December 21, 2006

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The Who, Endless Wire
Republic, 2006

I recently saw Bob Dylan live for the first time, and was admittedly surprised by his solid performance, which relied far more heavily on new material from his recent release, Modern Times, than “The Hits.” In fact, even when Dylan did pull out classics like “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” they sounded vastly different than the album versions, utilizing alternate tempos and song structures — sometimes even different, ad-libbed lyrics. While I’m hardly the biggest Bob Dylan fan, I’ve always admired the aging rocker’s willingness to grow, evolve and mutate as a musician, even some 40 years after his commercial prime.

I bring this up because Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey (now the only two surviving members of The Who) would do well to take a page out of Dylan’s book. While Modern Times finds Dylan and his band exploring a jazzier, more bluesy style of rock, Endless Wire, the first album in 30 years from the newly reconstituted Who, finds Townshend and Daltrey spinning their wheels, desperately attempting to recreate the best parts of their classic albums.

Case in point, opening song “Fragments” begins with a nearly note-perfect replication of the synthesizer intro to “Baba ‘O Reilly,” while Daltrey’s gruff, larynx-pushing vocals on “Mike Post Theme” imitate the operatic bombast of classic Who tunes like “Bargain” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Conversely, restrained acoustic meanderings “A Man in a Purple Dress,” and “You Stand By Me,” prove preachy and directionless.

Things pick up slightly during the record’s second half, a mini-opera called “Wire & Glass,” which treads a similar storyline to The Who’s classic Tommy. While songs during this portion like “Sound Round” and “We Got a Hit” invoke the sloppy, slap-dash proto-punk of The Who’s early albums, none of them venture past the three-minute mark, and as such, they feel more like demos or works-in-progress than fully formed tunes.

In fact, Endless Wire as a whole feels more like an album of half-finished ideas, and of course the absence of deceased band members John Enwhistle and Keith Moon remains the elephant in the room throughout. Suffice to say, there are some musicians you simply can’t replace. Truth be told Endless Wire is far from horrible. C-

— Adam Marletta