The Who – Who

4 out of 5

Label: Polydor

Produced by: D. Sardy

There are so, so many things that are right on this album, and that – more importantly – sound natural in being so.

While there are surely artists that have been kicking around across multiple generations, core members of a group – like The Who – who’ve stuck around since the 60s and can deliver an album like ‘Who,’ nearly sixty fuckin’ years on, and sound equally like themselves, not like an anachronism, and also manage to be modern sounding. Just… how?

The key seems obvious, but not easy to pull off: stay true to what you know, but keep learning, and learn to adapt. The Who – Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend – are still including the kind of soaring, moving melodies and break out guitar moments and key warbles that are all key identifiers, but the duo also accept that they’re in their 70s, and aren’t going to try and break our speakers with shouting or ear-rattling. And for every nod to a “classic” Who vibe, a song might embrace a bit of modern slickness – some electronics, some studio flourish – without going whole hog on it. Again: they get it – they’re playing to their fans, but there’s no reason to not innovate on that within reason, which I have to imagine is also more exciting for them as artists, feeding into the passion that’s still plenty prevalent in their performances.

This balance carries across to the lyrics: Daltrey touches on the waxing and waning of fame, and of the industry, and finds some solid fist-pumping ways to sing about it, while staying leagues away from grumbly old-man territory. The sentiments might be pretty generic then, and there are surely a couple of very generic love-ish / relationship songs to add to that, but it’s a blend that hits just about right, the familiar with enough meat to let us know there’s still a living, thinking person behind the words. (Not many classic bands can make that claim, by my ears.)

Session players like Carla Azar and Joey Waronker help give the drums needed kick or pop as needed, and I can’t help but believe that producer Dave Sardy is a huge component of why the songwriting comes across so solidly: Sardy works great with these stripped down setups, and has a skill at bringing out the most propulsive aspects of a group and sharpening it, while maintaining a very organic, raw vibe. He helped Oasis sound cutting edge, and he helps makes The Who sound fresh, confident, and ready to deliver albums for years to come.