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- Http: //popmatters.com/music/reviews/w/who-thenandnow.shtml
Then and Now: Maximum Who
by Adam Williams
Four remarkable decades have passed since a scruffy
quartet from Shepherd's Bush, London first took the
stage with their aggressive brand of power pop. From
the heady days as a mouthpiece for English Mods, to
its evolution into one of rock's greatest bands, the
Who has compiled an impressive catalogue of singles
albums, concept albums, and of course, live albums.
Additionally, there have been no less than six
greatest hits packages released in the US and abroad,
in addition to the 30 Years of Maximum R&B box set. So
then, does the band's 40th anniversary merit the
release of yet another "Best Of" collection? It does
if it is cleverly baited with a pair of "new" songs...
Some 22 years after the band's last studio effort,
(the tepid It's Hard), Then and Now purports to be an
overview of the Who's storied past, as well as a
statement of the group's present and possible future.
The 20 included tracks loosely chronicle the band's
entire career: songs from vintage '60s era Who are
followed by material from Tommy Who's Next, and
Quadrophenia, with two additional tracks from the
latter part of the '70s, and one entry from the '80s.
Without question, Who aficionados already have all of
this material many times over, while even casual fans
should possess these songs in duplicate, thus making
the bulk of the new collection an exercise in
The true intrigue of Then and Now lies within the
album's final two inclusions, "Real Good Looking Boy"
and "Old Red Wine". Marketed as "Fab New Recordings",
both songs feature Roger Daltrey's impassioned vocals
augmented by Pete Townshend's precision guitar work.
Solid, if not stellar compositions, the tracks pay
homage to Elvis Presley and late great Who bassist
John Entwistle respectively. Not surprisingly, the
songs are distinctly un-Who-like, with a sound more
reminiscent of Daltrey's solo efforts. This was to be
expected, as the Who are no longer the Who, but simply
Pete, Rog, and a bunch of hired help. Granted, long
time keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick is an important
contributor, as is drummer Zak Starkey, but make no
mistake, the Who without Entwistle and drummer Keith
Moon is merely the Two. After Moon's death in 1978,
the band was able to function adequately with fill-in
Kenney Jones, then more successfully with the talented
Simon Phillips, and later, Starkey behind the kit.
Although Moon could never truly be replaced, the three
original members were able to carry on without much
concern as to the band's legitimacy and creative
With the tragic passing of Entwistle in 2002, the band
lost its rhythmic anchor, but more importantly, a
significant link to "The Who" proper. For the current
line-up to continue using the Who moniker is
disingenuous, as much so as Paul and Ringo touring as
the Beatles, or Page and Plant recording as Led
The business of music however is business, not music,
and Then and Now is nothing short of marketing genius.
Without a hint of bonus material by way of outtakes,
alternate versions, etc., the album is in essence a
thinly veiled two song EP, buoyed by 18 tracks of
filler. Who fans have been starving for fresh material
for over two decades; forcing them to purchase another
collection of greatest hits to access the twin tracks
guarantees sales of a product that would otherwise
garner little interest. Whetting fans' appetites also
coincides with the group's upcoming summer tour, and
creates a tremendous buzz of anticipation for a
completely new album rumored for fall 2004 release.
Response to Then and Now is certain to be mixed.
Legions of Who faithful will rejoice at the prospect
of new recordings, and relish the thought of
additional band output in the near future. The cynics
among us will simply view this release as a shrewd bit
of "supply and demand" sleight of hand. Irrespective
of the differing view points, one fact cannot be
argued: Even in middle age, Townshend and Daltrey at
their best, simply blow most bands off the stage, thus
proving that 50% of the Who is far superior to 100% of
most everything else.
Although Then and Now says little that hasn't already
been said, and the new songs are decidedly
unspectacular, it is nonetheless a reminder of the
Who's past greatness. The questionability of Townshend
and Daltrey soldiering onward under the Who banner
notwithstanding, there is solace in knowing that 40
years later, the remaining kids are still alright.
-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
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