The story goes that Townshend was writing songs for both this album and the subsequent Who album and Daltrey at least feels like Townshend kept most of the good material for himself and gave the band the less good stuff. (I should point out I’ve never bothered with Face Dances because one thing I don’t like to do is listen to the ’80s albums ’60s bands made.) Another version has it that some of these songs were rejected from Who Are You – another record I’ve not bothered with – which would suggest Daltrey’s version of events isn’t accurate. In any case, the supposed quality of this record is often blamed for the lack of quality of the next Who album. I guess I would buy that if I liked this album more.
I like Townshend as a songwriter and I find that many of the things I like about Townshend songs are present here. To the extent that I don’t love this record I don’t think it has anything to do with his songs.
My issue with the record is that it is very much a music industry veteran trying to hop in the coattails of new things. It’s not as extreme in this regard as many attempts – including many contemporary ones – but it’s still pretty transparent to me. Townshend can be forgiven for this at least a little because he was into synthesizers before it was cool but I can’t help but hear a strong desire to put new wave clothes on these not very new wave songs. (Like wouldn’t he be better off going the punk direction? He inspired British punk, after all.)
The other issue I have is that, in general, I prefer Townshend songs when done by the Who. This is not the first Townshend solo record I’ve heard and the only one I’ve liked is the one he made with Ronnie Lane, which drew him in a very different direction. Though I have no interest in listening to ’80s Who albums I can’t help but think Daltrey isn’t entirely wrong that some of these songs would sound better played by The Who. For me, the Who succeed in part because of a great marriage between songwriter and performers. But when Townshend is by himself he does things differently and, for me, the results are usually less successful. I’d say they are here.
I’d just much rather listen to actual new wave.
Oh, and as an aside: because I wasn’t born when this came out and due to the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, I’d only ever really heard a remix of “Let My Love Open the Door” before, so hearing the original version was a little weird.