You have to hand it to The Who for staying true to form, twenty-four years after their last release. Endless Wire finds the oldest punks in rock right were they should be, cranking out songs that do no less than pleasantly surprise—for the most part. Okay okay, I’ll cut’em some slack: they’re OLD.
And who’s to blame some old guys for making music? Especially if they’re a seminal singer and songwriting duo that has broken more ground than the Public Works Administration. Sure, Endless Wire conspicuously lacks memorable, anthemic numbers, but that’s not so bad. That’s already been done. Where the composer Townsend does recover some of that fleeting panache is on the pared down songs, the ones without looming, trademarked drum and bass: “God Speaks of Marty Robbins” is a pure and pretty acoustic guitar song, with songwriter singing; “Man In a Purple Dress” is equally pretty, if not for it’s acerbic subject matter, and Roger Daltrey on vocals.
Slow songs aside, there are a few rockin’ numbers, but they lack the fierceness of youth and dementia of middle age—but that comes with the territory, along with a once revered, now diluted chemistry between Townsend’s lyrics and Daltrey’s voice. And that’s why the soft songs work: they display the frailty of two rock gods.
For the most part, that’s what Endless Wire, in one voice, is about: degeneration. Tracks ten through nineteen comprise “A Mini-Opera” entitled Wire and Glass, which recounts (speculatively) The Who’s colorful career; Wire and Glass is (speculatively) marked by personal Armageddon, touring, the dangers of nostalgia, and the perils of the music industry. Could the terminal Who album be about anything less?
All in all, it’s not bad, not bad at all, listening to these dying swans sing.
– Jacob Tennery