The Who – Endless Wire

Endless Wire (2006)


1. Fragments 2. A Man In A Purple Dress 3. Mike Post Theme 4. In The Ether 5. Black Widow’s Eyes 6. Two Thousand Years 7. God Speaks Of Marty Robbins 8. It’s Not Enough 9. You Stand By Me 10. Sound Round 11. Pick Up The Peace 12. Unholy Trinity 13. Trilby’s Piano 14. Endless Wire 15. Fragments Of Fragments 16. We Got A Hit 17. They Made My Dream Come True 18. Mirror Door 19. Tea & Theatre 20. We Got A Hit (Extended Version) 21. Endless Wire (Extended Version)


So, you’re Pete Townshend. It’s 2006. You haven’t released a solo album in 13 years, and the only new material you’ve produced since then are two songs you did with Roger for a 2004 Who greatest hits album. John Entwistle and Keith Moon—a full HALF OF THE WHO—are dead. Roger can barely make it through an entire concert anymore without his voice breaking down completely. Naturally, you decide to record a new Who album. I mean, no-brainer, right? The world needs more records by bands that can BARELY BE SAID TO ACTUALLY EXIST ANYMORE. Would Paul and Ringo record an album and call themselves “The Beatles”? NO THEY FUCKING WOULD NOT. The Who weren’t King Crimson or something, where the band was really just about one guy and everyone else is a replaceable cog in the machine. The Who derived their power from having four distinct, virtuosic personalities and musical identities. When they lost one of those personalities, their legitimacy as a band became dubious enough. When they lost two, their continued use of the moniker became a farce. Granted, one of the two remaining members is Pete Townshend, who has of course been the mastermind behind the whole operation. But forgive me if I don’t necessarily think Pete Townshend song + Roger Daltrey singing = the Who. That’s never been the case. In fact, from the very beginning, Roger has been by far the least integral contributor to the band’s sound. So if the only thing keeping Endless Wire from being a Pete Townshend solo album besides the blatant Tommy rip off album cover is the presence of his voice, then frankly I DON’T SEE A FUCKING DIFFERENCE.

Geez, I thought the Two had been at their shenanigans for long enough now that I wouldn’t be able to get angry about it anymore. But my spontaneous, uncontrollable use of caps would seem to hint otherwise. Maybe if the album was better, I’d be more forgiving, but unfortunately, it’s kinda dull. With its largely understated arrangements, it’s probably a more tasteful “last album” than the ham-fisted hard rock of It’s Hard, but I’m not sure it’s really any better. And I’d feel that way even if they didn’t call it “the Who.” Townshend & Daltrey, or something like that, would’ve been more appropriate, but it’s not like it would affect my opinion of the music on the album. Unless… hey, if they had the gall to call themselves “the Who,” they probably could’ve used any name they wanted, right? So what if they had called themselves, say, Billy Joel? What would I think of this album then?

Goddamn, this is the best Billy Joel album I’ve ever heard! Who knew the man responsible for such steaming shitpiles as “Angry Young Man” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire” was capable of writing a strong anthemic, emotional rock song like “Mike Post Theme”? Or speedy kickassery like “Sound Round”? Or lovely acoustic prettiness like “God Speaks Of Marty Robbins”? Certainly not me. I’m also surprised the cliché-happy, limpdick “Piano Man” troubadour was able to write such a great set of anti-organized religion lyrics on the early Dylan-style “A Man In A Purple Dress.” Now, granted, the album isn’t perfect, and Billy slips into a few of his usual rotten tricks here and there. For instance, his laughable Tom Waits impression on “In The Ether,” or starting out the first song with a synth pattern that is such a bald-faced rip off of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” that I won’t be surprised if Pete Townshend sues him. But other than those few blips, great job, Billy! I give this album an A.

There, wasn’t that a nice fantasy? Sigh… if only it were true. Alas, Endless Wire is a Who album – and the least energetic Who album ever. This is because instead of recording it with the noisy, kickass touring band, Pete recorded all the songs by himself at home—including many of the bass and drum parts—and then recorded Roger singing over some of them later. Thus, most of the rock material ends up sounding kind of thin, even when they could’ve been reasonably decent Who rockers if played with a full band (the 70s-style, lyrically goofy “Mike Post Theme,” the Stockholm Syndrome tale “Black Widow’s Eyes”).

I should mention that the first half of the album constitutes nine stand-alone songs and the second half is a mini-opera based on Pete’s “novella,” The Boy Who Heard Music. I remember reading Boy when Pete was publishing it incrementally on his website back in 2005, and, well… if you’ve heard one Pete Townshend concept, you’ve heard them all. And they’re all about him. This one involves an aged rock star in a mental institution who failed to realize an ambitious rock opera project he came up with in the early 70s (hmm… sound familiar?). He passes on the concept to a younger band, and the story proceeds to follow their career, turbulent conflicts, disastrous reunion concert, and ascendency to another spiritual plane. Dippy and caustically autobiographical as ever, naturally. Fortunately, the music is pretty good, and certainly better than some of the dour snorefests on side 1. Most of the songs are about as long as the individual sections of “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” so Pete does a good job of fashioning a nice hook and punching it home with maximum efficiency. Triumphs include the warp speed “Sound Round” (which allegedly dates back to the Lifehouse era), the 60s-style pop rocker “We Got A Hit,” and the countryish title track. Failures include the penultimate rocker “Mirror Door,” which sounds like an intentional parody of the Who’s 70s sound, and Roger’s vocals on the acoustic closer “Tea & Theatre,” which for some reason he insists on hoarsely shouting in a manner totally inappropriate for this quiet, pretty song. Still, overall, the mini opera flows together very well, and most of the songs are really quite good. But it’s still not the Who in any way, shape, or form.

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