By Samuel Orazem EBS EDITORIAL ASSISTANT
Thirteen years ago, the three surviving members of The Who released an album entitled “Endless Wire.” As with almost all reunion albums produced by legendary rock bands, it attempted to both reproduce the vigor of the band’s former identity and build upon it with experience gained from decades of artistic growth. “Endless Wire” was met with reception akin to that of most reunion albums—outspoken distaste from disgruntled fans wishing the album had not strayed so far from the band’s roots.
Luckily, the Hall of Fame band’s latest album “Who,” released on Dec. 6, 2019, acknowledged past missteps and fashioned a relatively enjoyable track list. Now down to but two surviving original members, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the band did its best to recapture the spirit that led to their storied careers and indelible influence on the genre of rock ‘n’ roll. If anything, one could argue this semi-meta offering is a maturation of their iconic style—but in the world of performance, rarely does maturation denote elevation. Perhaps the photo of Muhammad Ali, surrounded by other images signifying decades come and gone on the album’s cover, acknowledges their best work will always live in the previous millennia.
The leading “All This Music Must Fade” invokes The Who’s characteristic irreverence and rebellious nature with Daltrey declaring, “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna’ hate this song.” The majority of the album continues to tread on what devout fans will feel to be comfortable, familiar instrumental ground. Meanwhile, the lyrics reinforce Daltrey and Townshend’s admittance this may be their final effort. Quite nobly, however, they refuse to let go of The Who’s soul in putting their enigmatic approach to pasture.
“Detour” is the album’s obvious standout, and if any track from the album stands the test of time, it will be “Detour” on the basis of its dance-inducing vibrancy.
It’s quite troubling: The final four tracks close out the album with an uninspiring sleepiness lasting a quarter of the album’s total duration. The penultimate song, “Got Nothing to Prove,” is an apt commentary on the band’s legendary status, but these final fifteen minutes paint Townshend and Daltrey as jaded stars that have nothing they actually want to prove.
On the whole, Townshend and Daltrey have done a wonderful job of adapting to a reality where their compatriots have passed and the scene has radically change, but managing to bottle the last of their winning, youthful charm anyway. The return to their roots makes for a pleasing reunion, but does not quite live up to the exorbitantly high standards set by The Who in their heyday. The novelty of this being new material will soon wear off.