Thursday, October 4, 2012

WHO'S NEXT - The Who (1970)

From today's perspective, Who's Next is as classic rock as classic rock gets.

Hell, with it's ginormous, arena-sized thump, all-time iconic bookends in Baba O'Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again, and arguably the most famous scream in all of recorded music, Who's Next might be the classic rock album.

All of which blurs the historical truth that at the time of its release, Who's Next was something undeniably new.

Born from the failed, nervous-breakdown-inducing ashes of Lifehouse, an SF rock opera Townsend had envisioned as the band's follow up to Tommy, Who's Next captured the band at a moment when it was ready to sever all ties with its past, and these scattered shards of Lifehouse that survived, though no longer thematically linked, presented the group at their most emotionally confrontational.

Not that it's an album full of anger.

To the contrary, there is a vibrant eclecticism on display, from gorgeous, heartbreaking ballads (The Song Is Over, Behind Blue Eyes), to declarations of love both ferocious (Bargain) and charmingly elemental (Love Ain't For Keeping), from the acerbically comic (Entwistle's My Wife), to the joyously silly (Going Mobile).

But when push came to shove, it was the band's growing disdain for the behavior and ideology of their peers that fueled the album's best material.

Never fans or active supporters of the 60s flower-power movement, the band is downright disdainful of the protest-minded here, both lyrically (Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss - It's only a teenage wasteland), and visually (where album title and cover encouraged all to piss on a monolith - the mystical evolutionary metaphor from every acid-dropping hippie's favorite 60's movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey).

However, as fed up as the Who were with the conventional wisdom of the day, it was instrumentally, not thematically, where Who's Next would have its biggest impact.

One of the first albums to fully incorporate the synthesizer, Townsend's work with sequenced tape loops on those famous bookends is now a permanent strand of rock 'n' roll DNA, but at the time, the effect was revelatory.

For some odd reason...or maybe because Who's Next is so associated with classic rock - today's top electronica artists rarely cite the album as an influence...but make no mistake, Who's Next was one of the very first "electronic" albums...a huge step forward.

Bottom line - whether recognized or unrecognized for its breakthroughs, it's hard to consider Who's Next today as anything other than a career high for one of the 60s top acts, and one of the greatest rock albums ever made.

A must own, and one final thought, the 1995 Geffen 16 track re-release of the album contains some of the best CD bonus tracks I've ever heard.

I don't list those tracks here, but it's well worth seeking this expanded version out.

Status: Highest Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Baba O'Riley, Getting In Tune, Behind Blue Eyes, Won't Get Fooled Again.

Track Listing:
1. Baba O'Riley - 10
2. Bargain - 9
3. Love Ain't For Keeping - 9
4. My Wife - 8
5. The Song Is Over - 8
6. Getting In Tune - 9
7. Going Mobile - 9
8. Behind Blue Eyes - 10
9. Won't Get Fooled Again - 10
Intangibles: High
Spotify! / iTunes / Amazon

Here's one of the final performances of opener Baba O'Riley from the band's original line-up, captured just months before Keith Moon's death in 1978.

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