New Empty Glass review

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Feb 5 07:53:27 CST 2005

>From the Western Courier "serving the students of
Western Illinois University since 1905" at:

Pete Townshend Emty Glass (1980) 
By David Styburski
Published: Friday, February 4, 2005

"I don't think anyone can explain rock and roll," a
fictional musician muses in the film "Almost Famous."
"Maybe," he corrects himself, "Pete Townshend."

Known mostly for his role as windmill-strumming
guitarist and songwriter in the Who, Townshend has
created more passionate rock anthems than any other
single composer. Doubters need only to revisit the
Who's performance at the post-9/11 Concert for New
York and marvel at how much the songs "Baba O'Reily"
and "Won't Get Fooled Again" resonated with the
grief-stricken crowd.

Back in 1980, Townshend had nearly waved goodbye to
his band, insistent that his writing had gotten too
personal to be interpreted by Who frontman Roger
Daltrey. A listen to Townshend's first proper solo
album, "Empty Glass," backs up the guitarist's claims.
The Who's "Tommy" might be Townshend's most popular
set of songs, and "Quadrophenia" is perhaps his
best-sounding collection. But the 10 tracks on "Empty
Glass," written under mood swings brought on by
alcoholism and depression, represent his most powerful
work. A composer too often distracted by overly
complex narratives, Townshend stays personal here,
sending out desperate messages of love and frustration
to people who don't seem willing to listen.

To an extent, "Empty Glass" was the first gay rock
album free from the fashion and androgyny of glam.
"And I Moved," a song originally commissioned and
rejected by Bette Midler, is a far and steamy cry away
from the veiled misunderstood feelings and identity
crises of Townshend's Who characters with lines like
"He laid me back just like an empty dress." The
secretive sex within the aggressive rocker "Rough
Boys" and its tale of lovers who "can't be seen
together" are a bit tougher to hear nowadays following
the since-cleared Townshend's involvement in a child
porn probe in 2003. But the inevitable re-examination
of the song as a result of the scandal makes "Rough
Boys" seem more intense than it was 10 years ago.

"I am an Animal" is exemplary Townshend, angry and
intimidating in its words but delivered in a near
whisper that suggests the man behind the voice is
seeking for answers to life's deeper questions. At
times, Townshend can be an anarchic performer,
smashing his Gibson guitars to pieces onstage. But "I
am an Animal" shows him taking on his most accurate
persona, that of a gentle mouse that can roar when

The introspective, seeking side of Townshend helps him
pull off "Let My Love Open the Door," one of his most
upbeat yet sincere compositions. The most common
conflict within his writing, the desire to share love
in a world where it is rarely apparent, is spelled out
in "A Little is Enough," a moving song that
understands that snagging a small piece of someone's
heart is better than snagging nothing at all.

A lot of rock stars adapt to fame as if money and
recognition solved all of their spiritual and
emotional needs. Townshend, however, has always seemed
hungry for things that money can't buy. He's rarely a
content artist. Maybe that's why he can look at
something as abstract as rock 'n' roll, the most
frustration-heavy of all musical genres, and explain
it to the rest of us so well.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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