The Who, Who's next

This was the new bang, the big one. No tarted-up noodling around with R&B, no residual mod trappings (though see Quadrophenia): a fresh, penetrating sound for a tumultuous new decade. My colleague Michael remembers how his mind was blown the first time he threw it on the turntable. Was this the same band that did "Tommy" and "Magic Bus"? Where did this come from? Where could he get more? There is no bad song on this album, none. The order and the lineup could use a little work, evidence of the internal turmoil from the aborted Lifehouse that yielded this glorious vinyl salvage yard, and "Behind Blue Eyes"' harsh arrangement doesn't really correct its unfocused thematic vacuousness, but balance that against the exuberant "Baba O'Riley" with its sparkling, almost mathematically precise synthesizer line, the deeply emotive "The Song Is Over" and "Getting In Tune," Entwistle's cartoonish kneeslapper "My Wife" and, last but hardly least, the cynical and irrepressibly energetic "Won't Get Fooled Again," devastating as a critique of demagoguery, incomparable as an artifact of rock. Even the lesser-known tracks sparkle, including my particular favourite, the simple yet irresistable "Going Mobile," its unerring musical capture of the freedom of the road something everyone should play on any roadtrip anywhere. This was Townshend's high point, his musical peak, unmatched at any other point in his writing career ironically by preventing him from bloating it further into what he thought prog should be. Art thrives on limit and this album proves it. You can blame this album, in fact, for why the band's later works never eclipsed it, not least because it's so good, but more importantly because its success ensured he would be given more artistic freedom than he could be trusted with and for that their later 1970s output suffers greatly by comparison. The CD reissues add various unreleased tracks, most notably the intriguing works-in-progress "Pure and Easy," "Too Much of Anything" and "I Don't Even Know Myself," but also several tedious live tracks which the 2003 release turns into an entire second disc. I like a Who concert as much as anyone but I'll buy a ticket, thanks. (Content: no concerns, though some reissues have sexually provocative inside artwork.)