CD Review: Pete Townshend Reissues

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Pete Townshend:
starstarstarstarno star Label: Hip-O/Universal
Released: 2006

We must confess taking perverse amusement in a label promoting some spiffy reissues of the solo catalog of one of the biggest names in rock and, after we express interest in covering said reissues, they send us the albums…on blank CD-R’s. The labels, it appears, aren’t nearly as freaked out about copying music as they claim to be, but we digress.

As you may have heard, the Who – what’s left of them, anyway – have a new record coming out in October. We can only assume that that is the reason Universal decided to dust off some of Who principal songwriter Pete Townshend’s solo efforts and goose some extra sales out of them. Reissue, repackage, repackage, whatever. We love Pete, and hold out hope that the label will see fit to send us finished versions of the albums so we can check out the updated liner notes. You know, assuming there are any.

Buy your copy from Pete Townshend:
Empty Glass
starstarstarstarhalf star Released: 1980 Buy from

Listening to Empty Glass today, you can’t help but get the sense that, having just lost Keith Moon to an overdose in 1978, Townshend was looking beyond life with the Who when putting this, his third solo album, together. Indeed, Empty Glass blows both Who albums that serve as its bookends (Who Are You and Face Dances) out of the water, while the last Who record, It’s Hard, is blown away by the Townshend albums that serve as its bookends (Glass and All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes). The album’s influences are many and varied. The shimmering “And I Moved” sounds like a lost track from Roxy Music’s Siren, while “Keep on Working” is all Kinks, all the time. Even Steve Winwood gets a nod on “A Little Is Enough,” and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention “Jools and Jim,” which is one of the best songs Squeeze never wrote. Notice we haven’t even discussed the album’s hit singles, “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Rough Boys.” Yes, the album is that deep. The four bonus tracks (demo versions of “And I Moved,” “Keep on Working,” “I Am an Animal” and a super-long version of “Gonna Get You”), aren’t must-haves, but they are interesting to compare and contrast with the polished final product. Lastly, a big huzzah to whoever remastered the album, as it positively explodes out of the speakers, even from a CD-R.

~David Medsker

Buy your copy from Pete Townshend:
All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
starstarstarstarno star Released: 1982 Buy from

Not one track on All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes sounds like a song that the Who would have recorded. The point of solo records should be to explore terrain that is closed off within the confines of a band structure. Townshend, even though he was (and is) the creative force behind the Who, crafted a record de-emphasizing the rock-god guitar riff and accentuating keyboards in the arrangements. The production of Chris Thomas is refined and rich and avoids the rough edges and power of Who records. This disc does feature quite a few mellow moments and doesn’t build out of them to a scream a la “Baba O’Riley.” Two tracks scored fairly consistent radio play in “Slit Skirts” and “Face Dances Part 2” and remain staples on classic rock formats to this day. The three bonus tracks are not necessarily special but fit into the mood of the entire album, with “Dance It Away” being the most interesting. This is a very good record, different for those thirsting for more Who, but a very good record nonetheless. By the way, please note that John Wayne was not Chinese.

~R. David Smola

Buy your copy from Pete Townshend:
starstarstarstarno star Released: 1983 Buy from

A longtime Who lover from the earliest days my inner music fan awoke – sometime around late elementary and middle school – I'd wondered what the fuss was about Pete Townshend: After all, Keith Moon's drumming was the engine that made it go; Roger Daltrey was the singular-sounding rock star frontman; and John Entwhistle, well, he provided the contrast to the other shenanigans happening onstage. Townshend didn't seem to have a well-defined role to play. When I heard Scoop, the scales fell off my eyes and I realized Townshend was the Who in many respects – its brain, heart, conscience, and lead guitarist. Composer, arranger, director. In these demos of band and solo compositions, it's clear how his ideas formed the creative wireframe upon which the other players added their own styles and fleshed out the Who's sound. Townshend here, in sparse, synth-laden tracks, reveals a depth of emotion in his voice and guitar playing that just can't be heard in the full band tracks. The lyrics to classics like "Bargain" and "Magic Bus" suddenly seem to take on different meanings, rendered anew. It's rich stuff, a set of recordings that turned a lot of casual Who fans like me into rabid completists upon its 1983 release. It's great this record and the Scoops that came out later are getting the reissue treatment; no doubt it will inspire new legions of fans.

~Mojo Flucke, Ph.D.

Buy your copy from Pete Townshend:
Deep End Live!
starstarhalf starno starno star Released: 1985 Buy from

And the world gives a collective shrug. Why Pete Townshend thought it was a good idea to follow the success of 1985’s White City with a live album remains lost to the ages, but he’s apparently fond enough of it to have it reissued along with the rest of his back catalog. The story behind this disc is that Townshend put together a band to back him in a film he produced in conjunction with the aforementioned White City album; they played a handful of live gigs at London’s Brixton Academy, songs from which appear on this disc. The thing is, Townshend thoughtfully self-released a series of concerts a few years ago…and one of them was a 2-disc, 27-track set of a Brixton Academy show with Deep End, which therefore made the owning of Deep End Live! rather superfluous. But for the sake of argument, let’s presume for a moment that you’d rather just have this release. It’s an enjoyable enough listen, with Townshend giving us a mixture of solo material (“Stop Hurting People,” “A Little Is Enough”), Who songs (“Pinball Wizard,” “I’m One”), and a few covers, including Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’” as well as a very nice take on the English Beat’s “Save It For Later.” He also does “After the Fire,” a Townshend song better remembered from Roger Daltrey’s own version, on his Under a Raging Moon album. This reissue includes two bonus tracks – “Magic Bus” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – but, nice though they are, Deep End Live! still remains nothing more than a pleasant diversion that held fans over ‘til Townshend’s next studio album. Shame that turned out to be The Iron Man.

~Will Harris

Buy your copy from Pete Townshend:
Another Scoop
starstarstarno starno star Released: 1987 Buy from

Another double-album’s worth of Who and solo demos, as well as some tracks that didn’t show up elsewhere. Most of the Who stuff became tons better when played by the band and sung by Roger Daltrey (“You Better You Bet,” “Substitute,” and “The Kids Are Alright”), while others like “La La La Lies” benefit more from the stripped down arrangements. The two best tracks here are the cinematic “Brooklyn Kids” and the funky “Holly Like Ivy.” There’s also plenty of dross, like a cover of “Begin the Beguine” and throwaway crap like “Cat Snatch” and “Baroque Ippanese.” Then there’s the weird “Football Fugue” which comes off as camp as “Zelda” did from the original Scoop compilation. All in all, Another Scoop is a middling affair which seemed to be a lot more exciting back in my high school days when my friends and I were first getting into the Who. There are no bonus tracks on this reissue, though I’m assuming the finished product has all the original liner notes and even maybe some newer ones, but it’s hard to tell when all you have is a CD-R to work with. For completists only. If you want the best of Pete’s demos, stick with Scoop and you’ll be just fine.

~Jason Thompson