here - it's one of the better ones.

"Pinball Wizard - The Collection"

(Spectrum, May 2012)

My Generation/Batman/Run Run Run/I Can See For Miles/Armenia (City In The Sky)/Circles/Pinball Wizard/Baba O'Riley/Won't Get Fooled Again/Naked Eye/Young Man Blues/I'm Free/Love Reign O'er Me/The Real Me/Slip Kid/Who Are You?/Another Tricky Day/Athena/It's Not Enough

"I ain't seen nothing like him in any amusement hall"

A simple, straightforward greatest hits compilation named after one of the band's biggest money-earners even though it doesn't seem like a natural name for a best-of (what next? 'The Who are The Acid Queen'? 'The Punk, The Who and The Godfather?' 'I Can See The Who For Miles?' 'All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes'?!? No that's a silly name, Who would use that?...) The track listing is a little weird mind, focussing on the band's 1960s and late 1970s work for a change with such unexpected delights (the term is used loosely) as the 'Batman' theme and Speedy Keene cover 'Armenia'. It's nice to hear more than just the hits though and some of the rarer work here - such as the stunning 'Naked Eye' and the despondent Who theme song 'Slip Kid' - deserve their moment in the sun over and above missing hits such as 'Substitute' 'I Can See For Miles' and even - horror of horrors - 'My Genration'. If the hits are what you want then for goodness sake don't buy this volume first - but if you find it cheap enough then buying it second will offer a much greater understanding of what The Who are all about than most hit sets and there are some great undervalued moments here.

 "Quadrophenia: Live In London"

(Universal, Recorded July 2013 Released June 2014)

Disc One: I Am The Sea/The Real Me/Quadrophenia/Cut My Hair/The Punk And The Godfather//I’m One/The Dirty Jobs/Helpless Dancer/Is It In My Head?/I’ve Had Enough!//5:15

Disc Two: /Sea And Sand/Drowned/Bell Boy//Dr Jimmy/The Rock/Love Reign O’er Me/ Who Are You?/You Better You Bet/Pinball Wizard/Baba O'Riley/Won't Get Fooled Again/Tea and Theatre

"There's a story that the grass is so green, what did I see? Where have I been?"

'Quadrophenia' always felt like the album that 'got away' from The Who - though it's rightly celebrated as one of their greatest achievements now, at the time it was released at just the point when audience were looking for something 'fun' and double album sets were labelled 'pretentious' and the album was always overshadowed by 'Tommy' and 'Who's Next'. A similar thing happened with the concerts: while 'Tommy' won over new fans on stage and what remained of 'Lifehouse' always went down well in the live set the period live shows for 'Quadrophenia' were difficult, messy affairs interrupted by The Who trying too hard to do what wasn't possible yet with click-tracks Keith couldn't follow and video-screens and sound effect tapes that didn't always play while Roger insisted on explaining the plot between every song (much to its chief creator's annoyance). Pretty much all of 'Quadrophenia' was dropped from the set-list for good across the band's 'first' career (barring, occasionally, 'Love Reign O'er Me' and '5:15'). After the revival of 'Tommy' went down so well live in 1989, though, 'Quadrophenia' was the obvious sequel and the band toured the album again with a highly successful concert show that incorporated video screens once more without the technical issues (starring Phil Daniels who played Jimmy the Mod in the 1979 film version) and occasional special guests. Released as the middle disc in the triple-DVD set 'Tommy/Quadrophenia/Live Hits', it's a stunning show where everybody knows the material backwards (while the video parts mean Roger doesn't need to introduce the songs night after night and can get on with singing) and - despite the understandable, occasional lapses in speed and power due to age - is as good as ever The Who could have performed the show in 1974.
However The Who never released that version on CD, even though it would have sold like mod-cakes. Instead they waited until yet another revival in 2013 by which time the band have been playing this material so often they're bored and the video screens and character touches have been reduced to near-nothing. There are no guest stars and Roger has a bad cold all the way through, sounding closer to reaching a century than he does his teens (and Pete isn't an awful lot better). The problem is, unlike 'Join Together', this is a single live show rather than highlights of a whole lot re-assembled and sadly it's not a particularly hot night, such is the way with the rock and roll concert Gods sometimes. Sure band and audience have fun and it's great to have one souvenir of 'Quadrophenia' played with the charge and thrill and improvisation of live performance. Frankly the work also sounds an awful lot healthier than 'Tommy' did in 1989 when it sounded 200 years older, not a mere twenty. But ultimately this version of 'Quadrophenia' is a disappointment (at least compared to the 1996 work): many of the songs end in a musical muddle as the band fall slightly out of sync, the vocals are hard to hear and decipher and none of the performances here add to the original - in fact almost all of them detract (only a very pretty take on 'Is It In My Head?' with louder brass in tribute to John Entwistle comes close to matching them - with Roger's older lived-in vocal perfect for this sort of doubt-filled number). The 'encores' are pretty good mind, with a thrilling 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and a passionate 'Tea and Theatre' the perfect ending - maybe 'Quadrophenia' is one of those cursed works that's simply doomed not to travel to the live stage that well and the 1996 version was just lucky? Overall, though, I'd stick with the DVD set if you really want to see this work performed live - and the original album is more than enough if you don't.

"Tommy" (Super Deluxe Edition)

(Universal, November 2013)

CD One (Album): Overture/It’s A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/Cousin Kevin/The Acid Queen/Underture/Do You Think It’s Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/Sensation/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I’m Free/Welcome/Tommy’s Holiday Camp/We’re Not Gonna Take It

CD Two (Demos): Overture/It’s A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Dream One/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/The Acid Queen/Underture/Do You Think It’s Alright?/Pinball Wizard/There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Success/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/Sensation/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I’m Free/Welcome/Tommy’s Holiday Camp/We’re Not Gonna Take It/Trying To Get Through/Young Man Blues

CD Three (Remastered Album): Overture/It’s A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/Cousin Kevin/The Acid Queen/Underture/Do You Think It’s Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/Sensation//Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I’m Free/Welcome/Tommy’s Holiday Camp/We’re Not Gonna Take It

CD Four ('Live Bootleg'): Overture/It’s A Boy/1921/Amazing Journey x2/Sparks/Eyesight To The Blind/Christmas/Cousin Kevin/The Acid Queen/Do You Think It’s Alright?/Fiddle About/Pinball Wizard/There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/Smash The Mirror/Sensation/Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson/I’m Free/Welcome/Tommy’s Holiday Camp/We’re Not Gonna Take It

"We need more room, build an extension, a colourful palace, spare no expense now!"

Given that 'Tommy' is, in part, a morality play about the corruption of something wonderful and spiritual by commercial greed of people who should know better, it's always seemed confusing to me just how often The Who have milked their biggest cash cow. You may have noticed a lot of variations on 'Tommy' in this book already - the studio original, the full 'Live At Leeds', the Isle of Wight gig, the film soundtrack version, the Broadway musical version, the standard CD version, the deluxe CD version and a classical re-interpretation with an all-star cast. Enough already! Tommy is proof that even small ideas can be big enough to be life-changing, that a humble disabled child can change everything simply through playing pinball and that fame is an evil thing that takes the talented away from what they should be doing. Making yet more money out of 'Tommy', when there was absolutely no reason the new 'extras' couldn't have been released decades go, seems dangerously close to the moment when Tommy's fanbase turns on their hero and walk away, dejected, onto the next big thing. Something tells me that this won't be the last set The Who ever release for their biggest creation either so where does it end - with a twelve disc version collecting every variation out there? Tommy already sounded perfectly fine and happy when upgraded to CD in the 1990s, with the deluxe re-issue something of a let-down. Do we really need it all over again?

To be fair, the new remix is a good one making what always sounded quite a muddy and unconvincingly performed album the first time round into something ever more beautiful. Pete doesn't tease us with four demos from his archives this time - he pretty much releases the full lot, including some unheard tracks (though the noisy psychedelic freak-out 'Dream One' is just a hi-fi obsessive with a new tape recorder for Christmas and too much time on his hands and 'Success' is a nine second spoken word link in the style of 'Miracle Cure'). Some of these are terrific: 'Sparks' is a psychedelic maze full of dead-ends and doubt, rather than the rockier revolutionary version that made the LP and the original version of 'Tommy's Holiday Camp' before Keith Moon got his grubby mac and dirty mittens on it is much cuter, more Disneyland than Dirty Old Man. The October 15th 1969 gig from Ottawa, Canada is the earliest live Tommy we've heard yet, much rawer and more awkward than the 'Live At Leeds' one four months later but interesting for the differences all the same. It's also a miracle it survives at all, Pete being so distraught the first time he heard the live tapes back he ordered them to be burnt - instead they were kept in a box for years safely away from the guitarist and his matches). However this is really all superfluous decoration: you only really need to own one version of 'Tommy' and arguably that's the one on the second disc of the deluxe 'Live At Leeds'. The original was so newly born it couldn't breathe, the demos are like CAT scans of the baby in progress in the womb (and interesting only to those who created it or really, really really love this child) and the Canadian gig is interesting in the way that a photograph of someone you know really well looked like as a child. In true musical terms there's only one performance of 'Tommy' that truly matters - and the 'Leeds' performance isn't even here.

Roger Daltrey/Wilko Johnson "Going Back Home"

(Chess, March 2014)

Going Back Home/Ice On The Motorway/I Keep It To Myself/Can You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window?/Turned 21/Keep On Loving You/Some Kind Of Hero/Sneaking Suspicion/Keep It Out Of Sight/Everybody's Carrying A Gun/All Through The City

"He sits in your room, his tomb with a fist-full of tacks, precoccupied with his vengeance, cursing the dead who can't answer him back"

Roger Wilko and out! Well that was the plan anyway: Who fan and guitarist with Dr Feelgood Wilko Johnson thought that his time was short after a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer and was urged to put his affairs in order including some musical ones. Thinking what he really wanted to do he realised that what he most wanted was the chance to play some old blues and R and B songs from his youth in the company of people he admired and the people he most admired were The Who. We don't know if Pete was ever asked but Roger was more than up for it, relishing the chance to hang around with an old mate and even older songs while as an ambassador for Teenage Cancer Trust Roger felt it his duty to bring media attention to the illness as well as having fun. The result is an album that was never going to be deep or big on thought but it is a lot of fun as two old-ish men revisit their youth and record a whole album within a mere week for the first time in decades. The pair hadn't worked together before but had bonded at various awards ceremonies and dinners, finding a mutual love for Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. Wilko wrote most of the songs for the record, alongside a Bob Dylan cover (as far as I knpow the only one any of The Who ever recorded, so that's a first in itself) and few if any of them deal with loss or grief, Most are just blues wailings about girls, wine and song with Roger turning the clock back to the days of 1965 when he had no bigger ambitions than to be a James Brown cover artist. Roger and Wilko make a great team and you can hear their friendship in every bar wven when the songs aren't quite up to speed. If anything lets down this set it's the backing band who aren't quite up to the speed of Roger's roar of Eilko's flamboyant guitar, despite featuring The Style Council's Mick Talbot on keyboards and a rhythm section 'borrowed' from Ian Dury's Bloackheads.  It's not an essential album this one and some of the performances fall a little flat, but it did a lot of good in an awful lot of ways - funds got raised for charity, rarely discussed subject matters got raised by rock fans, Roger got to have a lot of fun, both men got their biggest sales success in decades and best of all somehow Wilko Johnson came through it all fit and healthy, still touring at the time of writing and with a new spring in his step thanks to this album.

'Going Back Home' is a lazy slow-tempo rocker about 'working just to keep my feelings clear', enlivened no end by Roger's throaty growl which adds a whole new layer of anger and toughness to the track.

'Ice On The Motorway' is a very 'Shakin' All Over' style track that has Roger grunting like a punk rock pig on a short and simple track about how life can be snatched away from you at any time, although it's not as deep or as revealing as that makes it sound.

The more up-tempo 'I Keep It To Myself' is one of the best tracks here as Roger - once the most with-it, sexy, confident rockstar on the planet, pleads that he's going to work better at love and that he's never been so worried about being turned down in his life before.

Dylan cover 'Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?' (the B-side of 1965 single 'Higheay 61 Revisited') works better than I expected it to. Despite the wordy impenetrable lyric this song about good intentions and wanting a sign from your loved ones works well in context with Roger singing at full power and Wilko turning in some glorious Townshend-style guitar prangs.

'Turned 21' is the most mvoing moment, a memory of Wilko's of watching his girlfriend turn 21 and first being away of the passing of time 'with so much to get done'. Wilko feels that ever more with every passing year and never more than ebing poorly. but this is a song more about the healing of the past than the worry of the future. The song has Roger struggling more than across the rest of the album but this is a fitting song for him too, an older, more fragole coda to The Who cover of 'I'm A Man' in which Roger 'made 21' all those years ago.

'Keep On Loving You' is one of the album's lesser song, with Roger over-doing the shouting over a rather limp backing track on what should be a sweet and simple song about being in love that's been turned into a power-ballad.

'Some Kind Of Hero' is a backwards-compliment to Wilko's partner. He was after a 'good girl' and couldn't find her, so his missus did instead! Throughout their time together he watches her age, get stretch-marks and lose her beauty and yet he loves her more than he ever did when she really did look beautiful. A sweet song rather undone by the relentless thrash metal of the backing.

'Sneaking Suspicion' is another Dr Feelgood-style track with large heavy guitar slashes and a lyric about finding an affair going on behind the narrator's back. Roger is suitably angry but his bitterness feels out of place on what's generally quite an 'up' album despite the circumstances.

'Keep It Out Of Sight' has a slinky guitar groove but neither the lyrics nor Roger's OTT huffing vocal quite lives up to the same promise. This is a song about keeping what you believe in your heart privately until the timing is right and as such is the single most Townshend-esque lyric here though not quite in the same league.

'Everybody's Carrying A Gun' is the most retro song here, played with rockabilly goodness and recalling 'Young Man Blues' with the idea that once old men used to be revered and respected but now it's a young man's game and you can't argue because all the youngsters seem to have their own guns and are ready to shoot.

The album closes with 'All Through The City', a Jam-style slinky rocker about the urgency of having so many things still left to do and say, the idea of searching through the city for a lover and a party presumably metaphors for life. It's a rather low-key end, but this gloriously noisy album was never likely to end with a tearjerker - it's not that sort of a record.

Indeed, 'Goin' Home' isn't much of a record at all. At half an hour long it's the shortest album of new material in this whole book (even 'The Who Sings My generation' is a fraction longer) and it flashesd past in the blink of an eye; a bit like life, as the message of the record seems to be. And yet it's still worth hearing, both for change to hear Roger regaining some of his old rawness and power on a bunch of songs he clearly relishes and for hearing Wilko regain his strength and come to terms with his illness by refusing to go quietly into the night. You'd never count this as a masterpiuece or a highlight of either man's entire catalogue, but it's spirited, good-natured and a worthy way for two old friends to spend what they feared might be their last few moments together making something good rather than dwelling on inevitability. Would that The Who had ended with quite this much energy, power and focus - in any era.

"The Who Hits Fifty!"

(Universal, November 2014)

Zoot Suit/I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/My Generation/Substitute/The Kids Are Alright/I'm A Boy/Happy Jack/Boris The Spider/Pictures Of Lily/The Last Time/I Can See For Miles/Call Me Lightning/Dogs/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/The Seeker/Summertime Blues/See Me Feel Me/Won't Get Fooled Again/Let's See Action/Bargain/Behind Blue Eyes//Baba O'Riley/Join Together/Relay/5.15/Love Reign O'er Me/Postcard/Squeeze Box/Slip Kid/Who Are You?/Trick Of The Light/You Better You Bet/Don't Let Go The Coat/Athena/Eminence Front/It's Hard/Real Good Looking Boy/It's Never Enough/Be Lucky

"I'm a solider at sixty-three, still no easy way to be free!"

A half-century eh? Who'd have guessed it - no actually they probably wouldn't. Admittedly it's been a patchy fifty years, with a split seventeen years in and most of the material on this album (30 odd tracks) comes from the first seven. This set is advertised as having two discs dedicated to fifty of the band's best loved works. Rather it features about 25 of their best loved works and some really dodgy choices. Real fans know that there's more to the band than the hit singles and 'Tommy' and of all the AAA bands their catalogue is one of the ripest for re-discovery: any band that had such an output that glorious peaks like 'Quadrophenia' and 'Who By Numbers' got treated as 'not as good as before' have a lot to offer the casual collector and had this set featured the real unsung gems of their catalogue ('It's Not True' 'A Legal Matter' 'Glow Girl' 'Melancholia' 'Glow Girl'  'The Real Me' 'Is It In My Head?' 'I'm One' 'The Punk And The Godfather' 'However Much I Booze' 'They're All In Love' 'Success Story' 'Blue Red and Grey' '905' 'Sister Disco' 'The Quiet Ones' 'I've Known No War' 'Cry If You Want')it would have been up near the top of the best re-issues list faster than a Keith Moon drum solo on rollerskates. Instead it's just the usual stuff, but not as many, padded out by too many reunion songs. Just as with 'Then and Now' the band also make their fanbase fork out a fortune for songs they already own to hear just one new track, although 2014 recording 'Be Lucky' really isn't worth your time or worthy of The Who, suffering from the worst of both Pete's recent records (clumsy and obvious) and Roger's (noisy, clumsy and obvious).  If rumours of the band's demise are true then this will be a truly awful place to leave The Who's legacy (they should have stopped at 'Real Good Looking Boy' back in 2003 or 'Tea and Theatre' in 2006).

At least this isn't terrible: there are such little-heard gems as High Numbers debut 'Zoot Suit', 1972 single 'Let's See Action', Who By Numbers' 'Slip Kid' and even the originally unreleased 'Postcard' along for the ride. What doesn't quite work, however, is the sound which is weedy and thin compared to how all these songs sounded on their original albums (I'm guessing here but it's as if the whole lot have been re-mastered to sound 'the same' even though in this case the 1965 'same' and the 2014 reduction of the 'same' are two very different things. The rather simplistic pop-art CD cover could be better too, making The Who out to be a cartoon when even a cursory glance at this album's contents makes them seem more like a long involving novel. Also, would it have killed them to release fifty songs on a set with so much free space and so many great songs in the band's back catalogue (would it have killed them to add another eight songs and make this birthday party truly go with a bang instead of a whimper?) Still as an introduction to the band it's ok - it's just as a celebration of fifty glorious years (well ten anyway) it should be so much better than this! 

In case you were wondering where it was our old review for the director's set of 'Quadrophenua' is here:

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?: