Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Who - Who Are You (1978)

I woke up in a Soho doorway....


Released on 18 August 1978

Running time 42.13

This was The Who's last album with Keith Moon, before his unfortunate death three weeks after the album's release. By mid-1978, The Who were struggling to remain contemporaneously relevant in the midst of punk, new wave and disco. This album does nothing to change that, being an amalgam of synth riffs and prog rock stylings in places with Roger Daltrey's dramatic, operatic but from the streets voice starting to sound out of time among the snarl of punk and cynical sneer of new wave. Their previous three albums, Who's Next, Quadrophenia and (lesserly) The Who By Numbers had been excellent, hard-hitting rock albums. Unfortunately, despite the individuals within the band's obvious musical proficiency, this is neither a great nor relevant album. It is still The Who, however, and there are good points to it, which I will highlight, but put in a cultural context, it was sadly a little irrelevant.


1. New Song
2. Had Enough
3. 905
4. Sister Disco
5. Music Must Change
6. Trick Of The Light
7. Guitar And Pen
8. Love Is Coming Down
9. Who Are You                                                

New Song bursts into action with a synth riff like the sort of thing Elton John and many others would use so much in the eighties, so maybe The Who were ahead of their time, at least. Pete Townshend's guitar injections are as mighty as you would expect and Moon's drumming is Moon, of course. Having said that, Entwistle has said that Moon was completely "out of condition" and disorientated during the sessions and struggled to get through them. There certainly isn't the vitality of his work on previous albums, you have to say.

It actually doesn't sound too bad, but in 1978, I certainly didn't want to listen to stuff like this. Those guitar parts are still superb, though, in any era. John Entwistle's Had Enough takes two thirds of the title of one of Quadrophenia's songs and indeed, its narrative, stage-y style sounds like something from that album, apart from those accursed synthesisers, that make it sound like it should be on ABBA's Voulez Vous album. 905 is another Entwistle song that is somewhat dull, albeit pleasant enough, sounding like The Strawbs in places, for me.

Sister Disco has remained one of the more popular tracks from the album, supposedly saying goodbye to the disco era - replacing it with ELO-style strings and proggy synths. Hmmm. Maybe I'd prefer "Disco Inferno". Daltrey's voice is particularly hammy and, dare I say it, irritating on this. The next track informs us that Music Must Change on an overblown Townshend song that has an air of a stage musical song about it. This sort of thing is so far removed from music in 1978 that maybe it was The Who that needed to change. There are some good bits in though - the bluesy, jazzy guitar bits are quite infectious.

Trick Of The Light is John Entwistle's other song on the album and it is pretty good one, actually - a solid, muscular rocker. His bass line is heavy and thumping. This is one of my favourites on here. Guitar And Pen has that Quadrophenia style to it, and features some excellent typical Townshend guitar. Again, though, Daltrey's vocal sounds melodramatic. Love Is Coming Down is a bit in the same vein, although more laid-back, with a sumptuous, melodious bass line. The strings over-romanticise it, however. The final track, Who Are You, was actually a hit single and has remained on of the band's better-known songs. It features the best use of synthesiser on the album, with a superb intro that contains hints of Won't Get Fooled Again. Apparently it was written after Townshend had been out drinking with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols and ended up the worse for wear. "Who the fuck are you..." growls Daltrey near the end. Yes, Daltrey and the band still had that tough guy appeal that could ask such a question and make this popular at the time but this was still very much an album that cried out loudly that The Who's best days were behind them.

PS - the bonus track Empty Glass is a piece of more recognisable Who rock, leaving out the synths and Moon's drumming to the fore. It turned up in 1980 on Townshend's solo album of the same name.