02/25/2003 9:00p PT
Gregory Warner - Reviewer
Repackaging of The Who's catalog has long been frustrating and for the most part disappointing. With the exception of "Sell Out", "A Quick One" and "Live at Leeds", the new versions have been little more than expanded liner notes and the same old bonus tracks.
The much ballyhooed "Ultimate Collection", and long overdue "My Generation" were under-whelming. Even the completely new material such as "Live at BBC" fell short of most fan expectations. So when a promo copy of yet another re-mastered, expanded classic of the Who landed in the mailbox, skepticism rose to a new high.
"Who’s Next - Deluxe Edition" (due out March 25th), at first glance won’t appear to be offering you anything new. Not only is it seemingly re re-mastered, but it also includes the usual alternate takes of several of the songs, most of which have been released before. And it has a whole second disk full of live material. However, there is a gift in the mix. This is the first time since the “dawning of the digital age” that these tracks have been re-worked from the original master tapes. When I say original master tapes, I mean the original. Every version we have heard since the 70s had been mastered from safety copies of the original. These lost, now found, tapes are just one of many reasons this Deluxe package is so much better than any other version of this music you have heard before. To the casual Who fan this may not be a big deal, but I don’t think this package was released with the casual Who fan in mind.
Disk one has the original nine tracks plus six alternate takes that were recorded at New York’s Record Plant. Most of the six bonus tracks have made appearances before (Odds and Sods, the box set, and of course the 1995 re-package) with the alternate version of "Won’t Get Fooled Again" being one of the exceptions. The complete difference here is that none of these alternates have been available in complete form until now. Time to cue up the disc.
As the familiar opening to "Baba O’Riley" began playing, the strange sensation that I was hearing something new began wrestling in my mind with the familiarity of the music. When Moon first explodes into the mix, I could feel his drums in my chest. This was going to be a great ride, no not great, extraordinary!
Pardon me while I gush: It felt like when I heard the songs for the first time, as cliché and cheap as that statement is, it’s the only way to describe the experience. As many times as I have listened to these songs, they have never sounded fresher, more vibrant. The changes in technology since the 1995 re-master have allowed this re-master to, for the first time, bring together the warmth of vinyl with the clarity of digital recording. Beautiful.
Entwistle’s bass throughout the original 9 tracks isn’t so much heard, as felt. The punch and precision of his playing is here in all of its thundering glory, but with that untouchable quality that I have only heard in their live shows. Likewise with Moon. The power and spontaneity of his playing have never been better displayed. Daltrey’s vocals have a new muscle and flex, and who knew that he sometime hissed his S’s. I won’t even try to describe Mr. Townshend’s work on the original 9 tracks. Many, more eloquent then I have described his work on this record, so I won’t waste your time here.
The bonus material on disc one enjoys the same improvements over previous released versions. On a personal note, I still get major goose bumps when I hear them burn through "Baby Don’t Do It"; it remains my favorite Who B-side of all time, bar none. The fun they seem to be having playing this song gets me on my feet and dancing every time (except if I’m driving. Kids: don’t drive dancing). In the end, however, these were considered alternates and either completely redone, or left off the final product altogether. This material (I think) is more of historical interest to Who fans than anything else. For those of us that only had rare vinyl versions of these Record Plant recordings for many years, it becomes an even nicer gift to be able to hear truly clean version of these songs.
One track that has made the bootleg circuit, but as far as I know have never been released anywhere else is this Record Plant version of "Won’t Get Fooled Again". At first, it is closer to Townshend’s demo in its arrangement. It’s a very informal working that I felt was very cool. However, I think this sounds more like a rehearsal: Daltrey blows some lyrics, and goes a touch off key in some places, and the whole thing works its way into a jam, typical of what they were doing on stage at this time in their career. The copy of this disc that I received did not have the expanded liner notes or the new art work which will accompany the final release, so I am a little short on hard fact regarding this track. (We will be doing a follow up once that stuff becomes available.)
Disc two was recorded live in 1971 at London’s Young Vic Theatre. This is The Who breaking in new material for the Lifehouse project. For a better description of the Lifehouse project (originally intended as Pete’s grand follow up to Tommy) go to http://www.petetownshend.co.uk and follow the projects link. There you will find a more detailed (and accurate) history than I can provide.
For the most part, again, I think this material has been released for all us Who fanatics, more than for the casual fan. Only a hard core Who fan would not feel slighted paying a potentially deluxe price for this deluxe package. The overall performance presented here is uneven, but historically speaking, priceless. There are some true moments of brilliance.
"Love Ain’t for Keeping" is hot. "Pure and Easy" is a loose, well paced, run through that doesn’t suffer from the fact that it sounds unrehearsed.
In my ear, one of the best moments on the disc comes in this version of "Young Man Blues". At first it sounds identical to the "Live at Leeds" version, but during the instrumental break, Townshend backs off and let’s the rhythm section take over. These moments of thunder and storm serve as a blazing reminder as to why these two musicians can never be replaced and will forever be missed. Consider it a eulogy to Moon and Entwistle. It is a flat out joy to hear them working off each other, the unyielding thunder of their playing carries in it such incredible nuance and detail that even the most casual listener will have to stop, slack-jawed, and stare at the speakers.
"Time is Passing" is weak. Roger just can’t seem to find a voice for Pete’s gentler musings. His growl won’t wrap itself around the lyrics, and he ends up just sounding as if he couldn’t wait for the song to end. Other material on the disc that was new to the band at the time gets a better treatment with "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Getting in Tune" the most notable.
Other high points on the disc are the shorter, meaner version of "My Generation" and their reworking of Bo Diddley’s "Roadrunner". You'll want to turn the volume so high on these two tracks that not only do you run the risk of damaging your sound system, but you'll run the added risk of incurring some hearing loss.
The second disc closes with an odd version of "Won’t Get Fooled Again". Odd because it is not the powerful anthem we know it to have become. This is The Who shaking the bugs out of what will become arguably their greatest single song. It is bad in everyway, but I did'nt mind. After all: this is history.
This Deluxe Edition is a very satisfying package. The few weak spots in the bonus material are over shadowed by its strengths. The re-mastering of the original 9 tracks makes obsolete any other recording of this material you own. Burn your vinyl; skip your old CD copies of "Who’s Next" across the lake. This is how this music should have always sounded.
The packaging for this deluxe edition is elegant. The cover and back side are the familiar art work from the original LP. The package opens into a four panel gatefold featuring circa 1971 photos of Pete and Roger in action and reproductions of the Olympic Sound studios tape boxes. The discs feature the original Track records label art for disc one and the Decca label art on disc two. The opposite side of the panels has outtakes of the cover and backside pictures. Both have been published before, but are nicely reproduced here none the less.
The liner notes have been expanded: Pete Townshend's essay was revised by Matt Kent with further minimal revision done by Pete. The John Atkins essay has been updated as well. There are a couple of new photos, but nothing that hasn't been printed anywhere else.
Even though the above does not sound like a rousing review of the package, I'll tell you again: it is very elegant and nicely done. The reason to get this set is not the package it comes in, but the material contained on it.
Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
Who's Next - Deluxe Edition
Released: March 25, 2003
(RP - Record Plant)