Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roger Daltrey 2: Ride A Rock Horse

Thanks to his star turn in Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Tommy, Roger Daltrey was more of a household name outside the confines of The Who. With more time off from the band, he took the starring role in the same director’s even more outrageous Lisztomania. Rick Wakeman provided the soundtrack, which featured a few vocal turns by Roger, singing lyrics given to rocked-up arrangements of Franz Liszt melodies.
While all that was going on, Roger took the opportunity to record his second solo album. As before, Ride A Rock Horse served to spotlight working songwriters, including producer Russ Ballard, Philip Goodhand-Tait, and Paul Korda. And also as before, the style of the album as a whole was different from that of The Who, this time leaning towards horn-based R&B and mainstream AOR. (He even gamely filmed a few promos to help the album along. His newly acquired acting chops are well shown by his miming of guitar and even piano, which he doesn’t play in real life.)
“Come And Get Your Love” is a snappy, mildly discofied opener, with hearty female backing vocals that seem to predict Bob Dylan’s born-again phase. “Heart-s Right” (no, we don’t know why it’s spelled that way) and “Proud” deliver similar arrangements, bracketing “Oceans Away” which arrives just in time for a big ballad, featuring a piano solo right out of the Elton John playbook. Speaking of which, “World Over” has some nice “Philadelphia Freedom”-style guitars.
“Near To Surrender” is one of those “chin up, buddy” tunes designed to inspire, and it actually works without being overly saccharine, but “Feeling” returns us to the generic muscle soul from side one. The only real misstep is the oh-so-funky cover of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog”, followed by the campy Cockney of “Milk Train”, itself prefaced by fake applause. Somehow the closing “I Was Born To Sing Your Song” makes a fitting conclusion, perhaps because it resembles a slicker version of the songs on the first.
While not as consistently pleasing as Daltrey, Ride A Rock Horse underscores Roger’s ability as a singer and performer, and not just as Pete Townshend’s mouthpiece. Best of all, the band needn’t have worried that he’d abandon them anytime soon. Though they probably took great glee in ribbing him over the album cover. (The eventual expanded CD added the later B-side “Dear John” and an alternate version of “Oceans Away”.)

Roger Daltrey Ride A Rock Horse (1975)—3
2006 reissue: same as 1975, plus 2 extra tracks

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