Wire" is the first studio album by The Who in nearly a quarter of
a century. "It's Hard," from 1982 was their last release and
since that time the band has gone through a whirlwind of changes. They
embarked on a farewell tour in 1982 which, as it turns out, was not a
permanent farewell because the band reunited seven years later for a series
of reunion concerts. After that however, they only performed sporadically
and did no recording at all with the exception of a rollicking version
of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" for the Elton John
/ Bernie Taupin tribute album "Two Rooms," released in 1991.
In 2002 bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack the night before
the band were to embark on a summer tour and the following year Pete Townshend
was arrested (and eventually cleared of all charges) for accessing child
pornography on the internet. The adversity of it all brought Townshend
and lead singer Roger Daltrey closer together and the prospects of recording
a new studio album by The Who soon became a reality.
The band on "Endless Wire" is comprised of Townshend, Daltrey,
drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) bassist Pino Palladino, guitarist Simon
Townshend (Pete's younger brother) and keyboardist John "Rabbit"
Bundrick. They sound very much like the original group, but with less
of a bombastic edge and a bit more subtlety a sound that lends
itself to Townshend's melancholy and reflective material. His introspective
acoustic style is very effective on gritty tunes like "You Stand
By Me," a homage to Daltrey, who stuck by Townshend's side during
tumultuous times and "A Man in a Purple Dress," a bitter anti-religion
tune fueled by Townshend's disdain of the media during his 2003 pornography
debacle. Fans of the classic Who sound with all its might and muscle may
be slightly disappointed, but the current band have retained some of the
original fire while moving in a more subtle direction. Remnants of their
old sound are ever present as evidenced on the first track, "Fragments"
which opens with a synthesizer riff reminiscent of the classic opening
on "Baba O'Reilly," before exploding into a mid-tempo rocker.
Closing out the album with the final 10 tracks is Townshend's latest mini
rock opera entitled "Wire and Glass," parts of which were released
as a limited edition CD single earlier this year. "Wire and Glass"
is the highlight of the disc, reassuring long-time fans that Townshend
has not lost his touch when it comes to creating a cohesive body of work.
The lead and background vocals on "Endless Wire" are all top
notch, and even though Daltrey's trademark gut-wrenching style has been
tainted slightly by the passage of time, he still has the ability to inject
a lot of muscle into the music. This may not be the best project ever
produced by The Who, but it does have tremendous merit, as it justifies
that Townshend and the band are still very capable of making a significant
contribution to the world of rock and roll. It's also a much better album
than its quarter-century-old predecessor, "It's Hard," and after
all these years that in itself is quite an accomplishment.