The Who had such a great sound that a lot of people think that therefore their songs must be great too. That's not so, but still, what a sound!
John Entwhistle's bass is thunderous and metallic, and Keith Moon's drums are all over the rhythm, churning up the sound. And whilst Pete Townshend's guitar tone is nothing out of the ordinary, his style is full of grand Beethoven-esque gestures. Then throw in Roger Daltrey's stentorian tenor, and you've got a collective sound that blows out of the speakers and knocks the listener back a few inches.
However, the band's sound is all about power, and a lot of subtleties are lost - for example, I really can't imagine anyone dancing to The Who (when Entwhistle played in Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, he said he had trouble with the laid-back bass style required for The Rascals' tunes in the set, and furthermore, he didn't enjoy playing them). So this is music designed to be listened to - it's no wonder they started writing rock operas: opera is the ultimate sit-down-and-pay-attention music.
If you're going to play music that demands attention though, it needs to be more interesting than this, things like a fourth chord now and then, maybe a minor key, or a melody that does something other than piddle around the blues scale.
Compounding the problem is the fact that The Who were really a great singles band - that is, most of their inspiration and energy went into a couple of great tracks a year, designed to capture the radio audience, whereas their albums were filled with tracks that clearly had less attention paid to them.
A pretty good case can be made (and has been, by Dave Marsh) that the whole
is less inspired than "Substitute". Not that there's anything wrong with that - much of the greatest music in rock and roll was made by singles bands. Unfortunately, The Who didn't realize their true nature and persisted in thinking that their album tracks deserved the same time and space as their terrific singles. Who's Next
suffers as a consequence.
by Reviewer: Steve Knowlton
(blogging at Steve's Record Reviews