Music in Review: Endless Wire - The Who Carry On

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music,   From Issue 626   By: Ron Brown

16th November, 2006     0

It's been nearly a quarter-century since the last record by The Who, and well over 30 years since Quadrophenia, the last "real" Who record that contained the signature bombast of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey's soaring vocals, and Pete Townshend's slashing guitars and equally cutting lyrics.

So here we have Endless Wire. Released in late October as essentially a collaborative effort between Townshend and Daltrey, we are left to say "Why?" as much as "Who."

Let's not mince words - the group that created Can't Explain and Won't Get Fooled Again is long gone, undoubtedly buried alongside Moon in 1978. But Townshend and Daltrey show with Endless Wire that they still have something to say and, perhaps just as important, have the chops with which to say it.

Musically, Townshend dabbles in a little of everything, playing a variety of instruments, including drums, mandolin, and violin. He could, however, use Entwistle and brilliantly lyrical and colorful bass lines to liven things up a bit, but the sound is solid without being overbearing.

At the height of its popularity, all the energy from the Who's musicians merged into and resonated through Daltrey, perhaps the best of all the great rock and roll singers of the 1970's. Recalling that fact, it is somewhat painful to watch Daltrey struggle through old and new tunes on the live DVD that accompanies the musical disc.

In a modern recording studio, Roger Daltrey is the old Zen Master who can still do the job when called upon. His vocal work on Mike Post Theme and It's Not Enough finds him reaching down and gathering all the fire he can muster with surprisingly pleasant results. As much as anyone believes that Townshend and Daltrey have fought enough rock and roll wars to earn the right to do whatever they please, we still want at least a glimpse of the Who of 35 years ago, and these two songs deliver very nicely.

Townshend's extraordinary body of solo work is echoed in God Speaks of Marty Robbins. Standing next to Daltrey, he will never get his due as a vocalist, but Townshend has always been more than capable and his ability is effectively illustrated in this song.

Thematically, the disc finds Townshend doing what he always did best as a lyricist, which is constantly asking questions about the world around him, and then at least searching for the answers. In Mike Post, he writes we start to yearn/we climb the vine/we have to face/the truth some time, again indicating his willingness to be his own harshest critic. Over 40 years after the fact, Townshend realizes he really didn't want to die before he got old, and ends the song Mirror Door with a more appropriate sentiment for today: Keep on climbing.

The disc concludes with the "mini-opera" Wire and Glass, which is based on Townshend's online novella The Boy Who Heard Music. It finds Townshend and Daltrey continuing to explore the sounds and subjects established earlier in the recording, and the result is a consistent and unified body of work Endless Wire won't knock anyone over in a wave of nostalgic stadium rock. If you recognize that going in, as Townshend and Daltrey have obviously done, you will find a mature, polished work with just enough moxie from the old days mixed in. Call it the Who, a "co-solo" record, or whatever you want, Endless Wire is a touching moment from two legends who still remain relevant.

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