Friday, February 27, 2009

Pete Townshend 4: All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Pete came close to killing himself by the end of 1981 with a spiraling addiction to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and just about everything else, but managed to survive in time to remember what he was here for. He wrote songs and recorded demos before, during and after his rehab, and emerged with a new mod haircut and an album with the unwieldy title of All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. Many have suggested that it’s no great shakes, but this author has to disagree; while the Who struggled to remain relevant, Pete was able to express himself and his neuroses and make music that worked.
An interest in writing short stories and prose rears its head with the opening track. “Stop Hurting People” takes an extended poetry reading and matches it with a triumphant arrangement. (He was, after all, pursuing a side job as a book editor.) “The Sea Refuses No River” wraps itself around a hypnotic theme, then goes into a wonderful middle section with a very well constructed guitar solo. “Prelude” is a half-finished idea that slides into “Face Dances Part Two”, the title track that never was, and something of a hit despite its 5/4 meter. “Exquisitely Bored” is a very LA tune, likely written during his recovery, beaten out of the way by the verbal barrage of “Communication”.
“Stardom In Acton” is similar to “Exquisitely Bored” without being repetitive. The title refers to the section of London where the Who started out, though first listens and even the current CD misspell it “action”. “Uniforms” manages to distill Jimmy’s central crisis in Quadrophenia into three minutes successfully, and there’s that melody from “A Little Is Enough” sneaking in over the bridge. “North Country Girl” is a poor rewrite of the folk song, moved aside by “Somebody Saved Me”, which goes through some personal vignettes that reveal with every listen. The album ends with perhaps Pete’s best-ever song, the haunting “Slit Skirts”. The words ache to mean something, and despite the plot the chorus does a splendid lift to another key each time. The song fades out much too fast.
Chinese Eyes is a great album, especially for 1982, when many of his contemporaries would start to lose the plot. The upgraded CD added three tracks, but as is often the case, they don’t live up to the rest of the album. The underwhelming “Vivienne” is interesting to hear if only because it came that close to making the original, while “Man Watching” and “Dance It Away” were contemporary B-sides, the latter sounding the most like the Who, coming as it did out of a live jam.

Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)—4
2006 remaster: same as 1982, plus 3 extra tracks

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