The Who – Who Are You

Who Are You (1978)

B

1. New Song 2. Had Enough 3. 905 4. Sister Disco 5. Music Must Change 6. Trick Of The Light 7. Guitar And Pen 8. Love Is Coming Down 9. Who Are You

 

Wouldn’t ya know? The last Who album with Keith Moon is also the least interesting Who album with Keith Moon. And that’s in part because by this point Keith, having attempted to combat his chronic depression by drowning himself in pills and alcohol for years, was a mere shell of his former self. If you’ve seen The Kids Are Alright, the Who doc/archival film that was filmed right around this time, you know what I’m talking about. In the scenes where he’s shown goofing around with Ringo, he’s still putting on his usual loony act, but he’s fat and sweaty and looks more suited sitting around on the couch all day watching Leave It To Beaver re-runs than playing drums for the Who. And the rather pedestrian drumming on Who Are You attests to that. Hell, one song on here, “Music Must Change,” doesn’t even have drums on it, because Keith was no longer capable of handling its jazzy 6/8 rhythm (turns out it’s probably the second best song on the album; the footsteps they use as percussion probably fit the song better than Keith’s flailing would have anyway). It’s really not much of a surprise that Moony kicked the bucket just a few weeks after this album was released. But that doesn’t make it any less tragic that rock lost one of its greatest characters (not to mention drummers) far too early. And isn’t it nuts that on the cover, Keith is sitting in a chair that says “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY”? That’s like some Paul Is Dead shit. Except Keith really is dead. Or is he…?

No, he is. If he wasn’t, the next two Who albums wouldn’t have sucked so much. As for Who Are You, well, it certainly doesn’t suck, but it’s hard to get too excited about. Pete himself acknowledges as much in the opening “New Song”: “I write the same old song with a few new lines and everybody wants to cheer it.” At least you’re copping to the fact that you’ve been recycling the same riffs for a decade now. But do you have to do it during an awesome, triumphant chorus that makes me want to pump my fist and sing along to it despite my suspicion that you’ve used that chord sequence probably a dozen times before? Way to prove your point, I guess. However, there is sufficient evidence elsewhere that Pete’s well of inspiration was a bit dried up this time around. After all, he was only able to come up with six songs worthy of inclusion on this album in the three years since the last Who album. And at least two of them blow. I say “at least” because I’m not totally sure how to classify the hit “Sister Disco”… I mean, it’s got one of the most annoying, overbusy synth lines in the history of man, but it’s like, a parody of disco, right? It’s supposed to be ironic? I think? So it’s OK? Besides, the chorus is catchy and it’s got a quiet little acoustic guitar instrumental outro to cleanse your palette. So yeah, I guess I like it. Bite me.

As you may have ascertained from my description of “Sister Disco,” the synths are indeed back with a vengeance. But they’re not cool “Baba O’Riley” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again”-style synths. Rather, Pete slathers nearly all these songs with cheesy keyboard tones that instantly date this album to the late 70s. Add that to the fact that there’s really not all that much guitar to beef up the proceedings, and much of Who Are You sees the band sounding downright wussified. This isn’t so bad when the songs still sound like Who songs and not fruity Broadway show tune reject bullcrap like “Guitar And Pen.” I guess Roger’s delivery is just exaggerated and goofy enough to sort of charm me, but, man… that shit ain’t rock ‘n roll. The limp-dicked ballad “Love Is Coming Down” is probably even worse. Which leaves only the title track to showcase the fearsome Who of old. It sure helps that the synth pattern actually is in the Who’s Next vein. It also helps that it’s epic and rocks hard. You’ve heard it like 50,000 times. I don’t know that I need to go into that much more detail. And speaking of hearing it 50,000 times, I think it’s hilarious and awesome that apparently no radio programmer on earth seems to care that Roger says “fuck” twice in the song. Seriously – there’s uncensored society-corroding profanity all over the airwaves every nine seconds and nobody notices. If only people would have had the same attitude towards Janet Jackson’s nipple.

So besides that sploogerific ball of awesome, the only thing keeping Who Are You from being a thoroughly mediocre EP is John Entwistle, who contributes three songs to make up for Pete’s failure to be prolific. Roger sings two of them, including “Had Enough,” which lyrically sounds as though John swallowed a copy of an Ayn Rand novel for breakfast (“I’ve had enough of bein’ nice! I’ve had enough of right and wrong! I’ve had enough of tryin’ to love my brother!” Paul Ryan and his freakish mini-Stepford wife-looking daughter would surely approve), but it’s solid mid-tempo keyboard rock. The sci-fi tale “905” is no more than decent, but “Trick Of The Light” is some mighty fine hard rock. It’s sort of an “only the Ox” song, both for its caustic lyrics about a post-coital moment spent with a hooker, and for its massive bass riff that for a long time I thought was an electric guitar. Cause no bass player could possibly sound like that, right? Wrong. If they only made synths that kicked as much ass, this album would be a lot better than it is.



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