In the 13 years since the Who's last album, Endless Wire, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend released solo records, wrote books and toured together as the band they formed back in 1964.

They've also made a renewed commitment to rock 'n' roll in that time, maybe sensing they're not going to be around forever. Or maybe they just think music needs another jolt of power chords and rock-god singing after years of decreasing sales and relevance.

Either way, Townshend knows it's an uphill battle. "I don't care, I know you're gonna hate this song," sings Daltrey in the very first line of "All This Music Must Fade," the opening song on Who, their 12th album. If the end is near, as they seem to think, they're going out on their terms.

And so Who recalls bits and pieces of their classic years. There's some The Who Sell Out here, some Tommy there, plus an abundance of Quadrophenia and The Who by Numbers too. All that's really missing is the reckless spirit that drove their best work, the out-of-control drumming by the late Keith Moon and that maybe real youthful hope that they'd die before they got old.

The band here, aided by such studio pros as Pino Palladino, Benmont Tench and Joey Waronker, plays along more linear lines, whether it's on the Who's Next-like power rocker "I Don't Wanna Get Wise" or "Detour," a possible reference to one of the group's original names. That familiarity at times is its greatest asset.

"Hero Ground Zero" recalls the band's mid-'70s arena-rock years with big vocals and even bigger guitar fills, complete with Quadrophenia-style orchestral flourishes. And that opener, "All This Music Must Fade," is almost self-aware but without any sentimentality or nostalgia creeping in. It's a fine line that Townshend and Daltrey toe here, crafting a rock 'n' roll record for an audience that may not even be listening anymore.

But there's enough here to bring back old fans and maybe draw in some new ones. It's a throwback record for the most part, with nods all over the place to their classic work. It's not a retread, but it sounds like a Who album, which is crucial for something like this, as well as an upgrade for the 21st century.

Unfortunately, as Who enters its last third, it begins to sag. The Townshend-sung "I'll Be Back" and "Break the News," penned by his brother Simon, seem to forget the LP started as glances toward their past. And they can't quite recover in time for the closing "She Rocked My World," which is as tired as its title.

"We raised some hell," Daltrey sings at the end of Who like a man who's resigned himself to shaking his fists at kids in his yard. Better, and more appropriate, is Townshend's offhand and partly off-mic "Who gives a fuck?" that brings "All This Music Must Fade" to a close. It's nearer to this album's temper and would have made a hell of an LP title if this proves to be their final record.

 

 

The Who Albums Ranked