Published Dec 06, 2019Whatever you think of the Who's recent dark patch — Roger Daltrey's voice problems, Pete Townshend casually saying he "Thanks God" that Keith Moon and John Entwistle are dead — they don't shy away from it on their 12th full-length album. Single "All This Music Must Fade" is as blunt as it gets, an unsubtle admission that this is the end and that is okay. WHO doesn't feel like most recent classic rock efforts — i.e. a desperate attempt to scrape up some quick cash. It feels like the final note in a very long career.
Musically, WHO sits somewhere near Quadrophenia, in terms of scope. It's a wash of melodies and effects, backed up, as always, by the rhythmic strumming of Townshend's guitar. Songs range from the high-flying, synth-driven "Beads on One String" to the bluesy rock'n'roll "Detour" and the unexpected Tom Waits R&B of "She Rocked My World." Daltrey's voice is not the same one as the one that belted out "teenage wasteland," but he has found new success by using his softer register, letting lyrics really be heard.
The biggest highlight is "Hero Ground Zero". Named for the fictional band in Pete Townshend's novel The Age of Anxiety, it has a cinematic feel that turns simple power chords into a firework display of rock power, quite unlike anything the Who have done before. It's impressive to still hear this level of creativity from a half-century old project.
If WHO is to be the end, it couldn't have come at a worse time. It's the best album the Who have released since Who Are You in 1978, but it will probably end up being overshadowed by Townshend's recent comments. The Who are far past the point of caring, but then again, when haven't they been? This is the group that invented the guitar smash-up and demolished the Summer of Love at Monterey Pop. They've never apologized or avoided controversy. This was always the way it was going to be. (Polydor)