After The Who By Numbers album, The Who had some ground to make up. The Who By Numbers was not a bad album, it just was not what many fans and critics expected. Pete Townshend’s songs were a bit dark and the arrangements were sparse for a Who album.
This was the last studio album with Keith Moon, who would die a few weeks after the album was released. His drinking had affected his life and his drumming, and he was reportedly close to being sacked by the band.
Producers Glyn Johns and Jon Astley gave the album a glossy production feel, much different than the earthy acoustic sound of the previous album. Townshend provided an array of synthesizer sounds for the album as both the backbone of some songs and string fills on others. The Who spend a lot of time working on the arrangements, this would be a very stylish album. It arrived three years after their last album, after a series of problems postponed recording sessions. The album sold well and garnered airplay, especially for the single, “Who Are You.”
Townshend’s songwriting and arranging deepened a bit on this album. There are few angry, rowdy songs typical of The Who’s earlier days. The arrangements and layering of the songs shows a maturity in the band. The punks had grown up.
“New Song” – Muscular keyboards and more robust guitars announce an upbeat, driving beat. This was a cleaner and more Quadrophenia-type production. The darkness of the previous album seemed to give way to a burst of sunshine, even though the lyrics say “Let it rain.” Townshend included plenty of synthesizer layers and fills.
“Had Enough” – Composed by John Entwistle, but sung by Roger Daltrey, this song continues the musical vibe of “New Song” with airy disco-type synthesizers and crunchy guitars. A bouncy beat and sculpted harmony vocals by Townshend. Entwistle adds some brass to the arrangement.
“905” – Written and sung by Entwistle with a spacey synthesizer intro and effects. The least impressive of Entwistle’s contributions.
“Sister Disco” – Flashy synthesizer effects by Townshend, the song talks of the death of disco music. Daltrey sings most of the song with Townshend adding the bridge. Musically, this song could have fit onto Quadrophenia. Nice drumming by Keith Moon, who reportedly battled with Townshend on his playing and substance abuse during the making of this album. An interesting musical coda by Townshend on acoustic guitar.
“Music Must Change” – A jazzy intro with multiple guitars by Townshend. A very sophisticate arrangement with Townshend’s guitar picking, Entwistle’s horns and the synthesizers. A nice performance by Daltrey on vocals.
“Trick of the Light” – Another Entwistle composition and a significant rocker. Sung by Daltrey, counter vocals by Entwistle. One of the strongest songs on the album, great guitar work. Entwistle plays an eight-string bass that sounds like a guitar driving the melody.
“Guitar and Pen” – Another guitar/synthesizer duet by Townshend. An operatic type vocal performance by Daltrey as the song climbs higher and faster. This song sounds like a showtune in musical style. Townshend demonstrates his guitar skills, as does Entwistle on bass.
“Love is Coming Down” – My favorite track on the album. A very pretty song, but not schmaltzy. Daltrey reaches very high notes. Nicely arranged with strings. Entwistle shines on the bass. As close as The Who gets to a ballad.
“Who Are You” – An anthem, much like “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” One of The Who’s most enduring songs. A masterful performance by the band. Synthesizers by Townshend and Entwistle, piano by Rod Argent. That pumping, zig-zag synth by Townshend is instantly recognizable. Moon had trouble with the time signature, but his messy style of drumming is great. And the famous, “Who the fuck are you” line.