Monday, 30 October 2017

David Crosby "Sky Trails" (2017)




David Crosby “Sky Trails” (2017)

She’s Got To Be Somewhere/Sky Trails/Sell Me A Diamond/Before Tomorrow Falls On Love/Here It’s Almost Love/Capitol/ Amelia/Somebody Home/Curved Air/Home Free

‘Where is that brave new world we used to talk about and smile?’

Croz is back with his first new album for…eleven months. Eleven months?! I remember the days when it took eleven years between records, so it seems safe to say that Croz is on something on a creative role in old age. Never one to do things the ‘normal’ way round, he seems to be writing with the prolificness and passion of youth these days, with three albums in five years now putting all of his peers (except, obviously, Neil Young) to shame. But is being so prolific a good thing? I was looking forward to this album it sounded more like ‘my’ Croz than last year’s ‘Lighthouse’. A bigger band sound, less guest stars and songs co-written with David’s talented son James Raymond. Titbits handed to us from Croz’s twitter-feed sounded extraordinary: this was a set of songs that came out of nowhere, recorded for the most part before the paint had dried on the old ones with Croz working with some of his favourite people. Croz still sounds better than he has in decades, his gorgeous voice shining out above everything else here and he still has an ear for beauty and an eye for how ugly the world can be sometimes. That part of our old Croz is still very much intact and maybe even growing in stature as the years go by and the world gets worse and needs heroes like Croz to try to put things right. But if ‘Lighthouse’ had a problem it was that it all sounded the same as each other, whilst sounding nothing like anything Croz had ever quite given us before: slow, still, quiet meditative acoustic ballads that was closer to new age than anything else in the CSNY catalogue. This album has a similar problem in that it’s an album that sounds much the same as each other but sounds like nothing else Croz has ever given us before, making it hard to sink your musical teeth into.

What does it sound like? Well, in a way it’s the album many people were expecting Croz to give us in the 1980s before drugs stole his creativity away. Recorded with funky drumming, blarey horns and a very retro synth sound, it sounds like it could have been released in the mid-1980s with nobody batting an eyelid. It’s the Crosby equivalent of Stills’ ‘Right By You’ and Nash’s ‘Innocent Eyes’, a largely noisy record of sounds whizzing past your ear while sounding slicker than Grace Slick’s Starship on top of an oil slick. In short, it sounds not unlike Croz’s beloved 1980s band Steely Dan. In years to come this record will probably go down as a ‘tribute’ to deceased Steely Dan singer Walter Becker, who in one of those cosmic coincidences that seem to happen a lot on this site died the week before Croz released this record. We know, though, that Croz has had these songs ready to go for a year and these recordings all but finished for months now so a tribute seems unlikely. Even so, that’s what this record is: Croz the professional, with songs that everyone can identify with, set to a rigid time structure. Everything sounds as if it’s been squeezed into shape, with Croz’s jazzy stylings re-set into a backing that makes him sound more palatable and mainstream. In a sense this record is a ‘pair’ with ‘Lighthouse’, a largely acoustic raw album that saw Crosby doing the sort of things no other artist would dare do in free-form. Croz has never divided himself up this way before (this is more the sort of thing Neil would do) and it doesn’t always work. There’s a single great record in there between the two recent efforts, but ‘Lighthouse’ was the kind of record only a fan could love – and ‘Sky Trails’ feels a little bit too much like an album only the general public not used to how brilliantly unique Crosby can be. Occasionally that new sophisticated groove works: I rather like ‘Here It’s Almost Sunset’ which is so Croz-like and so un-Croz-like all at the same time, with its saxophone groove and frog-like synths where Croz is a city boy now, no longer meditating in a field. The album’s lone acoustic song, the title track, also really stands out as a stray raw diamond in a field of designer pearls. For the most part, though, this is Crosby’s most impersonal record (at least since his ‘covers’ set ‘A Thousand Roads’) and it feels as if we’re a bit removed from him for the most part.

I ought to like the sound of this record though as it’s what I was asking for across the last two CDs, the mainstream poppy ‘Croz’ and the new agey ‘Lighthouse’ and on paper it should be easily the best of the three. One of the best things Croz ever did was CPR, his band with guitarist Jeff Pevar and keyboardist son James Raymond. Both are back for this record (the first time for Jeff since 2001) and James even produced the record. That jazzy musical setting combined with personal lyrics theorising about all of life’s darker hues is exactly what I’ve longed for and this band is a talented one made up of many old faces. Even Becca Stevens, one of the weaker links on ‘Lighthouse’, has suddenly found out how to meld her voice with Croz’s and the results are fabulous on the title track. Croz always sounds great singing from the heart using big fat jazz chords and even returns to the writer who inspired him to this in the first place, Joni Mitchell, with a sweet cover of her song ‘Amelia’ (from her jazziest album ‘Hejira’ in 1976). But something sounds slightly lost: there’s no swing to this album’s jazz, no sense of experimentation, no sense of space, no sense of personality as most songs tend to come with the same intense bass-drum-synth feel to them. Instead this is very much the Steely Dan school of making music: write monotonous songs about an ever-changing world that sound rigid and unfeeling even when it’s all about being fragile and broken. The effect is seeing an old friend you know really well and who always told you the truth in their scruffy clothes dressed up in a tuxedo for a cocktail party – fun at first, frustrating when you want to chat deeply and personally and find they don’t have time to talk to you anymore because they’re schmoozing the young guys over there who still might actually buy records these days. You know why your friend has to do it, but you don’t like it all the same. Surely everyone would like your friend more if they were just themself? That’s the person you loved after all and it’s a bit late for them to change.

As with last year’s review, the parts of this record that work best are the ones that deal with the outside world. With this the first CSNY-related album released since Trump’s rise to power (as opposed to a few pot-shots taken during his campaigning) Croz feels more desperate and disillusioned than ever here. Time and time again across these lyrics he despairs not so much for the present but the steel iron door that’s now been bolted on the past: an idealist into his seventies, he still believed that the American hippie dream might happen, but not now with the greedy people firmly back in charge. Was it only nine years ago CSNY were playing happily at Obama’s inauguration? Now the band are in disarray and the country is worse, with Croz spending even more time than normal attacking the greedy powers-that-be on ‘Capitol’ (a re-write of ‘Night-time For The Generals’) and ‘Before Tomorrow Falls On Love’, a song that’s much more about Crosby’s baby boomer generation falling out of love with their lot in love than it is with his own love life (only ‘Somebody Home’ appears to be a love song for Jan – and then it’s a bit of a weird one at that). If ‘Lighthouse’ was a record of hope, where light still spread out from a beacon and tried to heal the world through meditation and deep thought and common sense, ‘Skytrails’ is an album where the world’s turned another stage into the darkness and left Croz worried for the future.

In a way though this album is Crosby’s response to Nash’s ‘Earth and Sky’ forty years on, split between the lure of the ‘sky’ (and unlimited horizons) and the safety of ‘home’. Notably another theme of this album is ‘home’, something that crops up in the title of two of the songs and the thoughts of many of the other lyrics. Croz has been a busy boy lately, touring more than ever with short bursts here and there as he struggles to pay the bills decades after all his money went on unpaid back taxes and a drug habit that makes Pete Doherty and Keith Richards look like amateurs. He’s spent far too many nights away from home, but it’s a home he wouldn’t have at all if he wasn’t out on the road all the hours he can and that dichotomy sounds as if it’s a major part of this album’s ‘feel’ too. We start with a character whose ‘lost’ and needs grounding (is it a return of Drew Barymore, my guess as the inspiration for ‘Lighthouse’s best song ‘The City’?), as she (and Crosby, sensing something of himself in her) sets off to see what life has to throw at her under the big empty sky of the city. Croz knows, though, that he only found his own personal salvation in a place he can call home and it shines out like a beacon across this record: a place to be yourself (even if, ironically, it’s accompanied by a backing that’s best described as anonymous). The best thing about this album is that it starts ‘far away’ from us and gradually grows closer as each track goes by: The character in that opening track is lost and searching. The narrator of the second, title track is in exile, wondering why ‘I was so careless with your heart’ and trying to move closer to home. ‘Sell Me A Diamond’ despairs over the music business and ‘Before Tomorrow Falls On Love’ despairs over the loss of hippie ideals. ‘Here It’s Almost Sunset’ despair over anything ever going right again, but loves the thought of suddenly being more creative in old age and having ideas shining brighter while everything else grows ‘darker’. ‘Capitol’ takes more pot-shots at greedy leaders but hopes to overthrow them one day. Joni’s ‘Amelia’ is about being lost and distracted by the wrong symbols in the sky when you should be turning home not looking for ‘false alarms’ of better futures. ‘Somebody Home’ is the joy of calling home when you’re away and on the road, the joy of knowing that your old life continues without you in absence. ‘Curved Air’ is a weird song celebrating being different that sounds like the most mainstream pop Croz has ever made, the sound of a one-off desperate for ‘solid ground’ to ‘earth’ him so he doesn’t fly away. And finally we end on ‘Home Free’, a track that finds the path between these two opposites. Only by being safe and protected by loved ones at home is Croz’s inspiration truly free to fly and it’s something he’s been looking for his whole life.

Safety used to come from being dangerous and different, but now it comes from being ‘normal’. That’s been the truly big division between CSNY in recent years, as the traditionally family-loving Nash and grounded Young both abandon their families of thirty years for younger women and the former hell-raisers Crosby and Stills settle down and enjoy the stability they never really had in their youth. Crosby, especially, has never enjoyed such security and the antics of Nash and Young seem crazy to him, just as his wayward days once seemed to them in younger life. Much of this album and ‘Lighthouse’ seem designed as a ‘message’ to his colleagues about the joys of family life and having someone whose loved you for decades and who has shared their life with you, good times and bad. Nash’s ‘This Path Tonight’ was about the sky, the sheer joy of the unknown and daring yourself instead of settling into a rut, be it lover or band. Nash’s ‘Beneath The Waves’ was about letting the good ship CSNY sink, no longer willing to put in the effort to keep it afloat and he saved most of his anger for Crosby, citing his rude emails in the wake of Nash’s autobiography ‘Wild Tales’ as the moment the quartet went sour. Crosby responds, so it seems, with ‘Sky Trails’ title track: a sweet olive branch of friendship, regretting hurting an old friend and wishing he could take back some of the ways he hurt him. And yet the sentiments behind them stand true: Croz knows better than anyone how it feels to stand in front of a window staring out at a blue sky and wondering how great the world outside his door can be. But he was wrong everytime he did it – the only real sanctity is home and ‘the dream fades’ the further you get from home as you stop wishing and start living. ‘You’re the one who feels like home to me’ Crosby sighs to his old musical partner, kicking himself for ‘being careless with your heart’ and writing a letter that never gets sent as he doesn’t know where his friend lives anymore now Nash has set off for a new life. It’s a sweet moment and the song from this album that will perhaps last the longest, extending the CSNY story-in-song by another track.

By and large, though, ‘Sky Trails’ feels too flimsy to last alongside the very best of Crosby’s work. The problem lies not with the songs as such – lyricwise this is by far the best of the trio of recent Croz works, sympathetic and thoughtful but in a much deeper way than the sometimes fake feel of the last two. Both the title track and ‘Here It’s Almost Sunset’ can sit alongside Lighthouse’s ‘The Things We Do For Love’ as evidence that Croz still has the power to move in a big way when the performances match the ideas. But Croz still struggles to write the melodies he used to in his youth, with too many of these songs sounding forgettable compared to the genius of yore. Worst still, the production of this album leaves a good half of it sounding unlistenable, a mess of pop, jazz and whatever the hell counts for modern music these days (a genre all on its own and so bad nobody’s given it a name yet: ‘anonyrock’ is what I call it, anonymous and forgettable in the extreme). Croz can do many things with his talent: epic choral pieces, stinging rock and roll, cautionary protest songs, beautiful ballads, self-deprecating humour and those special ‘what the hell is going on?!?’ poetic songs that only Croz can write. One thing he can’t do is sound like everybody else – and alas that’s exactly what he’s done here, with just a few passing hues of Crosby colour just to tease us with how good he can sound. Is this transaction the key to letting go? Sadly not, for the most part, as Crosby returns to many of the people who helped make his songs special in the past – and then tries to do something new that doesn’t really work. Far from trailblazing, this is alas Croz at his most ordinary and rather than the sky being the limit it’s another of those recent CSNY albums that’s too timid to do anything approaching what the band used to do without thinking. Still, that title track especially reveals how beautiful, pioneering and clever Croz can be at his best, so here’s hoping that the next album in the sequence has the hope of being the greatest of the lot.

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Let’s start our review of ‘She’s Got To Be Somewhere’ with the biggest talking point: a two-minute fade-out featuring horns, saxophones, a heavy drumbeat and cheery feel-good pop music. While the rest of the song is more Crosby-friendly, mainly thanks to those harmonies, this section comes as a shock. The most ‘Steely Dan’ moment of Croz’s most ‘Steely Dan’ record yet, it seems completely at odds with everything else Crosby has ever given us before – a tightened version of the free-flowing jazz that we’re used to hearing. There’s even a robotic vocoder voice intoning ‘she’s gotta be…’ that’s straight out the 1980s. There’s even, good grief, an actual singalong chorus. If the backing sounds nothing like Crosby, though, then the words are at least more ‘normal’ (i.e. weird). This is a coming of age song, Croz seemingly recounting the tale of the same girl last heard on ‘The City’ where the female character is ‘on a mission with a graphic twist’, young and hungry, desperate to make her mark on a big city so everyone knows her name. ‘Pack up the Eldorado’ she cries as she packs up her belongings to make her mark on the world and sets off for the ‘land of blue skies’ like a character from an ELO song. At this stage in her journey she’s much earlier on in her tale, still upbeat and positive, a million miles away from the traps waiting to catch her out. Unusually Croz is content to watch her progress without offering up any real warnings and this song doesn’t do his usual thing of worrying about the future so much as strut in a good-time-rock kind of a way (a ‘Steely Dan’ way if you will). Any fan expecting a similarly moody masterpiece to both predecessor ‘Lighthouse’ and Nash’s ‘This Path Tonight’, full of reconciliation and guilt, will be caught out: have we ever heard Crosby quite this happy? The result is a song that’s a nice attempt to navigate unchartered territory and it’s sure to appeal to the Steely-Dan end of Crosby’s fanbase. For me though is all too bright and lacks Crosby’s usual shading and original brilliance, being the sort of song anybody with a synth and a modicum of talent could come up with.

Title track ‘Sky Trails’ is much more like it. A moody tentative acoustic piece, it’s easily the highlight of the album and gives us – so I suspect – more of the ‘real’ Croz than we’ve had in a while. You wouldn’t know it from his interviews or his twitter feed, but there must be some part of Crosby that feels the pain of the sudden violent collapse of CSNY after nearly fifty years together or trying to get it together. Croz, of course, hasn’t told us what this song is about but it sounds like the hangover the morning after his temper got the better of him, worrying about whether he really has just lost his best friend by being rude to Nash. The clue is in the amount of nautical references, the latest in a long of CSN songs to do this and perhaps a reply to Nash’s own CSN-ending song ‘Beneath The Waves’, as Crosby tells us that he’s in ‘uncharted waters’ here, trying to apologise without wanting to take back anything he said because he still believes it to be true (Nash did rather use Crosby’s backstory to sell his own book, but it’s not as if Crosby’s own autobiography was any kinder!) Crosby knows he should be getting out of bed, but his heart is heavy and he’d rather not face the world, the ‘dream fading’ in more ways than just the one he was slumbering to. He wonders why he was so ‘careless’ with someone’s heart when they’ve been through so much together and they feel like ‘home’. Crosby is in need of home: he’s waking up in some unknown hotel room in some strange town and wonders where his old friend/partner is, realising that after a lifetime in each other’s pockets they no longer know where each other are anymore. The addition of Becca Stevens, sounding much more like Maia Sharp than her rather intrusive presence on ‘Lighthouse’, is a clever move, both because she sounds stunningly beautiful here on a song that really suits her style (like a younger Carole King but better) and because it puts distance between what this song is really about, turning it into a duet for two lovers. This won’t fool CSN fans though who’ll recognise both the lost, haunted feel of Crosby’s ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ album of 1971 and the glorious scat-singing improvisations Crosby-Nash made a speciality. Crosby, though, sounds lost and uncertain without Nash alongside him and Becca sounds like a ghost. ‘Please tell me where I am!’ the song pleads, desperate for direction both out of this strange town and in life, recalling ‘Where Will I Be?’ in its spooky madness and muted howl of pain. An exquisite song, beautifully sung, this softer jazz lament gives Crosby much more scope for revealing his ‘real’ self than the rest of this rather over-produced album without being as boring as much of ‘Lighthouse’.

‘Sell Me A Diamond’ gets on with the rest of this poppy album as if pretending nothing has happened and we haven’t just seen into Crosby’s soul. Instead he’s back attacking consumerist society and the idea of being sold something for ‘free’ when it really comes at a very high price. He’s promised a free diamond – sounds good right? The promise of beauty surely can never be dimmed. ‘Makes conflict free – sounds good to me’ is this song’s chilled-out ending, the closest this album gets to hippie utopia of old. But is that ‘conflict free’ as in ‘no conflict’ or is that ‘conflict is easier because you’ve been paid off?’ Crosby’s vocal is halfway pure and halfway mocking, while Jeff Pevar’s grungy solo could be either angry or passionate promotion. Crosby though hears the couple behind him arguing over one and realises how ugly it can be. A song that’s clearly inspired by Crosby’s struggling financial shape of the past twenty years (he’s still paying for his escapades in the 1980s and back taxes, living hand-to-mouth in contrast to many of his peers), this is a song about the value behind money and currency and the idea that we have greater gifts to give each other than money. The song then peels back to a wider idea of people always after a free lunch: Crosby’s given up reading the news because the promises of certain people will never be realised and he can see it’s all lies (there’s no mention of an orange baboon with tiny hands in The White House, but you sense that’s where Crosby is heading). As on ‘Camera’, Crosby is cheered  by the sound of children laughing, pure joy that money could never match, though what this song really recalls is Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’ where a busker plays his heart out for spare change, while a millionaire rockstar walks past worrying about their millions (as covered by Crosby in many concerts and The Byrds’ 1973 reunion album). Alas this promising song is, like much of this album, overcooked and the sense is that Crosby has dressed up in a shirt and tie to tell us about the horrors of capitalism. Everything is too clean for this sort of a song, too neat, too tidy: it needs a sense of raw power but even the guitar solo – the best thing about this song – feels tidied away in a box. Once again you get the feeling Croz has been listening to too many Steely Dan records instead of his own imagination.

‘Before Tomorrow Falls On Love’ is a song that surely sounds beautiful in concert where it’s given space to live and breathe, with its sighing intimate Crosby crooning vocal and exquisite big fat James Raymond jazz piano chords. The lyrics too are pretty gorgeous, a reflection not so much on the end of a love affair as a generation. The end of CSN seem to have hurt Crosby more in a ‘gee we were going to prove them wrong and change the world’ sense than a personal one, as here he laments lost opportunities on a song that recalls ‘Wasted On The Way’ and a dash of ‘Delta’. ‘Where’s that brave new world we used to talk about and smile?’ Crosby sighs. I’m also willing to bet my Crosby CDs that the line ‘an untidy kind of love…music to balance cold dark man’ is Crosby’s summary of what CSNY once stood for and it’s a pretty great summary I have to say. Alas, as if to prove how much Crosby has moved on from the ‘old days’ already this song is even less like CSNY than usual. It’s a slow jazz song, again far more in keeping with Steely Dan music than anything Crosby has ever done before. Even on an album that insists on doing that sort of thing quite a lot it seems a shame: this song should be cosy, intimate and moving, an emotional heartfelt confessional. Instead the ugly slap-bass and the smoky effect on the keyboards keeps getting in the way of the emotion and Crosby’s vocal isn’t one of his best, all too audibly take thirty or forty or something similar when he’s forgotten the emotion of what he’s meant to be singing. The result, tragically, isn’t as moving as it ought to be as Crosby waves time on CSN with more fondness than Nash (if, oddly, not as much as Young on ‘Walk Like A Giant’ from 2012’s ‘Psychedelic Pill’ – odd because Neil quit the band more than anyone). This is a moving song if you can read it rather than hear it though, as Crosby laments losing not just a chance to mean something to people but a ‘chance to battle this loneliness’ as he’s rather forced into being a solo act.

‘Here It’s Almost Sunset’ finally finds a way of making the Crosby/Steely Dan groove work. Perhaps taking note of his ‘missing years’ in his drugs haze of the 1980s, Crosby retreats there for this song about worrying that he’s running out of time and his desperation to say things before it is too late. Crosby’s urgency, though, hits the laidback backing head on and it’s the contrast between the two that makes this song one of the best on the album: Crosby wants to rally with the desperation of his youth but he’s too content and cosy to fight out the way he once would. ‘For better or for worse’ he’s chosen a quieter, humbler domestic life and can’t do what he used to do ‘and yet the music play’s me…setting me free’, Crosby pausing on that last word to make it sound as if it’s the most glorious thing that’s ever happened to him. Suddenly a ghostly choir of voices arrive from nowhere, the one production gimmick on this album that’s really effective, lifting the song above its obstinate earth-bound groove. I’m less keen on the squeaky saxophone which is a step into Steely Dan territory too far for these ears and Crosby’s vocal is still too laidback – he really needs to be the only thing on this song pushing forward, rushing on, desperate to say things. There is, though, much to love about this song as Crosby tells us again how ‘dark’ it is ‘stumbling’ around his career on his own without his colleagues and sighing ‘it’s probably all my fault’. There’s a neat allusion to one of his most popular Byrds songs ‘Tribal Gathering’ too as he struggles to ‘reach the rest of my tribe’ and finds himself cut off from them all. Crosby figures that they are too old for this and should know better, staring out from yet another hotel window and figuring that he’s running out of time to say everything on his mind. And yet the sun – the creativity – is pouring through him ‘brighter’ than ever, even while the rest of the world gets ‘darker’ and ‘blinder’. Crosby cleverly depicts his solo album as ‘crying out loud’ where nobody really listens the way they would if he was still a member of CSN, but as if to prove the point this lightly jazzy song is exactly the sort of thing he could never really have done with the trio, even if the prettier moments of it recalls ‘Arrows’ from 1990’s ‘Live It Up’ LP.

‘Capitol’ is, perhaps, the most traditionally Crosby-like song on the album. He starts the song in awe at the bankers’ ‘temples’, the white marble, the ‘geometric patterns covering the floor’ and the flags that fly from the walls. But it’s all for show, to impress, to make the people who work there think they are above everyone as ‘patriotic souls’ see the spectacle and assume the world powers are better than them. But they’re not, they’re worse, filling their pockets with people’s money and refusing to listen when people complain about their abuse of power. Once more Crosby wonders ‘what are their names?’ as he asks ‘What do they feel?’ when they fleece our money and ‘what do they say?’ when the cameras are ‘turned off’. The title is particularly clever: this is the capital of the banking world, based on capitol and designed to show off what people have versus the people who don’t, even though it’s all paid or with tax-payer’s money anyway. There’s a great daring middle eight as the will of the people is ‘completely ignored’, the rich only fielding their own candidates in elections and laughing when the votes for anyone else ‘aren’t counted’, exactly what happened in our UK elections of 2010 and 2016. Alas, though, this is another of this album’s songs that reads better as a lyric than it is to listen to and the tune seems to have followed along later – quite a lot later. This is another of the most Steely Danified moments of the album, which sadly means it’s all a bit emotionless and a chance for the backing band to do weird and unsuitable things with synths, artificial drums and yet more squealing saxophones. I’m, err, not a fan – and isn’t making a song like this sound like a spectacle rather than allowing it the space it needs to be one rather missing the point of the whole song? This sounds like the sort of thing a yuppie would have been listening to in the 1980s and yet I’m not convinced that this is intended in any ironic sense. Musicwise this is easily the worst moment on the album – thank goodness, then, for a touch of that old Crosby bravery in the lyrics.

‘Amelia’ came as a shock for me when I first heard it as it’s so different for Crosby, an image and metaphor filled song with a real haunting emotional power. And then I realised: it’s a sweet but rather forgettable Joni Mitchell song from 1976 that was rather lost in the middle of ‘Hejira’. Crosby here proves that he’s retained all his old arranging skills, slowing the song down and making it even sadder with the addition of pedal steel guitar, while James Raymond captures Joni’s piano style perfectly. Alas though his lyric is again a little wide of the mark on a song that’s clearly here as a tribute to Crosby’s one-time muse, who so very nearly died last year  and her hermit-like existence since (‘I wish that she was here tonight, it’s so hard to obey her sad request of me to kindly stay away’). The song makes much play over a ‘false alarm’, that a couple seem to be drifting apart forever but are really only going their separate ways for a while, until Amelia Earhart, feminist icon and aviator, disappears forever in mysterious circumstances without really meaning to. When Joni wrote it she probably saw much of herself in the pilot who trod new ground every time she got in a plane and who risked her life frequently, but lost her life not at a moment when she was being reckless but when she was happily married and had more to lose. Joni, who knew heartbreak so well, was always seeing red flags that things would go wrong (not least with Nash) but instead married her boyfriend Larry Steele in 1982. In context you can see why Crosby chose this song to cover: it’s an extra little dig at Nash, a reminder of how ‘Our House’ wasn’t quite as perfect as it once seemed and a huge hug for Joni, incommunicado since her brain aneurysm as he celebrates the fact that she didn’t die, that against the odds her illness was a ‘false alarm’ however weakened she may be. Sung with tenderness, if not much power, Crosby has fun on a song so far out of his usual comfort zone and the sky setting, as Earhart looks to the skies with brilliance of what lies next, seems to have inspired much of his own writing across this album. It’s a big improvement on ‘Yvette In English’, if not up to ‘For Free’ or ‘Urge For Going’, the other Mitchell cover songs Crosby has performed over the years.

Far from the skies, though, Crosby is turning to thoughts of domestic bliss at the end of this album and near the end of his life. ‘Somebody Home’ starts where ‘She’s Got To Be Somewhere’ and ‘The City’ left off. The idealistic young girl is being pursued by wolves who want to sleep with her and are only pretending to help her get to the top. But suddenly, on verse two, this song changes. Crosby is no longer a malicious monster but genuinely cares for the model he meets, sensing a kindred spirit and a sense of ‘home’ in his wayward confusing life. Is this, then, the story of his meeting with Jan who was indeed a model when they first met? Suddenly Crosby is shy: far from assuming that he can get something out of furthering her career, he wonders how somebody so brilliant could possibly be interested in someone as useless as him? There’s a sudden rush of beauty from the best horn arrangement on the album (something Steely Dan could never match) as this odd beginning swells into love. Crosby hears her speak for the first time and he now knows that she’s ‘home’. Crosby, suddenly subdued and unsure of himself, then plucks up the courage to speak to her and ask her out…at which point the song sadly slides away, the haunting notes of the magic spell cast on him hanging in the air as the song disappears suddenly. That’s a shame because it’s just getting good: for much of the song Crosby is over-singing, becoming a jazz crooner and though it makes for a nice change on this album there’s not much happening here until near the end. Even so this is easily one of the better album tracks, with a real heart and soul about it and a sense that this song is ‘real’ in a way many of the others aren’t.

‘Curved Air’, by contrast, is the album’s weakest track. Crosby again defers to the Steely Dan jazz stylings in his head, even though they sound rigid and repetitive on an oddball song that should be dancing to its own tune in true Crosby fashion. A flamenco guitar part by Pevar sounds not unlike one of Stills’ Spanish-songs but alas whilst Stills always used the different style to speak even more from the heart than normal, Crosby is playing around with music in a postmodernist sense. ‘This is too strange to be serious, too rocky to be flat…I got no time for that!’ he snaps, before calling himself, hopefully jokily, ‘moderate and white’. Crosby again looks for ‘solid ground’ to bring him down to earth, realising that his imagination lets him fly away and far over the heads of other people sometimes. On this album, divided between songs of loss at losing what went before and the safety and comfort of home, it sounds like a song about both: Crosby lacks the earthy grounding and commercial appeal Stills and Nash once leant to his work and too often ends up writing songs like this one that are bizarre, like a Kratfwerk robot doing a flamenco dance while on fire and trying to stamp the flames out with a flute. On the other, it’s a tribute to how comfortable and safe he feels at this stage in his career, with his family all around him and the sense that he can come home and feel safe enough to fly in these brave waters. Unfortunately this song left me behind, with a [particularly irritating backing that repeats one synth note like a morse code and whose big instrumental finale battle between a guitar and piano is a pale shadow of what used to appear on CPR albums twenty years ago. Crosby’s writing the first thing that comes into his head to see where it takes him – and unfortunately it’s nowhere terribly musical, while the poor performance and production make what could have been an exciting song fall flat.

The album ends rather sweetly though on ‘Home Free’. While Nash’s album ended with his own death as he finally leaves the stage imagining applause, Crosby stays closer to home, taking a bath, ignored by everyone and counting his blessings. Crosby feels so safe ‘like a baby in a blanket with nothing to fear’. All he has to do today is ‘boil some coffee on a worn-out stove’, chat to his family and bash around on a guitar. He really did choose the right path: he got the family he wanted, the career he desired, he did it all. ‘Maybe I’ll never leave here at all’ he sighs, as he compares himself to a ‘tree with no leaves’, his branches having already born all the fruit they needed to in order to satisfy his younger self’s drive and hunger. Everything Crosby did, the heights he reached, the things he saw, were all leading to this point where he had a wife he loved and a home that’s perfect, well nearly. The song is the second most Crosby-like on the album, as it doesn’t so much run repetitively like the rest of the album as swell, dancing on the spot between two notes, a merry sweet dance that in lesser hands would be boring but on this song about counting your blessings however small is perfectly suited. After all those decades of being a thorn in the side of the establishment, of pushing back the musical envelope, of writing some of the most daring and controversial songs of the 20th century, Crosby has found true contentment from the simple pleasures of home, perhaps the final ‘answer’ to the troubled question of his youth on ‘Where Will I Be?’, a similar song all round chord-wise if very different in feel. Instead of worrying about the future though, this song answers with the idea that Crosby is destined to be here, where it’s safe and he can feel happy and content.

The end result, then, is an album that works best on the three quiet intimate songs where the ‘real’ Crosby peeks through, the home-bird enjoying pottering round at home and answering mad fans on twitter as well as this late-career renaissance. ‘Sky Trails’ works far better when it stays closer to home, doing the sort of things Crosby always did but perhaps with an older and wiser head. It doesn’t work that well at all when reaching for the skies and trying to make Crosby into the new commercial Steely Dan figure of the 20-teens that it really didn’t need or ask for. I would have liked more Crosby and fewer guest stars across this album, more of a feeling of the warmth and beauty of a CPR record than the ugly pop of ‘Croz’ and if there’s one decade I wish Crosby hadn’t returned to then it’s the 1980s, the lynchpin of the sound of this record that already sounds horrifically dated as I write this on the week of release (I can’t wait for music to move on from its current 1980s synth obsession into something better – the 1990s would do, or better still the 1960s are due to come round again). But then I suspect the whole point of this album is to break new ground rather than appeal to curmudgeonly old-timers like me: ‘Lighthouse’ was the album that gave the world the Crosby it was asking for (even if it gave us a little too much, with so many acoustic songs that sounded the same); by releasing it Croz sounds freer to make this album how he wanted it, with a big band and a sound he’d never tried before but clearly admires (though for the life of me I can’t think why: at times the pompous professional rigid empty feel of ‘Steely Dan’ sounds as far away from pure CSN, so free loose nimble and gloriously full, as you can get). Neither record quite makes the grade, though there’s a quite brilliant one nestling there somewhere, especially if you throw the best of 2014’s ‘Croz’ into the pot as well. Crosby has proved for a third time in a row now that he can surprise us by giving us what we least expect, while giving us just enough Crosbyness to prove what an amazing album he could deliver if he stuck to his strengths and how talented he still is. I think I’ve said this on the last two albums reviews now, but maybe the next one will be the one that proves Crosby’s genius is undimmed – this album isn’t it by any means, but I still have hope that the next one is really truly it this time.

Other CSNY related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/graham-nash-david-crosby-1972.html

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-51-stephen-stillsmanassas-1972.html

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/news-views-and-music-issue-75-graham.html 
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/stephen-stillsmanassas-down-by-road-1973.html

'Stills' (1975)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/review-65-stephen-stills-stills-1975.html

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-67-crosby-nash-wind-on-water.html 
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/stephen-stills-illegal-stills-1976.html
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/david-crosby-graham-nash-whistling-down.html

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-33-stills.html

'CSN' (1977)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-70-crosby-stills-and-nash-csn.html 
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/stephen-stills-thoroughfare-gap-1978.html
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/graham-nash-earth-and-sky-1980.html

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/news-views-and-music-issue-131-crosby.html 
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/stephen-stills-right-by-you-1984.html
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/01/graham-nash-innocent-eyes-1986.html
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/crosby-stills-nash-and-young-american.html
'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/07/david-crosby-oh-yes-i-can-1989.html

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-viedws-and-music-issue-104-crosby.html 
'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.nl/2016/09/stephen-stills-alone-1991.html
'A Thousand Roads' (Crosby) (1993) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/david-crosby-thousand-roads-1993.html
'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/cpr-david-crosby-band-1998.html
‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/cpr-just-like-gravity-2001.html

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/graham-nash-songs-for-survivors-2002.html

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/news-views-and-music-issue-1-crosby.html

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008_09_21_archive.html

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/news-views-and-music-issue-22-graham.html

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/news-views-and-music-issue-41-crosby.html

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/news-views-and-music-issue-52-manassas.html

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/stephen-stills-carry-on-box-set-2013.html

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/david-crosby-croz-2014album-review.html
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/crosby-stills-nash-and-young-csny-74.html
'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/graham-nash-this-path-tonight-2016.html
'Lighthouse' (Crosby) (2016) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/david-crosby-lighthouse-2016.html
The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/csny-best-unreleased-tracks-news-views.html
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/csny-surviving-tv-appearances-1969-09.html
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/crosby-stills-nash-and-sometimes-young_6.html
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/crosby-stills-nash-and-sometimes-young.html
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/crosby-stills-nash-and-sometimes-young_20.html




The Who: Live/Solo/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part Five 1991-2000




Roger Daltrey "Rocks In The Head"

(Atlantic, '1992')

Who's Gonna Walk On Water?/Before My Time Is Up/Time's Changed/You Can't Call It Love/Mirror Mirror/Perfect World/Love is/Blue Man's World/Everything A Heart Could Ever Want/Days Of Light/Unforgettable Opera

"Until the drums stop beating, until the crossroads burn out, I ain't a man until I done it all"

Roger's eight solo album - and his final work of new material for over twenty years - finds the singer forgetting that he used to be in The Who and assuming that he was a member of Bon Jovi (maybe those rocks fell on his head?) Noisy formless rock, without the passion or depth or erudition of The Who, this album even more than Roger's other solo spots signals just how average he might have become had he not had Pete Townshend writing in the same band. Sadly Roger's once poetic purr has become a bark across almost the full album and his backing band - which mostly consists of co-writer Gerald McMahon - play at such a high volume at noise that you wonder if Roger ought to have filled one of those 'hazardous noise  at work' forms. After hearing the album in one go you want to throw rocks at somebody's head alright - and yours probably feels as if someone already has.
However, there are as always a few saving graces to be had. Roger's lyric writing has come a long way since the singer was handed a sheet of paper and told to writing something to earn some royalties back in 1966 and though his words often get lost in the sheer scream of the music this is another album worth reading, if not necessarily listening to. Roger is at his best when opening up his heart and expressing his feelings - which is an unusual technique for a band who were all about searching for identity and who found they 'can't explain' but gives these songs a revealingness that only came late to the band as a whole. The best song by a country mile is the one true ballad here 'Everything A Heart Could Ever Want', which is dedicated to the singer's then six-year-old daughter Willow and finds Daltrey very much at peace with the world and glad that he didn't die before he got old so that he could relish watching his daughter grow (she and her brother Jamie sing backing vocals too). It's a very un-Who like moment, but then this is a very un-Who like album that was simply marketed as if it was with talk of 'heavy rock' and 'take no prisoners' performances - in truth it's the quieter, gentler, reflective moments that sound more like 'real' Who with Roger working best on the 'vulnerable' passages that in olden times Pete would have been given to sing. The album is far from worthless then and is worth persevering with for the nuggets of beauty but the relentless aggression, the endless shouting and macho posturing and the tinny late-1980s-even-though-it's-1992-production-sound will put fans off long before they realise that buried treasure does lie here on this album underneath the 'rocks'.

'Whose Gonna Walk On Water?' is the first of three solo credits to McMahon on the album and perhaps the best of the trio, with a rock swagger that suits Roger's leery singing style even if the boastful lyrics don't really promise much in the end.

'Before My Time Is Up' has a nice splutter of keyboards that offer beauty while the rest of the Daltrey band (including the singer) are going for noise. Roger's narrator wants to achieve something with his life, to make 'the whole big bang' sound as if it was necessary to lead him to this point and promises to do something - even though in truth noisy tuneless songs like this hurt his reputation rather than helped.

'Times Changed' is the worst moment here though, with Roger telling us to drop the timeless beauty of the 1960s and start strutting in a posing 1980s faceless rock band kind of a way. I think I'll stick with 'Who's Next' thanks!

'You Can't Call It Love' is prettier, as Roger sings about a relationship that's been together so long it can't 'burst into flames' anymore - and yet at the same time it's too strong and been through too much to 'go out'. Even though this is an incredibly middle-aged kind of a song (the antithesis of the original Who) it's one of the better moments here with heart as well as head-banging and Roger sounds mighty good, perhaps because this is one of his co-writes.

'Mirror Mirror' is a folkie McMahon song that on the positive side isn't quite as noisy as most of the other album songs, but on the other still sounds like a big 1980s production powerhouse when by its very nature this song should be small and intimate. Those 1980s drums sap any energy out of the song and even Roger has problems screaming for quite so much of the time.

'Perfect World' is one of the better songs, with a synth riff that sounds like 1980s Pete Townshend and some nice lyrics about how the '1960s revolution' isn't dead but taking a break - a 'stay of execution' - and the current trend for greed an materialism will be over soon. Even though I'm still waiting, there's enough hope in this song to believe in.

'Love Is' probably not the sound of Roger singing gruffly and a U2-style throbbing guitar part (well, not unless you're really unlucky in your love choices) but that's what you get on this forgettable one note song on which the drums pound with all of the power of Moon but without any of the skill.

'Blues Man's Road' is more ugly huffing and puffing too, with Roger reduced to a hoarse shout about generic things going wrong in his life while a sarcastic chorus intone 'shoo shoo shooby doo'. Even by this album's low standards, this track is tough going and Daltrey doesn't sound like the same vocalist at all.

'Everything A Heart Could Ever Want' is the one song worth owning the album for though - a gorgeous song about family life as Roger realises just how much his daughter is turning out like his 'good' bits and he's revelling in being able to teach on his loves to her (with Willow Daltrey reminding him of all his favourite 'oldie' songs he'd forgotten about). Roger pays tribute the best way he can, by praising his daughter for being 'a true free spirit in a jaded world' and wanting to 'admit mistakes' as he learns how to be a parent at the same time she learns how to be a human being. It's the most philosophical Townshend-style lyric on the album and it's clear that songs like this is where Roger's heart truly lies. Willow and son Jamie sing backing vocals - which ought to be a big no-no for a band with the street cred of The Who - but it somehow seems to work as you can tell Roger means it without being sickly sweet. The slower tempo and actual singing rather than shouting is a definite plus too.

'Days Of Light' tries to go for 60s harmony pop and almost succeeds if you judge this song by the album standards rather than true 1960s harmony pop (ie The Who). One of those songs praising the weekend and 'release'. Roger is probably going back in time to his days as a metal sheet worker for this one.

The album closes with 'Unforgettable Opera' - no, it's unforgettable and no sadly it's not a 'rock opera', just another generic love song about suddenly spotting the love of your life and all the drama created by that. It might just be that the noise of the album is wearing me down, but this sounds like quite a strong finale despite falling into all the traps of the other songs here and Roger manages to sing a cut above the material.

Overall, though, 'Rocks In The Head' is what you might call a lost opportunity: Roger isn't the right singer for this band or material and while he is writing something worth hearing, the way the material's presented is only worth hearing if you're a masochist in search of a headache. Loud, thunderous and relentless may be words to describe the original Who as well as this album but that's where the comparison largely ends: a couple of really genuinely moving songs aside, Roger must have had rocks in the head himself to let this monstrosity out. 

Pete Townshend "Psychoderelict"

(Atlantic, June 1993)

English Boy/Meher Baba M3/Let's Get Pretentious/Meher Baba M4/Early Morning Dreams/I Want That Thing/Dialogue #1/Outlive The Dinosaur/Flame/Now and Then/I Am Afraid/Don't Try To Make Me Real/Dialogue #2/Predictable/Flame #2/Meher Baba M5/Fake It/Dialogue #3/Now and Then #2/Baba O'Riley (Demo)/English Boy #2

CD Bonus Tracks: Psychomontage/English Boy (Unedited)/Early Morning Dreams (Demo)/Uneasy Street/There Is No Message In A Broken Heart

"If you've got beauty or talent then one day you'll going to wind up involved in prostitution - but one way or the other my story will be told"

Pete's last album of new work until The Who's  inextricably intertwined 'Endless Wire' thirteen years later - and his last solo work of all so it looks like from the passing years and wry cryptic comments to the press - is, alas, his weakest project. The first out-and-out 'story' album since 'Quadrophenia' (albeit with an honourable mention for 'White City'), this tale of a boozed-up washed-up rocker named Ray High finding true love with a young fan and true hate with a meddling newspaper columnist out to be right up Pete's alley. Ray High is exactly the sort of troubled, vulnerable and confused so-it-makes-him-do-bad-things-even-though-he's-ultimately-a-force-for-good narrator Pete should be writing, perhaps what Tommy grew into when he swapped pinballs for guitars or Jimmy if he turned his love of mod into career. He is, clearly, the last great Pete Townshend character to hide behind, albeit someone much closer to real life than his predecessors, with a far more believable back story (although things get weird in 'sequel' 'Wire and Glass', the mini-opera released as part of Who comeback 'Endless Wire', where Ray dies, goes backwards through time and manages his own rock and roll band from beyond the grave!) What's more, Ray's story then was very much Pete's story at the time. He'd split from wife and childhood sweetheart Karen after nearly thirty years of marriage to be with a much younger partner and classical writer and conductor, Rachel Fuller who shocked The Who community not so much by daring to interfere with Pete's life as much as admitting that she'd never actually liked The Who before meeting her future boyfriend (and still didn't like them much!) Pete's confusion, fears and doubts run through the record more than ever before and told as a straight, pure love story 'Psychoderelict' is a success: his tale of awe and fears over their age gap is explored to beautiful effect on 'Now and Then', perhaps the greatest love song in the Who canon (there aren't all that many!) and Ray's flaws are explored successfully on songs like 'English Boy' and 'I Am Afraid'. Had 'Psychoderelict dealt with this half of the material over half the length, it would have been right up there amongst Pete's best.

However the full album is hard to follow, with too many sub-plots seeing Ray through the eyes through a cynical hack desperate to dig up the dirt on him (the newspaper is never named but is surely The Daily Mail, no other newspaper in Britain is made with such needles venom) that are never really counter-acted: she never gets her come-uppance and he never gets to 'prove' her wrong. We also never quite find out if her 'trick' (posing as a pretty fifteen-year-old fan who sends Ray a picture of herself naked posing on her mother's grave and asking for help and bringing out his paternal side he didn't even know he had) is a case of someone nasty trying to fool somebody kind, or whether Ray really was trying to take advantage of a vulnerable girl all along (in turn he forgives the reporter for making it up and sleeps with her - but is she then nasty for betraying him and printing the story anyway or is it him for being stupid enough to fall for her? And why is Ray working on a revived version of 'Lifehouse' complete with references to a 'grid' - is this to 'prove' to the loyal fans that Ray is meant to be Pete or a shameless cash-in chance to re-use a bit of the - admittedly wonderful - 'Baba O'Riley' demo?) The Meher Baba links are confusing too - is Pete laughing at himself and his guru for being exactly the sort of thing a washed-up no-talent like Ray would believe in - or is he trying to show us that, whatever we think of rockstars and their gurus, they offer an escape from the seediness of real life and pull people like Pete/Ray to a higher level?

In the light of future events  when nearly everyone in the media seemed to have it in for the guitarist (Pete's arrest for child pornography charges - a naive but genuine attempt to research a future album) it's a real shame that Pete doesn't slam all his critics down here for good and show just how different the 'truth' and the 'media opinion' can be. We also don't need another 'Who By Numbers' style album full of woe about how drunken, lost and unconfident Pete/Ray feels - especially as, unlike that album, the music isn't as inspired the lyrics aren't as brave and just sounds like someone moaning. The spoken passages between each song, while well performed and the sort of thing The Who always used to use better than anyone, really break up the flow of the music and are hard to follow, changing style and angle with nearly every track. Some of the music, too, is simply shallow and uninspired by Pete's highest standards with songs like 'I Want That Thing' and 'Let's Get Pretentious' so simple they're beneath Pete's usual standards and multi-layers while the Meher-Baba named instrumentals are no more developed than the abandoned ideas on the 'Scoop' CDs and twice as irritating given that this is meant to be a more 'complete' set. This is also easily Pete's hardest story to follow - and unlike 'Tommy' 'Quadrophenia' or even 'Lifehouse' you don't quite care enough for the characters or the idea to bother.

The end result, then, is an album that's disappointing and frustrating mainly because the main idea and the best standalone moments from this album suggest a narrative that could have added up to so much more - a case of the right tasty ingredients being turned into the wrong sort of cake. Pete said in a recent interview that he'd 'lost the power to connect with his audience lately' and didn't know why. The answer is a work like 'Psychoderelict, which is a tale of rockstars' empty little lives and people out to drag them down - something which is less vital to the Who fan out in the streets than the spiritual thirst of Tommy (the only person who doesn't think he's a rockstar) or the need to belong of Jimmy (the only person who can save himself). 'Psychoderelict' should have been a tale of love, of how Ray is the only person who doesn't believe in his own talents and who finds them all through the love of another, even if it's another who started off as a made-up vulnerable teen fan and ended up being a reporter trying to trip him up who ends up falling for him anyway. Instead it's hard to know just what on earth this tale is all about or what we should make of it, with Pete so far away from 'listening to us' that we can't follow him down this particular path even though from the outside so much of this album looks beautiful and worthy of the Townshend name.

'English Boy' very much sets the album line: Ray/Pete starts off as a hero and end up a villain as he gets sucked in by the trappings of fame and goes from being someone who brings comfort and love to the world and becomes a sex-craved brain-addled chump. 'I'm a lost soul, I'm a pig, I'm a thug, I got nowhere to go but down!' screams Pete with real joy in his voice on this 'By Numbers' style song. Media comments, meanwhile, only make him feel worse by kicking him when he's already down (Ruth the reporter's best line of the whole record: 'life's a bitch - and so am I!') Making out that he's both special and average (just another 'English Boy') this is such a Townshendesque song it overcomes a slightly dodgy jazzy backing track that's a little too much like 'Face The Face' for comfort.

'Meher Baba M3' is a short instrumental loop that sounds like a heavy metal version of an advert and even though it's the most substantial of the four on this album at three whole minutes, it's arguably the weakest.

'Let's Get Pretentious' tries hard to laugh at Pete and everything his kind of naval-gazing rockstar stand for, but it lacks the humour of 'Misunderstood' and is delivered without the same wry smile. Without them this song just sounds, well, pretentious as Pete demands 'I don't know much but I know what I like!'

'Signal Box' is a second instrumental with Meher Baba's name attached that sounds a little like the synth opening to 'Who Are You' but with added drums.

'Early Morning Dreams' returns to the 'grid' of 'Lifehouse' and is a quick utopian insert that has Ray believing the world really wake up a better place one day, complete with Beach Boys style harmonies (or in the past - the 1960s are revealed in the last verse to be this same utopia). However the song is second to the narrative as a so-so ish song keeps being interrupted by talk and weird vocal effects that have Ray joining with the voice of his 'grid' advertiser.

'I Want That Thing' is a clumsy and ill-advised song looking at consumerism that starts off like 'Let My Love Open The Door' and ends up sounding like Iron Maiden. A noisy, unfocussed song about a fussy teenager working hard and wanting to enjoy their money, this is too nasty a view of the typical confused and violent Who consumer for comfort, Pete's cynicism - so welcome when turned against the world - turned against the very people he usually 'listens' to for advice and inspiration.

'Outlive The Dinosaur' has become quite a popular song, perhaps because it's cool jazz leanings really catch the ear and the song makes sense outside the album story. However this update of 'My Generation' and the idea that every era has its own eras to latch onto is once again clumsy and written in large generalities rather than moving details.

'Flame' is narrative mostly, with Ray reading out his 'last' fan letter to his fifteen year old while she croons away on a demo tape behind him. Thankfully we can't hear it any detail because, let me tell you, this Adele-style warbling wouldn't make me fall in love, no sirree!

'Now and Then' is what a love song should sound like: moving, heartfelt and ever so slightly vulnerable. In Pete's best work in a decade or more he tells us, through Ray's eyes, his shock at realising that he's fallen in love just when he was least expecting to. Putting it down to fate ('now and then you see and you fall in love, you can't do a thing about it') he writes to his fan about 'recognising' her pain through her words (ain't it funny how we all write the same?!), his shock as slowly their lives 'become entwined' and his worry that, as the older partner, she doesn't really love him and is about to leave him just when her youth makes him feel young himself - and his shock as he realises that just isn't true. Played with just the right amount of wisftulness and burst of aggression,  with a perfectly judged vocal just the right side of dreamy and urgent. A gorgeous melody, some moving words - this clearly autobiographical song is a cut above anything else here, written from the heart as well as the head.

'I Am Afraid' is a less convincing song about Ray worrying that he isn't worthy of his new partner, but in a very jazz lounge early 1990s setting where nobody seems that fussed about anything. The sweeter, simpler demo released on 'Scoop 3' was much nicer.

'Don't Try To Make Me Real' is better, an 'I Don't Even Know Myself' howl of pain where Ray/Pete tells us that he'd rather hide behind a character and his own imagination and doesn't want to be the figure people want him to be. The most Who-like number on the album, it's good to hear Pete going back to the 'identity' issues that have plagued him since first putting pen to paper.

'Predictable' is a short sting of joy on a largely unhappy album, with a bluesy feel (similar to the live Who arrangement of 'Drowned') and is really about being 'reliable' than 'predictable' as after years of being unsure whether he could 'test' his lovers, Ray knows this love is for real.

A bit more of 'Flame' comes next - frankly I wish someone had been talking through this version as it's noisy brainless squawky pop sung with full 1980s power. Pete's younger brother Simon co-wrote the song with many others - but not the guitarist himself.
A 'Vivaldi' version of the 'Meher Baba' theme comes next, sounding like it's being played on an accordion. More link than lyrical loveliness, it rather breaks up the storyline just as it's (finally!) got going.

'Fake It' is an ugly song that copies 'A Little Is Enough' as Pete as Ray sings that he doesn't care if love is faked, as long as he 'feels' it. Sensing that his fan might not be all she seemed to be, he prefers to hide in his imagination - which seems a strange request for someone usually so passionately, impressively concerned with being 'real'.

The album then features an unnecessary reprise of 'Now and Then' with different dialogue and a longer instrumental passage. Basically this bit is here to tell us that Ray is fine now, happy that the extra publicity over his life has re-boosted his sales and re-inspired him afresh. Which is all well and good but why hear this over this song , even if the reporter is more on his side this time.

A minute extract from the finale of the original demo for 'Baba O'Riley' comes next, over jokey dialogue about how this piece is going to 'save the world'. Which it might well do if you all shut up and listened to it! (You can hear the full version on either the Meher Baba tribute album 'I Am' or the 'Lifehouse Chronicles' box set of 2000).

The album then ends with a reprise of 'English Boy' - an uglier, more angular, bluesier version with Ray reflecting on everything he's learnt. It sounds like a 'farewell' song in more ways than one, with Pete trying to sum up his career before he dies as an 'English Boy' who tried to do right despite circumstances being stacked against him. Final line? 'Whatever happened to all that hippie shit?!' A good question indeed given the unfortunate then-modern sound of this recording.

Depending on which copy of the album you own, you'll either get two nice but inessential period live recordings of 'Now and Then' and 'English Boy' or a raft of demos, of which a demo for 'Early Morning Dreams' is the most convincing. Overall, though, all these reprises and false endings rather detract from what little power the story has.
'Psychoderelict', then, is a confused album. The story is hard to follow, for the first time ever on a concept work Pete struggles to write enough decent compositions to work as music in their own right rather than just tell a story and the interrupting dialogue quickly becomes annoying. Overall, this might well be Pete's weakest album - it's certainly his most confused and least interesting on a song-by-song basis. However at times - on 'English Boy' 'Don't Try To Make Me Real' and especially the poignant 'Now and Then' - the concept inspires Pete to a height that's worth sitting through all the lows for. Both psychotic and derelict on different occasions, this record is also a brave work reflecting the ups and downs of Pete's life at the time and deserved to do better even if, ultimately, it's the sort of flawed minor album only a truly committed fan could love.

"Tommy: Original Cast Recording"

(RCA Victor, '1993')

Overture/Captain Walker/It's A Boy-We've Won/1921-What About The Boy?/Amazing Journey/Courtroom Scene/Sparks/Amazing Journey (Reprise)/Christmas-See Me Feel Me/Do You Think It's Alright?/Fiddle About/See Me Feel Me/Cousin Kevin/Sensation/Sparks (Reprise)/Eyesight To The Blind/The Acid Queen/Pinball Wizard//Underture/It's A Boy (Reprise)-There's A Doctor/Go To The Mirror!-Listening To You/Tommy Can You Hear Me?/I Believe My Own Eyes/Smash The Mirror!/I'm Free/Strets Of London-Miracle Cure/Sensation (Reprise)/I'm Free (Reprise)/Tommy's Holiday Camp/Sally Simpson/Welcome/Sally Simpson's Question/We're Not Gonna Take It/See Me Feel Me (Final Reprise)

"Do you think it's alright to turn this gritty album about betrayal, disability and resolution into a joyless singalong musical? Yes I think it's alright!"

Twenty-four years after the album, eighteen after the film and four since the reunion tour performance of it Pete Townshend revives 'Tommy' all over again as a Broadway Musical. 'Tommy' should, on paper, be well suited to the stage: it is, after all, a work about uniting characters and audience as one at the end and Roger was always too old to play the 'young' Tommy convincingly. Being performed by 'real' people again, rather than boozed up celebrities, feels closer to where Tommy should have been heading with his life in middle-age. However there's an artificial air about this interpretation which makes it sound like the worst excesses of Ken Russell's interpretation and the worst of Broadway musicals as a whole: no one really cares what's happening, everything is spectacle and drama rather than pure emotion and feeling the way 'Tommy' always was on stage and the poor Broadway band, unused to playing rock and roll, sound about as far away from The Who as it's possible to get. The cast try their hardest and so do the band, but this is a mis-casting in the extreme, as both halves try their hardest to enter a world that they were never going to understand and for Who fans there's far too much 'tidying up' of the story and characters going on. Also, the ambiguities, always one of the more audience-friendly parts of the original work so that listeners could put their own stamp over things, have become facts and dates which isn't the same thing at all. To be fair, though Pete's name is on the work and though he gave his approval, this wasn't his idea at all but Des McAnnuff's, a Broadway director who loved both film and album and wondered if Pete might be persuaded to share his vision. Townshend did, but quite what persuaded him to pass over custody of his beloved baby is open to question.

Everything feels messed around with and not for the better. 'Captain Walker' is a 'round' sung by multiple characters after each other with none of Pete's anger and helplessness.  'It's A Boy' is now surrounded by gunfire and effects to make it more obvious this is set during a war, while the midwives sing it as a happy song, missing the point of the original and the weight Tommy already carries with him at birth. 'Amazing Journey-Sparks' is horrific, played on tinny guitar and limp drums with trumpets instead of psychedelic mayhem and sung for laughs not drama. 'Christmas' becomes a stuttering 1980s operatic production number. Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin go from loveable rogues taking things a bit too far and turning nasty to dizzy relatives with no comprehension of the harm they do. 'Eyesight To The Blind' is no longer low-key 'real' blues but a big production number. 'The Acid Queen', though one of the better interpretations here, is no longer scary but just demented. 'Pinball Wizard' is now a little jealous boy rather than an egotistical star applauding at a new rival. 'I'm Free' is just shouting, no longer a revitalising life-changing moment of escape and release. 'Tommy' Holiday Camp' is more like an oompah band than an edgier version of 'Hi-De-Hi'. 'Sally Simpson' is no longer our representative, the fan who believes in this stuff so much she'll risk life and limb to be with her idol, but some irritating brattish kid. Only the finale of 'See Me Feel Me' really gets going and then only because it turns the audience into a mass singalong, someone in charge finally realising what the power of 'Tommy' is - that he's a 'mirror' of our own insecurities, infirmities and egos and that only together, as star and audience, can we overcome our respective issues. And even then it takes a few minutes. Poor Tommy sounds during the whole night as if he's badly in need of an intervention as a middle-age crisis leads him to become everything he should never have been in the first place: insincere and stupid (some of the new dialogue makes him out to have a low IQ as well as being deaf, dumb and blind). Few fans really liked this work and even fewer casual Broadway goers, who didn't know The Who, enjoyed it. We're not going to take it, gonna shake it, gonna break it - maybe forget it, better still?

Well not entirely. Despite the long list of complaints in this article, the musical soundtrack CD (now sadly rather rare) is worth tracking down if you get the chance. Pete is given a third chance to revisit his work and now he's has the benefit of a few extra decades of living has had the chance to think about what he was trying to say a bit more. While most of the extra dialogue in this work is clunky in the extreme, some of it is fascinating and adds new layers to the story we've never heard before - especially for Tommy's mum, who is softer and kinder in this version (sample: 'How can we share all the sights you are seeing? Hear the glorious music you're hearing? Can we be a small part of your being? Why do you still feel so alike when we're near?' Tommy: 'The point isn't for you to be more like me - the point is that, finally, I'm more like you!' Cousin Kevin also gets a bigger part, going to the papers with his cousin's story and pretending to be his 'protector'!) There are a few snippets of songs added here again - none are as substantial as in the film but they do make for interesting hearing: There's an earlier version of 'Sensation' back when Tommy is still 'trapped' in his own world in which he nervously, hopefully, timidly promises his worried parents that one day he will make then proud that's really quite affecting. 'I Believe My Own Eyes' is a sweet ballad between mum and dad just before they smash the mirror as they make it clear the destruction is more out of frustration and worry than anger and spite. 'Sally Simpson's Question' has the girl trying to connect with her idol and feeling disappointed when Tommy turns out to be 'ordinary'. 'We're Not Gonna Take It' additionally has a 'new' opening verse - 'I think I now know why you're here, you want to be like Tommy? I'm glad you're not, I hope that's clear!' None of this makes 'Tommy' the musical a strong essential work for Who fans or even anywhere close to being a good idea, but Pete's opportunity to revisit his old familiar tale does at least give him the chance to flesh out a few characters, clarify a few points and add a bit more emotion. Had this all been better sung by a cast of hungry teens low on theatrics and big on emotion, had it been directed by a rock fan first and Broadway director second and had a real Who tribute band been playing on stage this could have worked and worked very well, but in the end Tommy and his amazing technicolour dream-coat is as misunderstood as he ever was when he was blind, deaf and dumb.

Pete Townshend "Live At BAM"

(Eel Pie Records, Recorded August 1993, Released August 2003)

CD One: Intro/English Boy/Meher Baba M3/Let's Get Pretentious/Meher Baba M4/Early Morning Dreams/I Want That Thing/Intro/Outlive The Dinosaur/Gridlife 1/Flame (demo)/Now and Then/I Am Afraid/Gridlife 2/Don't Try To Make Me Real/Intro/Predictable/Flame/Intro/Now and Then/Baba O'Riley (Demo)/English Boy (Reprise)

CD Two: Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me-Listening To You/Let My Love Open The Door/Rough Boys/Behind Blue Eyes/The Kids Are Alright/Keep Me Turning/Eminence Front/A Little Is Enough/You Better You Bet/Face The Face/Won't Get Fooled Again/Let's See Action/Magic Bus

"Obsessed by silence, spiked by noise, I hold my son, I plan his toys"

Pete's first 'electric' shows post-Who had him sounding much more like his old self, with as good a substitute for Roger, Ox and Moon as it was possible to find. As with the other Townshend archive live shows the joy comes from hearing familiar songs performed with a different vocalist with Pete's sometimes-angrier, sometimes-calmer take on his own compositions often sounding very different to the final products. Though some of the time you just miss Daltrey, there are moments when this show really comes to life in a way even the Who gigs hadn't post-1975 such as a poignant 'Behind Blue Eyes' and a more upbeat take on 'You Better You Bet'. The shows were held to promote his last 'Psychoderelict' album which was heard here near complete and even contained the original dialogue, which made more sense on the live stage with a cast of actors making it clearer what was going on, with some moving performances of such lovely under-rated songs as 'Outlive The Dinosaur' and 'Now and Then'. Filmed initially for Pete's own archives, a full double CD and DVD set were finally, erm, rush-released to public demand twenty years later when most of the fans privileged enough to be there were still talking about it as one of the best shows they'd seen. The only sad part is that so few fans ever got to experience the full onslaught of a Pete Townshend live show - the guitarist didn't perform all that many gigs in 1993 with this band (fifteen in all) and even on CD this show is hard to track down, being only currently available through Pete's online 'Eel Pie' website (sadly now shut). A shame because it's a good one with an intelligent track listing, some sensitive re-recordings and Pete proving once and for all that he doesn't need Roger alongside him to put on a top show. 

Roger Daltrey "A Celebration: The Music Of Pete Townshend and The Who"

(Continuum, February 1994)

Overture/Pinball Wizard/Imagine A Man/Dr Jimmy/The Song Is Over/The Real Me/Baba O'Riley/After The Fire/5.15/The Sea Refuses No River/Who Are You?/Won't Get Fooled Again

"Just let me get to the master panel, let me get my stash"

By 1994 Roger had come to the conclusion that he worked best as a singer when singing Who songs and that he had a real magical connection with Pete Townshend's work which he'd never been able to replace. Of all the band Roger most enjoyed the reunion tour of 1989 and being back in a 'gang' again after years of working on his own and he longed to make another record that way. Pete, though, wasn't so sure announcing that the Who were 'dead' and that the tour had been solely financial (though it wasn't revealed at the time quite how destitute John Entwistle was and how much his colleagues had done that tour to rally around him). If The Who wouldn't come to Roger then Roger decided to go to The Who and launched an unusual album whereby he re-recorded all his favourite songs from the old catalogue in a new musical setting for two shows at Carnegi Hall (thsi set being an amalgam of both) to raise money for a premature baby unit in Columbia. The occasiona also doubled as a 50th birthday present, of sorts, to fans pleading with the band to reunite permanently. Like most such exercises in this sort of thing the result is pointless - why re-record timeless songs in a period setting so tightly linked to their era? Plus Roger wasn't quite as strong and youthful a singer as he had been the first time he recorded these songs. It seems odd too that Roger should hand so much of the stage over to singer Linda Perry (perhaps her awful screech through 'Dr Jimmy' is here at proof that Roger was meant to sing these songs, not anyone else). Pete himself turns up to play guitar and sing lead on 'Who Are You' which is an odd idea - this isn't an album called 'Roger and a little bit of Pete sing Pete' is it? Plus his gruff, angry vocals seem out of place amongst all the oprchestral beauty on offer here. Sinead O Connor, who performed on 'Baba O'Riley' at one of the original shows, has been cut from the album in favour of Roger solo which is a shame as she cuts closer to the bone of the track than Pete or Linda and which seems to have been made for licensing reasons (though weirdly she is on the tie-in video released in 1998). 'Overture' is a new orchestral medley of solo Townshend songs in the style of Tommy's orchesrral opening number, which seems particularly pointless and falls particularly flat. However the results are occasionally interesting, both for Roger's personal track listing which features a bunch of unusual songs including 'Imagine A Man' from 'Who By Numbers' which had never been heard live before and 'The Song Is Over' from 'Who's Next'. The orchestra too is better handled than ever it was on the 'classical' interpretations of 'Tommy' and 'Quadropehnia', there for colour and power rather than to replace the sheer noise of the originals or make them sound a bit 'posh'. Roger also tackles two unusual songs, reviving Pete's 'After The Fire' first recorded on Daltrey's 'Under A Raging Moon' LP and 'The Sea Refuses No River', one of the best Townshend songs of the 1980s which sounds really good in Roger's blustering-but-mournful tones. You'd never take any of these recordings over what the origoinal had to offer, but this was meant to be a reminder rather than a replacement and on that strength it works well proving both that no one could deliver material more suited to Roger's strengths of powerful vulnerability and trimid strength than Pete - and that equally nobody could sing Pete's songs better than Roger. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss. Thank goodness.

"30 Years Of Maximum R and B"

(Polydor/MCA/Geffen, July 1994)

Disc One: Pete Dialogue (Long Beach 1971)/I'm The Face/Her 'Tis/Zoot Suit/Leaving Here/I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/Daddy Rolling Stone/My Generation/The Kids Are Alright/The Ox/A Legal Matter/Pete Dialogue (Leeds)/Substitute (Leeds)/I'm A Boy/Disguises/Happy Jack (Jingle)/Happy Jack/Boris The Spider/So Sad About Us/A Quick One While He's Away/Pictures Of Lily/Early Morning Cold Taxi/Coke (Jingle)/The Last Time/I Can't Reach You/Girl's Eyes/Bag o'Nails/Call Me Lightning

Disc Two: Rotosound Strings (Jingle)/I Can See For Miles/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Armenia (City In The Sky)/Tattoo/Our Love Was/Rael/Rael 2/Track Records (Jingle)/Premier Drums (Jingle)/Sunrise/Russell Harty (Dialogue)/Jaguar/Melancholia/ Fortune Teller/Magic Bus/Little Billy/Dogs/Overture/The Acid Queen/The Abbie Hoffman Incident (Dialogue)/Sparks (Woodstock)/Pinball Wizard/I'm Free/See Me Feel Me/Heaven and Hell/Pete Dialogue (Leeds)/Young Man Blues (Leeds)/Summertime Blues (Leeds)

Disc Three: Shakin' All Over (Leeds)/Baba O'Riley/Bargain (Live)/Pure and Easy/The Song Is Over/Dialogue/Behind Blue Eyes/Won't Get Fooled Again/The Seeker/Bony Maronie (Live)/Let's See Action/Join Together/Relay/The Real Me/5:15/Bell Boy/Love Reign O'er Me

Disc Four: Long Live Rock/Life With The Moons/Naked Eye/University Challenge/Slip Kid/Poetry Cornered/Dreaming From The Waist/Blue Red and Grey/Life With The Moons #2/Squueze Box/My Wife/Who Are You?/Music Must Change/Sister Disco/Guitar and Pen/You Better You Bet/Eminence Front/Twist and Shout/I'm A Man/Dialogue/Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting

"When you want to complain there's no one to stop you, but when the music proclaims there's no one can top you!"

...Or eleven years of 'Maximum R and B', another seven of 'Minimum R and B' and another twelve of resting! (The choice of release date is also interesting, suggesting The Who count their birthday as being not when they were formed circa 1960 or when their first single as The Who came out in 1965 but from their year as 'The High Numbers'). Released at a time when The Who's albums weren't widely available on CD (or at all in the case of the first album and the last handful), this set was a welcome and much-loved one for many with several songs recordings released for the first time (with the lengthy batch of outtakes for 'Who Sell Out' in 1967 gaining a particularly large amount of coverage). This set was certainly a labour of love, with no less than three record labels involved in the making of it and copious sleevenotes that contain more notes and photos than most of the actual books  out on the band. There are some pretty neat and detailed touches for the fan all round, usually 'inserts' into the main action whether in the booklet or the music, with familiar recordings interrupted by brief sections of outtakes, ad libs or in the case of 'Behind Blue Eyes' a mass break out of coughing, as well as four Keith Moon radio skits from 1973 and some of the funniest Pete Townshend on-stage jokes that sums the band up well (the box starts with the guitarist in 1971 telling the crowd at a Who gig to shut up - 'This is a fucking rock and roll concert not a fucking tea party!' - in the middle has Abbie Hoffman being literally booted off-stage by Pete at Woodstock when he tried to interrupt rock and roll with politics and the entire set ends with the immortal Townshend line 'Play some rock and roll?!?' What did you think that lot just was, bleeding Mantovani?!') In short, if you were a Who fan in 1994 and your vinyls were beginning to wilt after being played at maximum speed for thirty years and you'd just bought a CD player then this set was for you.

However now that we are coming up to another thirty years on (assuming that you're reading this before 2024) this box set sadly represents less than maximum value for the modern collector. All the really interesting things have now found new and much more suitable homes on the many album CD re-issues and deluxe sets out there - particularly 'Who Sell Out' and 'Who's Next' where the majority of the once-exclusive tracks once came from (there's comparatively few from the other Who albums). That happens with box sets sadly, which tend to date far quicker than most compilations do, but most can  still be used as valuable lengthy compilations long after the collector has bought up all the 'new' stuff at least three times over. The sad fact is that 'R and B' doesn't make such sense there either: record company shenanigans means that we only get the very basics from the Brunswick 'Sings My Generation' era, random live recordings come and go interrupting the flow of the largely studio bound material and there are just too many important songs missing: shockingly the classic single take of 'Substitute' is, well, substituted by the impressive but still inferior 'Live at Leeds' cut, 'Tommy' gets reduced from twenty tracks to just three, 'Quadrophenia' gets reduced from seventeen to four and 'Face Dances' and 'It's Hard' (deserving of re-appraisal by long-termers even if they were never likely to be casual fans' favourite moments on this box) get cut to ribbons.
Unfortunately collectors still need this always-pricey set for a few minor moments that have yet to come out in any other form. You don't really need to hear The Who covering polar opposite Elton John unless you have a very wide musical palette (although 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting' is dressed up to sound impressively Who-like) or the band's final encore of an Entwistle-screeched 'Twist and Shout' from the last Canadian show in 1982 (even if it is a fitting historical finale) though a storming live version of 'Bargain' from 1971, an almost as good cover of 'Bony Moronie' from the same era and even a menacing 1980s take on 'I'm A Man' ('I'm way past 21!' Roger quips) are all essential purchases, maybe the Keith Moon skits too as a worthy representation of what a quarter of the band, at least, were all about. Maximum? No. A band the size and importance of The Who deserve a second one that's even more maximum than this one, especially now that so many hard-to-find live recordings (included on the rare website subscribers 'Backstage Pass' set ) and Townshend demos (on the nearly impossible to get 'Scoop' series) have come to light. But there is still much about this box that set a standard for other similar compilations to come, from the generous and informative sleevenotes to the then-generous sampling of outtakes and the little nuggets of gold hiding between the songs.

"A Quick One While He's Away" (CD Re-Issue 1995) Bonus Tracks:
Batman/Bucket T/Barbara Ann/Disguises/Doctor Doctor/I've Been Away/In The City/Happy Jack (Acoustic Mix)/Man With Money/My Generation-Land Of Hope and Glory

"The Who Sell Out" (CD Re-Issue 1995) Bonus Tracks:
Rael 2/Glittering Girl/Melancholia/Someone's Coming/Jaguar/Early Morning Cold Taxi/Hall Of The Mountain King/Girl's Eyes/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand (US Mix)/Glow Girl

"Who's Next" (CD Re-Issue 1995) Bonus Tracks:
Pure and Easy/Baby Don't You Do It!/Naked Eye/Water/Too Much Of Anything/I Don't Even Know Myself/Behind Blue Eyes (Alternate Version)

"The Who By Numbers" (CD Re-Issue 1996) Bonus Tracks:
Squeeze Box/Behind Blue Eyes/Dreaming From The Waist (All Live At Swansea 1975)

"Who Are You?" (CD Re-Issue 1996) Bonus Tracks:
No Road Romance/Empty Glass (Demo)/Guitar and Pen (Early Mix)/Love Is Coming Down (Early Mix)/Who Are You? (Unedited)

"Face Dances" (CD Re-Issue 1997) Bonus Tracks:
I Like Nightmares/It's In You/Somebody Saved Me/How Can You Do It Alone? (Live 1979)/The Quiet One (Live 1982)

"It's Hard" (CD Re-Issue 1997) Bonus Tracks:
It's Hard/Eminence Front/Dangerous/Cry If You Want (All Live 1982)

"You'll feel me coming, a new vibration, from afar you'll see me, I'm a sensation!"

The Who's re-issue on CD of almost their entire catalogue in 1995 (debut 'The Who Sings My generation' was still being held up by the Shel Talmy court case) was a thing of beauty, amongst the best of the AAA bunch even if it was slightly unevenly balanced. The original packaging was included, with front and back sleeves from the UK and US plus numerous unseen photos inside each disc, generally informative sleevenotes and a mini-essay for most of the albums (oddly not 'Quadrophenia' or the later albums) and for most albums a whole run of bonus tracks which were chosen sensibly and with care. 'A Quick One' for instance features the whole of the 'Ready Steady Who' EP released a month before that album, every conceivable period B-side and an impressive run of unreleased material that's probably better than the album, including a thrilling harmony-driven rendition of The Everly Brothers' 'Man With Money' and a gloriously revolutionary medley of 'My Generation' and 'Land Of Hope and Glory', which beats The Sex Pistols' 'Rule Britannia' by thirteen years and an even greater sense of anarchic spirit. 'The Who Sell Out' is even better and - despite the name - is surely the best value for money Who disc out there with another 40 minutes of glorious unreleased material all cleverly sequences with unused 'jingles' between all the 'new' songs, plus exhumed missing verses for 'Odorono' and 'Rael' cut for timing reasons. 'Who's Next' too is even more glorious thanks to an impressive run of extras mostly intended for 'Lifehouse', although there were in fact many more that could have been added (and still could, despite the later release of an inferior 'deluxe' edition). Jumping ahead, 'Who Are You' really gains from the stunning unreleased demo for a band version of 'Empty Glass' (later the title track of Pete's solo album in 1980) and the charming 'No Road Romance' which Pete should have returned to but never did, along with some not-that-interesting extras (although the title track does gain a missing verse chopped from the original album edit). 'Face Dances', perhaps the weakest album of The Who's original run, is much improved too thanks to three completely unreleased songs which are all arguably better than much of the LP (especially a first go at the lovely ballad 'Somebody Saved Me') and two live recordings that are the last live who tracks in chronological terms where they sound really good, a pounding, pulsating punkish thrash through 'How Can You Do It Alone?' that knocks spots off the studio version and an angry, snarling 'The Quiet Ones' where John Entwistle has never sounded so gloriously loud. All are highly recommended, even over and above the lengthier but pricier 'deluxe' sets out there.

The other albums don't fare quite so well though, at least in their 1990s run: 'Tommy' is so long it barely fits on one CD anyway so there are no extras there and the sleevenotes aren't quite as good; 'Quadrophenia' re-creates the original massive booklet but still splits the album across two discs and charges accordingly even though at 80:14 in total you're basically paying double the price to own thirty seconds' worth of opening 'sea and seagull' sound effects! (Oh well, you can always get the 'film soundtrack' version for less I suppose, although it's a surprise that known outtakes like 'Long Live Rock' and 'We Close Tonight' weren't on there somewhere); Finally 'Who By Numbers' and 'It's Hard' only feature period live recordings - some pretty wonderful ones, admittedly, with a particularly thrilling 'Dreaming From The Waist' and 'Eminence Front' on the two CDs respectively, but all these are amongst the runts in The Who's re-issue litter. One additional point too: The Who released some of their most interesting and hard-to-find work in 1968 which was just plain ignored for this release, with 'Who Sell Out' from 1967 and 'Tommy' from 1969 packed to the rafters. Even now there's a lot from this era that deserves a higher profile release. Overall, though, there are more good apples than bad ones in this bunch and - in the 1990s at least - The Who's catalogue had never sounded better, brighter or offered better value. All this just in time for Britpop too - The Who hadn't been this popular since the mod revival of 1979 and at long last reviewers began to talk about them in the same breath as The Beatles and Rolling Stones again, something well deserved.

"Coolwakingsmoothtalkingstraightmoskingfirestoking - The Best Of Pete Townshend"

(Virgin/Atlantic, April 1996)

Rough Boys/Let My Love Open The Door/Misunderstood/Give Blood/A Friend Is A Friend/Sheraton Gibson/English Boy/Streets In The City/Pure and Easy (Solo Version)/Slit Skirts/The Sea Refuses No River/A Little Is Enough/Face The Face/Uneasy Street/Let My Love Open The Door (Remix)

"I am such an ordinary star!"

Most fans snigger at the unprounounceable title, but actually it makes perfect sense in context - the lines come from 'Misunderstood', an oh-so Townshenesque tale from 'Rough Mix' about a weedy kid who longs to be a pop star and thinks he's acting 'cool'. In context of Pete's awkwardness at becoming a 'solo star' and stepping outside the use of Roger as a frontman, it's almost like he's laughing at himself with this title. The front cover, too, is a glossy head-and-shoulders shot which is just so un-Who-like it's clearly meant as parody and it even emphasises the largeness of Pete's nose. As for the contents, this single disc best-of has been rather superceded by the plethora of compilations since and you really don't need such a short set when the two-disc 'Pete Townshend Anthology' is out. However the contents are arguably superior to either 'The Best Of' or 'Truancy', containing as they do a larger selection from each of the 'main' Townshend solo albums and less of the extra-curricular demo albums. The set does lose a couple of points for the wayward running order and the rather odd electronic re-mix of 'Let My Love Open The Door' exclusive to this set (why bother? The original was plenty good enough!)

Pete Townshend "Live At The Filmore"

(Eelpie, Recorded April Released October 1996)

Let My Love Open The Door/English Boy/Drowned/The Shout/I Put A Spell On You/Cut My Hair/Sheraton Gibson/I'm One/Heart To Hang On To/O Parvardigar/A Legal Matter/A Friend Is A Friend/I Am An Animal/All Shall Be Well/Slit Skirts/Eyesight To The Blind/Driftin' Blues/Now and Then/Rough Boys/I'm A Boy/Magic Bus

"I ain't seen a sign of my heroes - but I'm still diving down for pearls"

More archive windmilling from Pete only made available through his Eel Pie website (and now, sadly, unavailable) with the difference in this set coming from the fact that Pete is playing for the first time as part of a duo, providing the guitar and vocals to friend Jon Carin's keyboards (on loan from Pink Floyd's 1980s touring band). It's an interesting excuse for more re-arrangements and Carin's synth parts do bring out an extra quality out of some of the Townshend songs and the audience re-act to the new level of intimacy in a big way, going nuts in a way they didn't even do on 'Live At Leeds'. However this halfway house between the pure acousticness of the 'Maryville Academy' set and the full band shows of 1993 falls a little between two stools and is perhaps the least interesting out of the three. The set listing throws in enough surprises to keep this set interesting and entertaining even so though, with welcome revivals of Quadrophenia's 'Cut My Hair' , the solo improvisation 'Sheraton Gibson' (played on a Sheraton Gibson!),moving  'Empty Glass' highlight 'I Am An Animal', Who single 'I'm A Boy' with Pete singing everything instead of just the first verse and - most unexpectedly of all  - a clattering 'Legal Matter' never performed on stage before and last heard way back on 'The Who Sing My Generation' in 1965. The one exclusive song to this set, a cover of Nina Simone's 'I Put A Spell On You', is a bit of a struggle to sit through (Pete goes for gruff barking rather than subtle hypnotic seduction!) and the semi-rare 'Driftin' Blues' isn't one of his better ideas either, while a jazzy discordant 'English Boy' is as close to being unlistenable as Pete Townshend ever got. By and large, however, this is another sweet concert that offers quite a few extra bits even the other endless archive Townshend shows don't possess and The Who magic is still very much in the air - most of the time at least.

"My Generation - The Very Best Of The Who"

(Polydor, August 1996)

I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/My Generation/Substitute/I'm A Boy/Boris The Spider/Happy Jack/Pictures Of Lily/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/The Seeker/Baba O'Riley/Won't Get Fooled Again/Let's See Action/5.15/Join Together/Squeeze Box/You Better You Bet

"They call me the seeker, I been searcing low and high, ain't going to get what I'm after till the day I die!"

At last a compilation that makes The Who come over as the rock Gods they are. The front cover features their four heads in profile looking like the presidents on Mount Rushmore (only cooler). The white-on-black format makes the artwork seem like something 'important' rather than another hastily thrown together compilation. The track listing puts everything in the right order so that you can hear The Who progress from their early 'Can't Explain' days of confusion, through to the rock opera moments when the band finally know who they are, though to the late period when they realise that nobody really knows who they are (and I don't even know myself). The set includes 'The Seeker' for the first time, the band's relative flop single from 1970 which is rightly heralded as one of their best works today. Also this set came out when The Who albums had all just been re-mastered (bar the contractual struggles over the debut) so the songs even sound good here - or at least as good as they had up to this point. It is, in short, the best single-disc introduction to The Who that you can buy at present, with a good mixture of the 1960s hit singles and 1970s album tracks. What it doesn't provide is the shading: this is a very black-and-white set in all senses of the phrase, with no room for 1960s album favourites (not even from 'Tommy' - 'Pinball Wizard' is all you get, not even 'See Me Feel Me/Listening To You'!), not enough room for 1970s album favourites ('5.15' is the only song off 'Quadrophenia', though 'Who's Next' fares better), no live recordings (not even 'Summertime Blues' or 'Young Man Blues') and only the two hit singles from 1975 onwards. That is, in the biggest underestimate since somebody said The Spice Girls weren't as good or as girl-power friendly as The Supremes, a shame. Sadly it looks as if The Who are the sort of band who can't be embraced fully on the single-CD compilations that the world and his gramophone-using dog insist on these days and getting a full flavour of this band from just the hit singles and a couple of extras isn't enough. However at the time of writing none of the two or four disc sets have got things right either, leaving 'My Generation' as the best of the sets for now, while all the others can just f-f-f-f-f-fade away. Fans, who'd been waiting for a decent Who set on CD for about a decade by now, bought enough copies of this album to make #11 in the UK charts even with minimal promotion from what was left of the band themselves - hopefully some curious new ones who found enough to love to stay the course and buy up all the albums too.

John Entwistle "The Rock"

(Griffin, Recorded 1985-1986 and 1996, Released August 1996)

Stranger In A Strange Land/Love Doesn't Last/Suzie/Bridges Under The Water/Heartache/ Billy/Life After Love/Hurricane/Too Much Too Soon/Last Song/Country Hurricane
2005 Re-Issue Bonus Tracks: Casualty/Light In The Dark/Break Your Heart/Love Doesn't Last (Demo)/Heartache (Early Version)

"Well it looks like the party's over, lose the feeling and you head for cover"

The Ox's first album of new material in fifteen years (though much of the album had been recorded within five), sadly 'The Rock' also became his last significant work before his death. Or perhaps that should be semi-significant because, rather than a 'proper' farewell overflowing with all the things John had been burning to say during his fourteen years away from the public 'The Rock' is a disappointingly average album, low on John's morbid humour, quirkiness and even his vocals and songwriting. The 'problem' seems to have stemmed from John's perennial problems with his finances: needing this work to be a huge success he tailored it to sound as much like period heavy metal rock albums as he could, even hiring a 'singer' for his band for the first time and allowing himself to replace his usual distinctive writing style for something far more generic. Even then he couldn't get a record label to touch it and it was only after finishing off the work in the mid-1990s (when Britpop and the Who CD re-issue series meant the band were semi-big again) that the album came out of mothballs, by which time it had aged rather badly with that tinny, aggressive, thin and very 1980s sound. The result is an album so bland and so familiar-sounding it could have been by anybody and considering what this album is called it's ironic that its biggest trouble is that it doesn't come close to 'rock', switching between noisy aggressive blasts of noise and limp weepy slow tempo ballads. The Who it isn't - but then Entwistle albums were never about sounding like The Who; what's worse is that this album doesn't even sound like it's five predecessors but something decidedly wetter and more boring.

There are, at least, a few saving graces that give this record at least a couple of stars. John's chosen his new band with care and is the first member of The Who to hire Ringo's son Zak Starkey, who as well as being Keith Moon's God-son is arguably the player out there closer to the loon's natural style. Henry Small, singer with Canadian rockers Prism, sounds enough like Daltrey to be compatible without sounding like a bad tribute act. Some of the songs - generally the ones John had a hand in himself - show promise, especially 'Bridges Under The Water' (John's only straightforward love song?) and the moving 'Last Song', which it pretty much was. Too much of this album sounds like a noise though and not a nice Who-style noise either but an un-co-ordinated thrashing of limbs  getting upset about nothing very much happening at all, with John's always-thrilling bass mixed way too low in the mix. If this was 'The Rock' Jimmy the Mod was clinging to for life in 'Quadrophenia' then he'd have drowned, not been re-born.

Songwriter Thomas Whitlock is most famous for writing 'Take My Breath Away', the Top Gun theme song that was everywhere for about five years. Sadly 'Stranger In A Strange Land' will only take your breath away by being so utterly inaudibly atrocious you wonder whether John is teasing you and had any hand in this godawful mess whatsoever.

Thankfully John's own 'Love Doesn't Last' is better, thanks to the slower tempo and the emphasis on his powerful bass playing. Henry Small sings the Entwistle lyrics about loneliness and an inevitable split with panache, though there's still a slightly strained and stilted air to what could have been a fine regretful love song.

'Suzie' is wretched, angry aimless shouting against a background so 1980s it's practically wearing shoulder pads.

'Bridges Under The Water' is rather sweet lyrically, if a tad generic musically. John's experienced too many heartbreaks, 'too many just good friends' and he wonders whether his latest love with jet-back hair will be the love of his life or another learning experience. In John's raw hands this could have been quite moving - alas the players turn this into just another bland 1980s love song.

'Heartache' growls with a great bass riff but otherwise sounds like just so much howling at the moon - and a moon filled to the sea of tranquility with 1980s synths at that.

'Billy' isn't the cigarette-puffing lad of Who in yesteryear but an old man wondering 'where did the time goes?' Good question: John has never sounded more middle-aged than here.

'Life After Love' is another highlight, another Entwistle co-write about love and loss that snarls like a panther - albeit one that comes in 1980s musical deely-boppers. It's odd to hear John open his heart so much about how lonely he is after so many decades of being 'quiet' but the lyrics to this song are as moving and affecting as anything Pete came up with; it's just the music that's a shame.

'Hurricane' comes with a 'woo-hoo' chorus and is clearly written as the all-singing all-dancing catchy hit single. Except that it sounds too much like every other 1980s hit single to stand out in the charts and everyone is trying so hard to be 'cool' that they come off as awkward instead.

'Too Much Too Soon' has a fierce bass 'n' drum battle, but not much else to recommend it with a wandering riff that never goes anywhere and a standard lyric about being taken for a ride that The Who would never reduce themselves to (well, not until 'Endless Wire' anyway).

'Last Song' is the album highlight, with an 'It's Your Turn' bass riff and an Entwistle lyric about how his life has never been planned but instead 'I go where the music takes me' every single time. A life motto, it would have been better still left in John's hands rather than Henry's, but there's a swing and an enthusiasm to this one that overcomes the bland setting.

The album ends, though, with 'Country Hurricane', a funny band parody of 'Hurricane' played in a hokey country fashion. Good fun, but at 45 seconds long hardly the most substantial farewell.

Needing the money, John persuaded WEA to keep re-issuing this album every time it stopped selling, sometimes with alternate track listings and often with numerous bonus tracks. Given that they were never intended as part of the 'Rock' album the first time round we haven't included them all here, but a demo of 'Love Doesn't Last' (with more Entwistle) is the best of the bunch.

John Entwistle "Thunderfingers - The Best Of John Entwistle"

(Rhino, October 1996)

My Size/Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)/What Are We Doing Here?/You're Mine/I Believe In Everything/Who Cares?/Thinkin' It Over/I Wonder/Apron Strings/The Window Shopper/I Found Out/I Feel Better/Made In Japan/Roller Skater Kate/Mad Dog/Drowning/Fallen Angel/Too Late The Hero

"The memories of what we had left will return, the present remains - the past is just burned"

'Thunderfingers' is the alternate nickname Who fans started using when they didn't want to simply use 'The Ox'. That's a fitting name for a compilation of Entwistle Who B-sides, but no - this is just the solo songs around again and newcomers will find disappointingly little thunder and lightning here, just a kind of drizzle. The best songs on this set come from John's rock and roll parody songs, tracks like 'Roller Skate Kate' (a tragedy on two wheels!) or 'My Size' (about feeling really small). The rest of the songs here just don't have much oomph, with a surprising emphasis on the ballads like 'Drowning' and 'Too Late The Hero', which sound about as much like The Who as Bill Wyman's solo records sounds like the Stones. The large se;lection of songs from the most inward looking of the albums, 'Smash Your Head Against The Wall', also makes this feel more like a muted singer-songwriter set than arguably the world's best bass player from the world's greatest rock band. Even as an attempt to stretch Enwtsitle's palette too many of the best songs in similar veins are missing (such as Who party story 'Cell no 7' and the poignant 'I Believe In Everything'). The end result is a disappointment: there is a terrific single disc collection of John's solo highlights to be compiled by somebody one day, but this really isn't it.

Roger Dalrey "Martyrs and Madmen - The Best Of Roger Daltrey"

(Rhino, '1997')

One Man Band/It's A Hard Life/Giving It All Away/Thinking/World Over/Oceans Away/One Of The Boys/Avenging Annie/Say It Ain't So Joe/Parade/Free Me/Without Your Love/Waiting On A Friend/Walking In My Sleep/Parting Would Be Painless/After The Fire/Let Me Down Easy/The Pride You Hide/Under A Raging Moon/Lover's Storm

"When I try to keep the beat it seems I'm walking in my sleep"

This updated version of Roger's 'best bits' seems a much better bargain - more songs (with a CD length running time rather than a vinyl one), more albums to choose from and everything included in the proper chronological order. The album thankfully includes most of the really interesting material - as well as the obvious ('Giving It All Away' 'One Man Band' and 'Say It Ain't So Jo') the record includes the better and most Daltrey-like songs from the 'McVicar' soundtrack and the two most talked about moments from the Who tribute LP 'Under A Raging Moon' - Roger's autobiogrphical title track and Keith tribute plus Pete's song of wondering hat happens next, 'After The Fire'. The result is still far from perfect (I'd have included more songs from both 'Daltrey' and 'Rock Horse' and it's a shame that even 'Orpehgus Song' didn't make it onto this album from 'Lizstomania', but this is still a mostly good summary of a mostly good body of work with most of the bad bits missing.

Pete Townshend "A Benefit For Maryville Academy"/"Magic Bus"

(Platinum, Recorded August 1998 Released September 1999)

On The Road Again/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/A Little Is Enough/Drowned/Now and Then/North Country Girl/Let My Love Open The Door/Won't Get Fooled Again/Magic Bus #1/I'm One
Bonus Disc (Encores): Magic Bus #2/Heart To Hang On To

The album was re-released in 2004 as 'Magic Bus - Live From Chicago" with a shorter track listing:

On The Road Again/Drowned/You Better You Bet/Now and Then/North Country Girl/Let My Love Open The Door/Magic Bus/Heart To Hang On To

"A man never stands as tall as when he stoops to help a child"

Pete started playing solo shows from 1995, some thirty years after he first came to fame with The Who, although it took another three until he was comfortable enough on stage to contemplate a 'big event' gig, held to raise money for the abused children's charity Maryville Academy. Freed of the need for speed, Pete slows down the tempos of many of his band and solo classics and performs with an intimacy rare for The Who and though few of the arrangements approach the power of the originals the guitarist is clearly relishing the chance to revisit forgotten material and  perform them in a slightly different way. Quipping that 'tonight is easier for me than you - you had to pay to get in!', Pete is in a cheerful mood throughout, telling the audience at the gig (and those of us at whom who bought the CD and raised funds) that 'we did good tonight!' Pete did pretty good too, going far above and beyond simply performing a Who gig without The Who with some excellent re-workings of old friends including a bluesy, more desperate take on 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' (last heard circa 1965!), an acoustic uptempo blues version of 'Drowned' and a fiery 'I'm One' (both of which were last heard circa 1973!), a knockout live version of the sweet 'Now and Then', the only inclusion here from Pete's latest work (at the time) 'Psychoderelict' and a moving finale of 'A Heart To Hang On To' with special guest star Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder performing the 'Ronnie Lane' bits (a song never heard before in concert!) There are a couple of unique rarities too: who else but Pete would start such a prestigious gig with a cover of a song never associated with him before (Canned Heat's 'On The Road Again') and the traditional ballad 'North Country Girl', who is much prettier than the version on 'All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes' LP.  Not everything is in rude health: 'Magic Bus' is an improv too far that lacks the spooky production values of the original even though Pete is having so much fun he plays it twice and a thirteen minute synth-heavy version of 'Won't Get Fooled Again' rambles with all the fire of a cabinet meeting as Pete escapes the need to scream like Roger by going for slow steady sobbing rather than angry cynical stabs. By and large though this is a great gig by a great performer released to raise money for a great cause and perhaps the best live Who-related album since 'Live At Leeds' where, even though Pete is older and less energetic, he still has the same guttural anger and violent emotion flowing through his veins. The longer original two-disc version is the one to get by the way - the later 'Magic Bus' version may be cheaper but loses much of the 'magic' while having way too much 'Bus'!

Pete Townshend "Live At The Empire"

(Eelpie, Recorded November 1998, Released September 2000)

On The Road Again/A Little Is Enough/Pinball Wizard/Drowned/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/You Better You Bet/Behind Blue Eyes/Baby Don't You Do It/English Boy/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Sheraton Gibson/Substitute/I Am An Animal/North Country Girl/(She's A) Sensation/A Friend Is A Friend/Now and Then/Let My Love Open The Door/Who Are You?/The Kids Are Alright/Acid Queen/Won't Get Fooled Again/Magic Bus/I'm One

"You're so lucky I'm around!"

With 'Maryville Academy' the warm-up event and a cameo return to 'Woodstock' under his belt, Pete set out on his first proper UK tour. Thankfully a mobile recording unit and a number of engineers went with him and Pete's home-coming gig to Shepherd's Bush was taped for posterity. The gig is another good one with a handful of surprises even compared to 'Maryville' - the set is much longer now and has clearly been designed with passionate Who fans in mind, Pete perhaps aware that he wouldn't sell to more casual fans as a solo act. The new band keeps to the same generally acoustic format but includes a much more powerful electric sound too, thanks to the presence of old friend John 'Rabbit' Bundrick and new friend Peter-Hope Evans who provides bluesy harmonica throughout most of the set. Both musicians enhance the sound no end - but unfortunately we also get the half-assed rapping of short-lived star Hame to sit through (to be fair, teaming up with an old fogey who didn't die before he got old probably didn't help the youngster's career much either). This is still very much Townshend's gig though as Pete is clearly enjoying the chance to tell his 'own' stories for a change and he's in superb voice all night, as well as providing some excellent guitarwork (including some bluesy parts for 'On The Road Again' not usually related to his style).

There are many highlights: an energetic 'Pinball Wizard' which should sound awful without Roger and co but actually sounds brilliant and about as noisy as an 'unplugged' song can; a bluesy 'Drowned' which sounds like an entirely different song to the one on 'Quadrophenia' ; a 'bossa nova version of 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' which sounds even better than it did in Maryville thanks to Hope-Evans' mouth-harp; a passionate and emotional 'Behind Blue Eyes' in stark contrast to the detachment of the Who version; a punky acoustic 'Substitute', a powerful and tribal 'I Am AN Animal' never before heard in concert and a celebratory retro 'The Kids Are Alright'. Only 'A Little Is Enough' sounds like the band-match is rough and 'A Friend Is A Friend' and 'English Boy' sound pretty ropey in any version, while the rapping on 'Baby Don't You Do It' is utterly cringe-worthy ('This is about a song with a plan about a band and a woman and a man...' sheesh, more like 'this rap claptrap is crap and me and my AAA posse are so pleased it didn't make a comeback at any of the stacked packed stadium pacts, pete should have given this rubbish the axe!') Most curious song choice: a cover of Eddie Cochran's 'sellout' pop song 'Three Steps To Heaven' which Pete remembers as a major influence. Most curious original choice: a deadpan 'Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand' which even The Who weren't brave enough to sing on stage! So no, like Maryville this gig isn't perfect, but it's also far better than the largely non-singing guitarist on his first 'proper' solo tour nearly a quarter century after he first arrived in the music business has any right to be, played with love affection and - rapping aside - consummate care. A very different listening experience to Who live shows, but a rewarding one. 

"20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection"
(MCA, April 1999)
My Generation/Happy Jack/I Can See For Miles/Magic Bus/Pinball Wizard/Squeeze Box/Behind Blue Eyes/Who Are You?/Join Together/Won't Get Fooled Again
"Thruppence and sixpence every day just to drive to my baby"
A sensible, safe collection of Who favourites to help the band last into the 21st century (as if they needed any!) The order is almost chronological and most of the songs a newbie would need are here (even 'Squeeze Box' for once), which makes this low budget one of the best value for money Who compilations out there. However be warned: this must surely be the only Who set to ever miss out big seller 'Substitute', while other usual suspects like 'I'm A Boy' 'Pictures Of Lily' 'Love Reign O'er Me' and 'You Better You Bet' are missing too. Of course, by the time you've got to know all these tracks you'll want to track the whole Who canon down anyway...

John Entwistle Band "Left For Live!"

(J-Bird, July 1999/'2001')

Original Version 1999: Horror Rock/The Real Me/Darkerside Of Night/Success Story/905/I'll Try Again Today/Under A Raging Moon/Endless Vacation/Too Late The Hero/Had Enough/Shakin' All Over/Young Man Blues

Deluxe Re-Issue 2001: Bogeyman/Horror Rock/The Real Me/Sometimes/My Size/You/Darkerside Of Night/Love Is A Heart Attack/Success Story/Trick Of The Light/Cousin Kevin/Under A Raging Moon/Boris The Spider/905/Had Enough/Endless Vacation/I'll Try Again Today/Whiskey Man/Too Late The Hero/Young Man Blues/Shakin' All Over/Heaven and Hell/Summertime Blues/My Wife

"The bogeyman will get you - he'll come and drag you away"

The closest thing to a heavy metal album in The Who canon, most of 'Left For Live' is an unholy racket that sounds more AC/DC than the Ace Face. The last officially sanctioned release of The Ox's lifetime, it's not the way most fans would wish to remember their hero, with merciless renderings of Who and solo classics that are driven into the ground. It's not just John's fault either: this line-up of the Entwistle Band (including another guitarist named Townsend funnily enough, though Godfrey is no relation to his bigger-nosed namesake), but  had been touring together for four years by the time this live album was laid to rest but you wouldn't know that from the endless noodling or uncomfortable jam sessions which often sound more like a first rehearsal. In theory the chance to hear John sing tracks usually performed by Roger should be great: in practice it just sounds like a bad Who tribute act with John so distracted by the need to sing that he doesn't even play bass that well. At least if this set has one thing going for it though then it's the track listing which throws in plenty of surprises: 'The Real Me' from 'Quadrophenia' (horrid), 'Success Story' from 'Who By Numbers' (good fun!)  '905' and 'Had Enough' from 'Who Are You' (which are toughened up so much from the originals they sound like they've been through the Charles Atlas course with dynamic tension!), revived Leeds favourites 'Shakin' All Over' and 'Summertime Blues' (tolerable) and best of all a unique cover of Roger's own tribute to Keith 'Under A Raging Moon', which John always loved and pushed to sing at Live Aid in 1985 before the powers that be insisted on a Who track everybody knew. Performed with love and attention to detail as well as the pure noise and aggression of the rest of the album, it's a triumph of commitment over precision the rest of the album could benefit from.

The solo songs though were always a mixed bunch and sound just as mixed here, ranging from the witty autobiography of 'Endless Vacation' ('I hope I get old before I die!') to the slow painful trudge through an even weaker 'Too Late The Hero'. Though to be honest not many fans were overjoyed by this Entwistle-By-Numbers set, the CD sold enough and John was destitute enough to stick it out a second time two years later with double the track listing, adding Who favourites 'Whiskey Man' 'Boris The Spider'  'Cousin Kevin' 'Trick Of The Light' 'Heaven and Hell' and 'My Wife' to the running order. This is clearly the version of the album to get if you're an old Who fan and - typically - many of the songs dropped from the first version sound so much better than the ones that got through (especially 'new' opening track 'Bogeyman' where an adult John waits, terrified, with a baseball bat for the bogeyman his mum promised would get him one day if he misbehaved). However now that John is long gone and buying this album won't help him out at all there is no longer any reason for Who fans to club together and buy this reminder of just how noisy the band's quietest member could be. Too late for this hero's legacy, 'Left For Live' is a sad place to say goodbye and far from an essential purchase given the many shelf-fulls of Entwistle/live Who recordings out there.

"Blues To The Bush"

(Musicmaker.com, Recorded November and December 1999 Released April 2000)

CD One: I Can't Explain/Substitute/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/Pinball Wizard/My Wife/Baba O'Riley/Pure and Easy/You Better You Bet/I'm A Boy/Gettin' In Tune/The Real Me
CD Two: Behind Blue Eyes/Magic Bus/Boris The Spider/After The Fire/Who Are You?/5.15/Won't Get Fooled Again/The Kids Are Alright/My Generation

"I get a little tired of having to say 'do you come here often?'"

An emotional homecoming for The Who available only through the online site www.musicmaker.com that, without the visuals, just sounds like every other Who reunion concert. Better than 'Who's Last' 'Join Together' and 'The Vegas Job' without being quite as good as 'The Royal Albert Hall' or 'Greatest Hits Live', it does it's job as a souvenir or a special event but doesn't really offer much new or revealing. The exceptions are the highlights, with the first live 'Pure and Easy' and 'Gettin' In Tune' since 1971, the first 'The Real Me' heard outside the full 'Quadrophenia' piece and the only full band performance of 'After The Fire', a Roger Daltrey song about the band first heard on his 'Under A Raging Moon' LP (the title track tribute to Keith would have been a better bet, however). 

"BBC Sessions"

(Polydor, February 2000)

My Generation (Jingle)/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/Good Lovin'/Just You and Me Darlin'/Leavin' Here/My Generation/The Good's Gone/La-La-La-Lies/Substitute/Man With The Money/Dancing In The Street/Disguises/I'm A Boy/Run Run Run/Boris The Spider/Happy Jack/See My Way/Pictures Of Lily/A Quick One While He's Away/Substitute #2/The Seeker/I'm Free/Shakin' All Over-Spoonful/Relay/Long Live Rock/Boris The Spider (Jingle)

Bonus Disc: Pete Townshend Talks Tommy/Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me/I Don't Even Know Myself/I Can See For Miles/Heaven and Hell/The Seeker/Summertime Blues

"I'm happy when life's good and when it's bad I cry"

A great British institution full of intelligence, wit and stimulating conversation meets...The BBC! The Who were never a natural fit for the nation's airwaves to lay sweet songs over tea-time the way so many of their peers did and yet, for all their reputation, The Who seem to have behaved enough to have been invited back to perform for the radio on quite a number of occasions. This latest AAA BBC set sits somewhere in the middle of the complete list of the ones we've reviewed here: like most bandsThe Who mainly needed the Beeb during their early years so almost half of this set features the early and primitive Who back when they were mainly a covers band doing the odd Pete Townshend single on the side. Given the one-take nature of some of their performances they don't sound quite as good as they do on the albums and the BBC engineers especially struggle to work out how to record Keith Moon's drums (the solution seems to have put him a million miles away from the others down a corridor, which doesn't exactly make for easy listening!)

On the plus side, though, this set features quite a few exclusive recordings or studio takes of songs the band only ever performed live and many of them are rather good (better than the covers on 'My Generation' anyway). That old Rudy Clark standard 'Good Lovin' has a real swing to it, James Brown's 'Just You and Me Darling' features a much greater attack than 'Please Please Please' or 'I'm A Man' and Pete really nails the laidback but strutting solo, a rather dull version of 'Shakin' All Over' from a month after 'Leeds' livens up no end when Willie Dixon's 'Spoonful' gets stuck on the end in a medley and we get rare hearings for the jumpy Motown classic 'Leaving Here' (unreleased till the 1993 box set) and The Everly Brothers' gorgeous 'Man With Money' (unreleased till the CD re-issue of 'A Quick One' in the mid 1990s). Better yet we get two jingles unheard since broadcast in the 1960s and which are both clearly prototypes for the ones on 'Who Sell Out' but even funnier, with a hilarious reading of 'My Generation' changed to 'My Favourite Station' ('their new approach is f-f-f-f-fresh and bold!') and ten seconds of John Entwistle in his best 'Boris' voice croaking 'Ra-deee-ooo Oneeeeee!'

What this set doesn't provide is consistency. The Who fluff several recordings here - including the 'proper' 'My Generation' which is performed without the fun of the jingle, an out-of-tune 'The Good's Gone', a messy 'Substitute' (both versions,  four years apart), a frustratingly lengthy seven minute 'A Quick One' that's not quick enough and performed at a disinterested plod and 'Dancing In The Street' is so soft and un-Who-like it trips over early on and never gets upright again. The recordings of 'Relay' and 'Long Live Rock', cheekily included because they were broadcast on BBC TV as The Who mimed on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' in 1972, are basically the originally recordings, just in lesser sound and with a 'new' vocal added alongside the old one - you can hear one Pete giggle during the 'takes his pants off' line while the 'real' one doesn't at one point. Surely something better could be found in the vaults than this? (oddly The Who's BBC sessions haven't been bootlegged anywhere near as often as their contemporaries so it's hard to work out just exactly what exists - surely there's more than this though and the bonus disc, generally superior to the main course, really should have been on the original instead of much of what's here). Which is a shame because there's so much here which is good: 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere' is impressively controlled-yet-dangerous for a new band on only their second live session, 'Disguises' lacks the bass and brass but if anything sounds even more threatening and subversive than the 'Ready Steady Who' cut and both 'Happy Jack' and Roger's rare 'See My Way' come with more whallop than the rather lightweight originals. Even so, that's less great moments than you'd expect from a band as used to performing live as The Who - maybe it was the fact the band couldn't see the whites of their audience's eyes in a 'Listening To You' type manner that had them performing under-par so much, while reduced to recording cut-length 'highlights' rather than a full show The Who were never going to shine. More than just a curio, without really being definitive, this BBC set is a god but not great reminder of two very English yet very different institutions that does little to help or hurt the band's reputation either way.

Pete Townshend "Lifehouse Chronicles"

(Eelpie, February 2000)

Disc One (Lifehouse Demos): Teenage Wasteland/Goin' Mobile/Baba O'Riley/Time Is Passing/Love Ain't For Keeping/Bargain/Too Much Of Anything/Music Must Change/Greyhound Girl/Mary/Behind Blue Eyes/Baba O'Riley (Instrumental)/Sister Disco

Disc Two (More Lifehouse Demos): I Don't Even Know Myself/Put The Money Down!/Pure and Easy/Gettin' In Tune/Let's See Action/Slip Kid/Relay/Who Are You?/Join Together/Won't Get Fooled Again/The Song Is Over

Disc Three (Themes and Experiments): Baba M1/Who Are You? (Live 1998 Edit)/Behind Blue Eyes (1999 Re-Make)/Baba M2/Pure and Easy (Demo Reworked 1999)/Vivaldi (Baba M5)/Who Are You? (Live 1998 Uncut)/Hinterland Rag/Pure and Easy (1999 Re-Make)/Can You Help The One You Really Love? (New Recording)/Won't Get Fooled Again (Live 1998)

Disc Four (Arrangements and Orchestrations): One Note-Prologue/Fantasia Upon One Note/Baba O'Riley (Orchestral Version)/Sonata K212/Tragedy/No 4 Aria/No 2 Giga/No 6 in D Minor/No 3 Adagio and Allegro/Hinterland Rag/Sonata K213/The Gordian Knot Untied (Overture-Allegro-Air #1-Rondean Minuet-Air #2-Jig-Chaconne-Air #3-Minuet-Overture Reprise)/Tragedy Explained/One Note Epilogue/Fantasia Upon One Note
Discs Five and Six: Lifehouse - The Radio Play

"I've overloaded on my way, bye bye you better keep in touch, I think your ears hear a whole lot of music and like me you've heard a bit too much!"

This epic box set, officially released only through Pete's own website (and sadly now unavailable) should have been the last word on 'Lifehouse', containing as it does six whole discs to tell a story Pete knew he couldn't tell in one. Sadly despite the length this still doesn't feel like the last word on the 'Lifehouse' saga, with the material rather thrown together if it has any link to the piece at all rather being re-thought and re-worked as per that other great lost AAA album, Brian Wilson's 'Smile' (both of which share a lot more in common than most fans realise). As well as the music you really need (which is almost all on the first two discs) you get unnecessary modern re-makes of the material from the late 1990s, demos of later Who songs that were never part of the original concept even if 'Lifehouse' was still 'inspiring' Pete through to 'Who Are You' in 1978, classical snippets that basically consist of Pete messing around and trying to study his heroes Purcell and Bach (the guitarist makes a far better first-rate Townshend than he does a second-rate classical music copycat) and the 1999 radio play, which actually has less of the original 'Lifehouse' story and themes in it than the butchered diluted 'Who's Next' ever did. Given how high our hopes were raised, this set is ultimately a disappointment and an expensive and exasperating way of trying to untangle the 'Lifehouse' Gordian Knot - and finding ourselves in an even bigger mess than when we started.

To his credit, though, Pete released this set not as a big all-singing all-dancing fan-baiting way to make money but as an 'extra' on his website - admittedly rather an expensive extra as it turned out, but at least it was something made directly for fans he knew would be interested in a collection of odds and ends rather than a poor misguided casual Who fan who only wanted the hits. This is apt in so many ways: 'Lifehouse' was, even more than 'Tommy', a project mostly about Who fans (albeit Who fans from several centuries in the future) and the internet - then brand new - appeared to be so like Pete's original vision of 'the grid' connecting all likeminded people across the globe even when they never left their own isolated homes as to be positively scary. 'Lifehouse' is a work that was always ahead of its time and around the millennium, with the internet ecological scares and a growing movement of fan forums around, 'Lifehouse' couldn't have been revived at a better time.

Some of the unreleased music, too, is truly essential for any Who fan. Admittedly probably about half an hour's worth out of the eight that are here, but that's still half an hour more than we ever had before. 'Baba O'Riley' especially has never sounded as good as it does here in three separate versions: the 1999 remake is the only one to compare to the 1970s model, while the mesmerising rarely-heard nine minute instrumental demo (first released on the rare 'I Am' album for Meher Baba in 1972) is hypnotic and vibrant even without the words, while 'Teenage Wasteland' is a chance to hear the song as originally intended - as a slow worthy but wordy ballad. The unheard demos of the tracks Roger once sang are also impressive: 'Won't Get Fooled Again' sounds more 1950s rock and roll than the finished version (though it's impressive just how much of the song is in place including the synth part - only Roger's scream is missing!), 'Bargain' is more laidback but somehow even more agonising and heartfelt (with an added weary 'O-oh' that just makes the song!) and the till-now unreleased 'Mary' is a smashing song that really should have come out long before this. Not a lot for your buck perhaps and this set would have been a lot better received if Pete had put most of the songs mentioned here on the single disc 'Lifehouse Elements' sampler instead of so many 1990s re-makes and Purcell soundbites you really don't need, but somehow it makes sense that a work like 'Lifehouse' still makes most sense as a sprawling incomprehensible behemoth. Though we still don't get any closer really to untangling the work the way fans have always longed to since the release of 'Who's Next' in 1971, with this box set we did at least come a tiny bit closer. Too much of anything though, even a work as strong and powerful as 'Lifehouse', really is a little bit too much for me - probably you too!  It's still a bargain though, one of the best we ever had.

Pete Townshend "Lifehouse - Elements"

(Redline Entertainment, February 2000)

One Note-Prologue/Baba O'Riley (Orchestral Version)/Pure and Easy (Demo)/New Song/Gettin' In Tune (Demo)/Behind Blue Eyes (1999 Version)/Let's See Action (Demo)/Who Are You? (Remix)/Won't Get Fooled Again (Demo)/Baba M1/The Song Is Over (Demo)

"The song is over, I'm left with only tears, I must remember, even if it takes a million years"

A single CD reduction of the epic six-disc online-download-only box set detailing the ideas intended for and inspired by the abandoned 'Lifehouse' project of 1971, as so often happens with The Who the grander the gesture the better the statement - somehow this sampler feels a little small and sorry for itself. As so often happens with these sets the better moments seemed to end up being left behind. For example, there's no nine minutes of looping synths on 'Baba O'Riley' here, just the drippy 'orchestral version' which is sonically impressive but emotionally pointless compared to the relentless futuristic angst of the more famous version. Equally the gruffer, sappier 'Behind Blue Eyes' re-cut in 1999 bears about as much resemblance to the original as Boyzone's cover of 'Father and Son' does to Cat Stevens' original. Elsewhere a rather clumsy demo for 'New Song' appears exclusively to this set rather than the box and while its tale of searching for a new sound fits thematically, it wasn't actually written until seven years after the other songs here - ditto 'Who Are You' which was also released in 1978 although that song makes even less sense (unless the Lifehouse universe of the future also has a place called Soho with a club and a kind-natured policeman, which seems unlikely given the dystopian future portrayed on the project's other songs).

Admittedly the demos for 'Pure and Easy' and 'Let's See Action' sound as great as they ever did - but you can buy those with better bedfellows surrounding them on a CD re-issue of 'Who I Am'. 'New' demos for 'Gettin' In Tune' and 'The Song Is Over', meanwhile, sound a little flat and ordinary compared to your average Townshend demo with too many spaces not yet filled by the rest of The Who. The only major addition to The Who canon here is a thrilling nine minute demo for 'Won't Get Fooled Again' -surprisingly left off the 'Scoop' sets - which may be more inhibited and less groundbreaking than the Who re-recording but still packs a punch and like most Pete demos has everything in place already including the false ending, instrumental break, synthesiser throb and bloodcurdling scream. Our advice is if you're obsessed with 'Who's Next' and the ideas that spawned it then get the multi box set - and if you're not obsessed then leave this particular never-ending itch well alone and stick with the deluxe CD re-issue which is plenty good enough. Let's hope that's it on the Lifehouse story unless something genuinely fascinating new turns up to warrant our attention - even us Who fans won't be fooled again every time...

Pete Townshend "Live At Sadler's Wells"

(Eelpie, September 2000)

CD One: One Note/Purcell (Quick Movement)/Teenage Wasteland/Time Is Passing/Love Ain't For Keeping/Goin' Mobile/Greyhound Girl/Tragedy/Mary/I Don't Even Know Myself/Bargain/Gettin' In Tune/Pure and Easy/Baba O'Riley (Orchestral)
CD Two: Baba O'Riley/Hinterland Rag/Behind Blue Eyes/Let's See Action/Sister Disco/Relay/Who Are You?/Join Together/Won't Get Fooled Again/Tragedy Explained/The Song Is Over/Can You Help The One You Really Love?

"Each time we ride out I say we'll never ride out again...but my little greyhound girl, you got me running down the track"

A fascinating concert that's clearly made with mega-fans in mind rather than casual ones. Inspired by his recent 'Lifehouse' box set Pete returns to several of his 1971 batch of songs but performs them in a whole new way - like the demos, with Pete rather than Roger singing obviously, but also an orchestra and a slower, more languid pace. Sometimes this really works: 'Greyhound Girl' was always a sweet but understated song but here it's a gorgeous song about obsession and slow-burning love, while 'Mary' is slower and more world-weary and played with such poignancy that Pete has clearly spent many a long time thinking of his own personal 'Mary' and the early prototype of 'Baba O'Riley' still sounds mighty fine as the more dramatic ballad 'Teenage Wasteland'. This is where Pete's musical (as opposed to romantic) relationship with partner Rachel Fuller makes perfect sense - she manages to tease out arrangements that encourage her boyfriend to be slower and more intense, interested more in telling a story than in putting on a show. Sometimes all it takes is a single 'humming' orchestral line and Pete is transformed, gone from the bouncy guitarist trying to distract our eyes from Roger Daltrey at the side of the stage to a genius narrator telling us a story we can't keep our ears and eyes away from. However the songs that Who fans know really well still feel like there's something missing: 'Baba O'Riley' itself is horribly lumpy without the weight of The Who behind it, 'Bargain' offers poorer returns than any other version out there and 'Relay' and 'Join Together' are less about togetherness and unity than several musicians fighting against each other in messy counterpoint. Great as Pete's new band are on the slow, subtle numbers they can't rock to save their lives - or that of the Lifehouse characters, which is more or less what's going on in the original work. The backing singers also get in the way a bit, especially on the few songs they sing lead on, which when you've got Pete in the room is just a waste. So the overall result is a mixed blessing that could perhaps have been trimmed back from two discs to one but at its peak it offers a whole new glimpse into just how wonderful 'Lifehouse' might have been - and still might be, if Pete can ever find a way of merging the rockier songs with Roger singing and his own beautiful glossy ballads the way they're performed here.

Pete Townshend: Live At Sadler's Wells (2000).............
"Live At The Royal Albert Hall"

(Steamhammer, Recorded November 2000 Released June 2003)

I Can't Explain/Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/Pinball Wizard/Relay/My Wife/The Kids Are Alright/Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand/Bargain/Magic Bus/Who Are You?/Baba O'Riley/Drowned/Heart To Hang On To/So Sad About Us/I'm One/Gettin' In Tune/Behind Blue Eyes/You Better You Bet/The Real Me/5.15/Won't Get Fooled Again/Substitute/Let's See Action/My Generation/See Me Feel Me-Listening To You/I'm Free/I Don't Even Know Myself/Summertime Blues/Young Man Blues

"My heart is like a broken cup, I only feel right on my knees"

In 2000 The 'Orrible 'OO returned for a good cause - a teenage cancer charity supported by Roger that the others agreed to help - after four years away since their last tour with 'Quadrophenia' (sadly the only reunion tour so far for which there is no live album, assuming of course that there is one from the 'endless' farewell tour the band are on at the time of writing). Compared to the reunion gigs of (1989 ('Tommy') and 1996, this one was special: instead of just a half-set of encores taken from standalone songs The Who would deliver a whole 'greatest hits' tour and they played many songs live for the first time - remarkable given that The Who toured constantly from the bitter beginning in 1965 to the even more bitter end in 1982. What's more, in Zak Starkey they've found a replacement drummer Moony would have approved of and who is arguably the most fitting of all their 'spare' members down the years, with 'Rabbit' Brundrick doing his usual strong stuff on keyboards too. The joy of this gig is of hearing three founding members play, for the first and only time, such delights as 'Relay' (where the band sound fine but Roger is under-rehearsed), 'My Wife' (where John is sadly over-shadowed by Roger), 'Bargain' (which is wild and raw) and 'Magic Bus' (which goes on for hours - well, ten minutes that's close enough - with an extended grunge section). The lows of this set tend to be the guest stars who merely try to do what Roger does but not as well (those Who songs are harder to sing than people think and far more complicated!): Paul Weller fares about the best on a suitably Mod-ish 'So Sad About Us', while Bryan Adams nearly ruins 'Behind Blue Eyes', The Stereophonics' Kelly Jones clearly hasn't got a clue just how subversive 'Substitute' really is, Nigel Kennedy screeches his way through the violin finale of 'Baba O'Riley', Pearl Jams' Eddie Vedder reprises his recent gig at the Maryville Academy with Pete and stays on stage way too long and most depressingly of all Noel Gallagher is nearly inaudible on 'Won't Get Fooled Again'. The band should have stuck with, you know, their regular singer - The Who really aren't a 'with special guests' kind of a band and all the hoo-hah about who might or might not be turning up robbed the band of their mystique and reputation somewhat in true music circles. However this set is far from awful and the band occasionally surprise, sometimes in a big way. With all deference to Roger, who sings well night, the highlight of the gig is clearly Pete's solo acoustic spot at the start of disc two where he revisits 'Drowned' (which is bluesy and ballsy) 'Heart To Hang Onto' (which is very very pretty, perhaps the highlight of the entire set), 'So Sad About Us' (which is a little raw and rather depressed-sounding) and 'I'm One' (which is mutedly triumphant). Perhaps an all-acoustic show would have been an even brighter idea? Most interesting for fans is the 'deluxe' version which includes a few bonus selections (i.e. the only four songs not already played at this one) from John's last gig with the band on February 8th 2002, four months before his death. It's not the best way to remember The Ox, but the bass solo on 'I'm Free' is as impressive as ever and a revved up and angry cover of 'Young Man Blues' with far more passion than the band have played it in a long time is a fine way to end. Overall, though, this reunion gig still isn't the best Who CD out there by a long shot and while an improvement on 'Join Together' this is still a decidedly patchy and generally passionless affair. The main gig is also available on DVD if you really really have to buy it this is probably the best way to get it (clue: you don't).

John Entwistle "Music From Van Pires"

(Pulsar Records, '2000')

Horror Rock/Darker Side Of Night/Sometimes/Bogey Man/Good and Evil/When You See The Light/Back On The Road/Left For Dead/When The Sun Comes Up/Rebel Without A Car/Don't Be A Sucker/Endless Vacation/I'll Try Again Today/Face The Fear

"The beast of a thousand eyes was just a peacock in disguise"

By the millennium The Ox needed work so badly that he took everything offered his way - including making the soundtrack for a bonkers US children's TV series set in the future with the very 'Lifehouse' storyline of teenagers transforming into, well, Transformers basically in as close as copyright limitations would allow (and saving the world from the evil 'Van-Pires'  of the title. The series was a notorious flop and was cancelled after thirteen episodes and the resulting soundtrack album was never going to be a big seller but, needing the money, John made sure it got released all the same. Maybe the producers intended to get Pete Townshend first and really wanted the Who song 'Going Mobile'?  By and large the album continues the long slow decline of 'The Rock' by having John sounding like anybody and everybody around in 2000 and barely touching his bass across a series of ordinary instrumentals, plus a couple of songs with new guest vocalist Leslie West (from 1970s rockers Mountain). However there are far more highs on this album than its predecessor, such as the retro 1980s-tinged power ballad 'Darker Side Of Night' (which sounds like Jefferson Starship from the period when they were good but with John's macabre Halloweeny style humour), the comedy piece 'Good and Evil' (which has John using electronic effects to sound like 'the devil') and the sweet ballad 'Back On The Road', which is John's best song in years even though it has nothing to do with the 'plot' and everything to do with John himself and his boredom at sitting at home twiddling his thumbs compared to being back on the road where he feels safe. The most interesting song here for Who fans is the original c.1970 demo of 'Bogeyman' (a song eventually released on 1971's solo album 'Smash Your Head Against The Wall') complete with a very recognisable drum part from Keith Moon. Though not quite as polished or 'complete' as the finished version, it's a good archive find with John in good voice, Keith in good drum and with much more keyboard extras this time around before things descend at the end with some 'comedy' brass. The end result is another Entwistle album that's far from essential and yet has more things of interest on it than most. Is it enough to spark a revival of the series? Probably not, but there is a cult following of 'Motor Vaters' out there and if this album introduces The Who to them then job done.