Friday, September 26, 2008

Who 7: Who’s Next

The Who premiered a handful of new songs on stage all through 1970, which were to be the basis of the next album, then just an EP to tide the fans over once a theme started to emerge. Then, once Pete decided he didn’t like the EP songs on stage either, they waited for the next batch of songs to materialize. And they did, though they didn’t exactly arrive as originally planned.
Considering that it came out of the bunt that was Pete’s long-gestating Lifehouse epic (a dystopian foretelling of the Internet), Who’s Next shouldn’t be as good as it is. But having failed at a big concept, the band took the best of what they had for a single album. The economic approach is to be commended, as they ended up with an amazing record.
The otherworldly tones of “Baba O’Riley” start us off and it’s ages before other instruments come in. When they do, they crackle, right up to the violin solo (which Roger Daltrey would eventually emulate on the harmonica in years to come). “Bargain” sneaks in, with another powerful vocal from Roger, interrupted by Pete’s midsection. All the car ads can’t take this song away. “Love Ain’t For Keeping” mixes it up with two minutes of acoustic rock, slapped away by the humor of “My Wife”. (This is the only song that had nothing to do with Lifehouse, and it’s not even one of John Entwistle’s best songs, but it’s so tough.) “The Song Is Over” was originally the Lifehouse finale; here it’s driven by the great Nicky Hopkins on piano and more traded verses, with the final couplet coming from “Pure And Easy”. (Its slightly Leslied guitar brings to mind early-‘70s TV ads depicting rainy afternoons in Central Park.)
“Getting In Tune” is a beautiful song that also works very well outside the Lifehouse concept. “Goin’ Mobile” is also better than it deserves, with great synth effects pushing it along. It’s a good song for driving fast in any weather. “Behind Blue Eyes” gives us a rest for a few minutes before picking up and shutting down again. Some great dynamics on this one. Then, like “Baba O’Riley”, the finale starts on one chord, with those rippling lines taking us to another place. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is a tour de force for everyone here, and this album couldn’t end any other way. (Listen right before the synth solo and you can hear the last few strums of the acoustic guitar from Pete’s demo.) Keith Moon’s drums come exploding back, Roger screams, and they proceed to beat the end senseless.
The current, remastered CD includes some extra tracks from the album sessions that don’t detract from the original nine-song set. As that was satisfactory, the Deluxe Edition smacked of exploitation but turned out to be a grand slam, and a very pleasant surprise. Those of us looking for Lifehouse (or at least cleaner versions of “Here For More”, “When I Was A Boy” and the live B-side of “Baby Don’t You Do It”, contemporary B-sides still unavailable on CD) remained disappointed. But instead, we got loaded up with plenty else. The nine album tracks were remastered from the original tapes for the first alleged time, followed by some extended bonus tracks from the 1995 CD. The second disc consists of 74 minutes from one of the band’s experimental concerts when the Lifehouse concept was still a possibility. Neither bonus section attempts to improve on the original album; they simply give a larger picture of how it came about. (If you’re really hungry, there was a box set that includes two full CDs of Pete’s original one-man-band demos for the project, including a 10-minute version of the “Baba O’Riley” backing track that’s simply intoxicating. But as long as you have those nine original songs, you’re set.)

The Who Who’s Next (1971)—5
1995 remaster: same as 1971, plus 7 extra tracks
2003 Deluxe Edition: same as 1971, plus 20 extra tracks

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