Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend

The latest and least accomplished (or awaited) of Pete Townshend's solo career compilations, this disc makes the minimum out of relatively mediocre material. No one was asking for a new retread of previously released cuts, and most of what is on this album is exactly what you've heard before, namely a few commercial hits (notably an unjustifiably truncated "Let My Love Open The Door"), Who reject tracks ("Pure And Easy," though this obesely overproduced version is inferior to the session castoff on the extended Who's next re-releases), and a surfeit of the inexplicable that he really, really wants to be meaningful. Highlights of that last include the openly homoerotic "Rough Boys" that would be playful if it weren't so obvious, the appealing if overly cute by half "Sheraton Gibson," several listenable cuts from the adventurous but impenetrable All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (in particular the dissonant yet lyric "The Sea Refuses No River"), and the surprisingly strong "English Boy" with Daltryesque vocals that could have come off a Who revival album from a parallel universe. The lowlights overwhelm them, though, in particular the lacklustre and uninspired ("Let's See Action," "My Baby Gives It Away," "Face the Face"), the cloyingly overnostalgic ("You Came Back," though it has its charms and twists), the incomprehensible ("Keep Me Turning") and the execrably pointless — as embodied by "A Heart To Hang On To," its warmed-over lyrics worsened by smarmy lukewarm rock. We end on an even lower note with two unreleased tracks ("Guantanamo" and "How Can I Help You") that, complete with their phlegmy old-rocker vocals, frankly should have stayed that way. Much like Roger Waters' career arc towards the end of and then post-Pink Floyd, Townshend's fatally overwrought artistic aspirations could not be contained by the Who, and during his solo outings could not be contained by anything. Despite praiseworthy studio effort we're left with a corpus of works that by their sheer level of autoindulgence mostly only appeal to their creator. Townshend's inveterately inscrutable songsmithing was certainly nowhere near as acrid as Waters' output, and that is a blessed relief, but as this limp collection demonstrates it was also no less tedious. (Content: some adult themes.)