The last two years have admittedly not being among the best for The Who and their fans. In 2002 bassist John Entwistle died on the eve of the bands US tour from heart problems bought about from cocaine use. He became the second original member to pass away, joining Keith Moon, further damaging The Who's lineup. The band continued the tour still doing huge business. The misfortune didn't end there. In 2003 guitarist and chief songwriter Pete Townshend was arrested as part of a child porn investigation, a shocking revelation for all associated with The Who. Townshend claimed to be researching the subject for his autobiography, but the fact remained he paid to view this disgraceful material to an underground network and was caught by the police. It damaged his credibility and shook the fans faith in the man. It's something I can't easily forget, and whenever I see the man in any form, from old concert footage to his present state, it's the first thing I think of, very unfortunate.
With all this hanging over their heads one could not have blamed the band if they called it quits for good. After all with only two original members left in Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey, the original sound had been damaged beyond repair surely. Not quite. As if a kneejerk reaction to the squalor and shame, Townshend announced The Who would be going into the studio to record a new studio album, the first since 1982's 'It's Hard'. This story had been heard for many years, and was met by scepticism by myself. The Who were supposedly set to record a new album when they reformed for a tour in 1989, but all that surfaced apart from an awful live album were two bad tracks on Pete Townshend's solo album 'The Ironman', 'Dig' and 'Fire', the latter an Arthur Brown cover. For all purposes it really wasn't The Who.
But some 15 years later the reports are actually true. Late last year Townshend announced two songs had been written, 'Old Red Wine' and 'Real Good Looking Boy'. Greg Lake provided the bass, as current bassist Pino Palladino was unavailable, while now long time drummer Zak Starkey was behind the kit, along with 25 year veteran keyboardist 'John 'Rabbit' Bundrick. I heard that Who fanatic Eddie Vedder claimed the songs were amazing, but with The Who you never know. Both Townshend and Daltrey havent recorded anything for over a decade, and the last two Who albums 'Face Dances' (1981) and 'It's Hard' didn't capture the true esscence of the bands power. I was also dismayed to learn that the songs would be released on yet another compilation 'The Who: Then And Now 1964-2004', the latest in a long line of cash ins that appear every two years or so. This time there are two brand new songs to coax fans in with however. Happily these two songs are brilliant.
With two new songs under The Who banner, I couldn't help but think what era they would be akin to. Listening to both they are reminiscent of vintage 1964-78 Who, with the trademark sound that was lost after Keith Moon died. This is surprising as without two original members you would have thought it impossible. But with Towshend's distinctive guitar work and Daltrey's unmistakable style it couldn't be anything but. 'Real Good Looking Boy' is an example of classic Townshend songwriting, thoughtful and insightful lyrics regarding what he concerns Elvis Presley's good looks apparently. The power is evident in all the performances, Starkey's drumming and mainly Daltrey's vocals. The man is sixty years of age and hasn't lost a thing. Once more he has furthered his reputation as the premier frontman in rock history. 'Old Red Wine' is heavier, with chord changes so exclusively Who, it couldn't be anyone else. The lyrics are introspective and there's a reference to Entwistle with the line 'you sniffed at the coke'. The Who have never tried to appeal to anyone but their age group and this is no exception.
'Old Red Wine' could be a radio hit given the chance, a thrilling three minutes with a neat chorus and an explosive last minute where things take off, the sound of Townshend's power chords and Starkey's Moon like drum splashes making this the best Who track I believe since 1978. I never thought they had it in them to conjure up such masterful rock again. I can easily imagine these on 'Quadrophenia' (1973) or 'The Who By Numbers' (1975). At last Townshend has remembered what The Who were supposed to sound like, without the addition of abundant keyboards. More importantly it makes the new album even more craving. If this is any indication then a classic is in the works.
After the turmoil of the last two years The Who have overcome these barriers by relying on the thing that made them a legend, their music. It's what they've always been most adept at and still are. It gives me new faith in them, the new music with more in common with the days of the past, which perhaps they have finally come to accept. With shows lined up for later in the year it appears things are just starting for The Who again. Who said you're too old? There's never been anyone like The Who and never will be. This time the rebirth's for real.