Monday, April 6, 2009

Pete Townshend 6: White City

Both Pete and Roger put out solo albums in 1985 that got airplay on stations hungry for Who music; Roger had even made time for a solo album in 1984 that sank like a rock. Two songs in particular kept Roger in the spotlight—“After The Fire”, which Pete wrote after the Live Aid reunion, soars despite a puzzling reference to Dom DeLuise, and “Under A Raging Moon” was supposed to call up the spirit of Keith with a muddling all-star drum solo.
But Pete’s White City got more attention, as it was subtitled “A Novel” and had an impenetrable straight-to-video film to go with it. Whatever story he hoped to tell—something having to do with apartheid as experienced on a council estate—is luckily overshadowed by some good music. “Give Blood” is an angry, turbulent song propelled by drums and repeating guitars. “Brilliant Blues” is pleasant enough, followed by the white rap of “Face The Face”. “Hiding Out” is poppy, and the side drags to an end with “Secondhand Love”, which got radio play despite being so average.
“Crashing By Design” kicks off the second side well, but gets dashed by a calypso detour and the allegory of “I Am Secure”. “White City Fighting” is an excellent collaboration with David Gilmour, even though it doesn’t seem to explain the plot any. “Come To Mama” is in two parts—a lengthy intro and another prose exercise—and ends the album oddly.
The main problem with the album is that there’s not enough “music” to enjoy it as a collection of songs, and not enough explanation to pass it off as a story. Those factors together make White City feel incomplete. Was he pressured to keep it a single album? Or were the ideas left over from the sessions simply not good enough?
Several years later Pete posted his original script for the film on his website. It covered many of the themes that would color much of his writing over the next two decades, including separated spouses, regret for one’s actions and hallucinatory conversations with oneself as a child. When combined with the story on the back cover, it unfortunately illuminates the filming process more than the film itself. In the end, trying to find a story within White City accomplishes nothing. You’d be better off simply enjoying the music. (The 2006 reissue included an odd mix of extras: “Night School”, which was never completed for the film despite being featured in a “making-of” segment; a pointless extended mix of “Hiding Out”; and a cover of the English Beat’s “Save It For Later”, one of Pete’s favorites.)

Pete Townshend White City: A Novel (1985)—3
2006 remaster: same as 1985, plus 3 extra tracks

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