The surprise here is not that The Who has released their first full-length record of original material since their 2006 release of Endless Wire, the rumors were out on the streets for quite a while now, but the real mind-boggler is that the album is good. And not just good, it is seriously good.
It’s an honest to goodness Who Album! Roger Sounds great! – Larry Carta, Chicago, Illinois
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Roger Daltry’s voice. After it became necessary to cancel a couple of shows and cut others short, there was a bit of skepticism concerning the quality of the vocal performance we would be getting here. But no worries, on virtually every one of the 14 songs presented here Daltry is in fine vocal form. The arrangements and the songs themselves fit into the pocket just fine, and the times that he seems to be on his way to reaching for a level from days gone by he seems to stop just short, and scale things back to AOR appropriate heights.
From the opening track, “All This Music Will Fade” we get classic Who. strong up-front vocals, whirling guitar courtesy of Pete Townshend, and Ringo sire Zak Starkey making poppa proud from behind the kit. This one is pure mid-’70s Face Dances coolness.
There is a bit of an edge on “Ball and Chain” that has a subtle dusting of “Baba O’Riley” around the edges, and there is a certain chemistry on “I Don’t Want To Get Wise” that is pleasing to the ear with Pete Townsend contributing to the vocals in the background just like the old days. Extra credit here goes to Tom Petty’s ivory tickler Benmont Tench doing side-duty on the Hammond organ.
There are not many hints of nostalgia being professed on the record which is a really good thing, the closest the band comes to addressing any past band turmoil is on “Beads On One String,” a semi-ballad that seems to be equal parts Daltry and Townshend and is exhibit A evidence that the two still bring out the best in each other.
Pete Townshend wrote most of the songs here and on “Got Nothing To Prove” he seems to turn back the clock way back to The Who Sell Out Days taking over the lead vocals on a tune that could be playing right now in the mojo dojo of Austin Powers. And, the delicate Townshend touch is even more evident on the poignant “Danny and My Ponies,” a beautiful song that could fit quite nicely as a key track on any of the band’s back pages. Pete plays all of the instruments on this one including drums and synthesizers.
As an album close-out tune, “Danny and My Ponies” is about as perfect an adieu as you can get. Here’s hoping that this record is the last in a very long list of masterworks. Sometimes it is all right to go out on top, and the band deserves props for producing a swan song of new material instead of resting on greatest hits retread laurels or cover song anthologies.
If this is our last visit with Roger, Pete, and the rest of the band, it has been a life well lived and supremely enjoyed by all.