Album review: The Who, Endless Wire (2006)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 23, 2006

By Steve Newton

After witnessing the Who’s thrilling performance at GM Place last month, I had high hopes for its first studio CD in 24 years. Turns out I was misled by that exhilarating concert, though. Endless Wire may kick off with an electro-babble-synth intro similar to “Baba O’Riley”, but that’s as close as it gets to recalling the glory days of Who’s Next.

After the lacklustre opener, “Fragments”, the potency of Pete Townshend’s vitriolic songwriting is evident in “A Man in a Purple Dress”, in which he lambasts the presumptive authority of religious leaders. It’s one of the few highlights among the sprawling disc’s 19 tracks, the 90-second “You Stand By Me” being another.

Considering the Who’s hard-rock history, it’s a bit strange that the best of its new songs contain only fingerpicked or lightly strummed acoustic guitar and vocals. When the band plugs in and attempts to rock out old-school, as on “Mike Post Theme”, it comes off as contrived.

The ill-conceived, 10-track “mini-opera” Wire & Glass doesn’t fare any better. “Pick Up the Peace” echoes the band’s best album, Quadrophenia, thanks mostly to Pino Palladino’s John Entwistle–esque bass runs, but “Mirror Door” is a routine celebration of dead musicians that endlessly name-drops everyone from Doris Day to Link Wray. “Trilby’s Piano” is a strings-drenched aggravation, “Endless Wire” is tedious and repetitive, and “Fragments of Fragments”—which also borrows that old “Baba O’Riley” synth bit ­—is just plain irritating.

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