Album Reviews: Endless Wire (CD/DVD) by The WhoPlenty of bands carry on after losing founding members, so why does it seem so wrong when The Who do it? For all the talk of Endless Wire being the first new Who album in 24 years, you can't help feeling like it's really just a Pete Townshend/Roger Daltrey record. Where is Keith Moon's frenetic bashing? Where is John Entwistle's belching bass? It just isn't the same without them.
So let's forget about the whole Who thing for a moment and consider Endless Wire as just that: a new collaboration between the two surviving members of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Taken on those terms, it's a sturdy, satisfying album -- not dazzling, but good enough to erase the memory of Daltrey and Townshend's many solo missteps and even the more embarrassing moments off It's Hard and Face Dances. Unlike those previous swan songs, nothing on Endless Wire sounds like the work of men going through the motions -- both Daltrey and Townshend sing with a conviction they haven't shown in ages, and Townshend's songs are his best work since the underrated White City, from way back in 1985.
The album opens a bit self-consciously, with cascading synthesizers that deliberately echo the immortal intro of "Baba O'Reilly." Things get better after that: "A Man in a Purple Dress" proves that Daltrey and Townshend can sound like The Who all by themselves, with just a voice and an acoustic guitar, while "Mike Post Theme" achieves some of that Who grandeur of old thanks to a great chorus ("If there really is a God/We should get laid today") and the interplay between two of the most recognizable voices in rock. Throughout the album, Townshend takes more than his usual share of vocal duties, reinforcing the impression that this is more of a Daltrey/Townshend record than a proper Who album. But why not? He's the lyricist, and having him sing quieter numbers like "You Stand By Me" and "God Speaks to Marty Robbins" gives them an intimate quality that's a nice contrast to Daltrey's mic-spinning bombast.
Not that there's anything wrong with mic-spinning bombast, as Daltrey makes abundantly clear on songs like "Black Widow Eyes" and "Sound Round," the opening salvo of the 10-song "mini-opera" that comprises the album's second half. That mini-opera, "Wire & Glass," is basically just a series of one- and two-minute bursts of Who-by-numbers riffage, telling a semi-coherent story about a group of young musicians who are chosen by the "ether man" to "entertain immortals" or at least become rock stars or something like that. It's all a bit half-baked, but it finds a nice coda in the album's closing track, "Tea & Theatre," which has just enough autobiographical touches to make it sound like The Who's true farewell song. "We did it all -- didn't we?" Daltrey sings with uncharacteristic restraint. "Jumped every wall -- instinctively." In a 40-plus-year career, imperfect though it's been, Daltrey and Townshend have certainly done that. And with Endless Wire, they've finally given Who fans a coda worthy of their legacy. Unless they've got another Who album in them, which certainly seems possible given the strength of these songs. - Andy Hermann
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