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The Who: Endless Wire

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Listen to Endless Wire

After allowing a quarter century to air out the stink left behind by It's Hard, the Who are back. Or more accurately, vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend are back, with a gaggle of fill-ins who live up to the band's name. But unlike their contemporaries the Rolling Stones, the Who have a purpose beyond filling a stadium. The Who are back because Townshend still has emotional issues he needs to publicly work through, and his issues still sound better coming out of Daltrey's mouth than his own. With the passing of bassist John Entwhistle in 2002, the band lost not only the member behind several of their most darkly humorous and endearing songs ("Boris the Spider" and "My Wife"), they also lost a lighthearted counterbalance to Townshend's rock operas and often exhausting lyrical ambitions. (Incidentally, Entwhistle also released what I consider the best Who-member solo album by a long shot, 1971's "Smash Your Head Against The Wall.") With Entwhistle and drummer Keith Moon deceased and Daltrey on vocal duties only, Townshend has free reign over the album. He initially uses his stage to wax his bitterness about religious bureaucracy ("Man in A Purple Dress") and relationships ("It's Not Enough"), bookending the first half of the album with two versions of the song "Fragments," a swelling arena rock tune with a synthesizer intro reminiscent of the band's 1970 hit "Baba O'Riley." Rough-voiced Daltrey is in memorable form throughout the album, even when, as on "Fragments," Townshend provides him some seriously hokey Eastern Mysticism-themed lyrics.The second half of Endless Wire is filled by "Wire and Glass" a 10-song miniature rock opera by Townshend about an old rocker from the 1960s, now in a mental institution, who uses telepathic powers to watch the rise and fall of a contemporary band. Sound complicated? It's still nowhere as convoluted as either Tommy or Quadrophenia. That said, it's more plot-dependent and less song-driven than Townshend's hallowed creations. If you buy the plot, you'll be enthralled. Otherwise, get ready to be frustrated by great tunes that don't last long enough ("Sound Round," lasting 1:21) and others that linger too long to wrap up loose plot ends ("Tea and Theater," the dreariest 3:23 since Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.") Fans shouldn't buy this album expecting the crunch of Who's Next or Quadrophenia or the cleverness of Who Sell Out. But those looking for a more satisfying final (or is it?) chapter than the band offered the first time around will find plenty of interesting and familiar elements to mull over on Endless Wire.

--Nicholas Collias

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