I hate Greatest Hits compilations for their soullessness, but on the other hand, I like The Who – especially for their soul – so this review might genuinely tear me in two, like a piece of Doublemint.
‘Tear me in two, like this album’ might have been a better analogy – the box-set comprises two discs, one of ‘Hits’ and one of ‘Live’ material. This seems like a good enough idea, as the Who were an awesome live band; even in 1996 when I saw them with Zak Starkey on drums, they raised the roof. On first look, however, it’s Hate 1,The Who 0. This is partly as none of my (admittedly more obscure) favourites make it on to this record, but mostly because, of the 16 songs on the ‘Live’ disc, 11 also appear on the ‘Hits’ disc, which to me seems like a shameful waste of space.
Three songs from the 2006 album Endless Wire go some way to putting this compilation in a more contemporary context, including a live performance of Man in a Purple Dress, a good illustration of how the Who have moved on from their original sound. Folky with a very clear message, the song rails against the perceived moral authority of the church and clergy. It is a far cry from the 60s and 70s lyrics – with their frivolous, light-hearted, plastic nature. As a ‘protest’ song it provides interesting comparison with the direction-less, youthful, anti-establishment vibe of My Generation.
Many songs on this album have a very dated feel, singing in uniquely mundane terms about post-war Britain and living at home. Modern pop-rock, with its carefully vetted lyrics would rarely display content like: ‘substitute you for my mum / at least I’ll get my washing done’. The recordings themselves sound dated too, lacking the sharpness, separation and tonal clarity of modern studio work. There are notable exceptions: the synth sounds on Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Reilly are still iconic, and the last three or four songs on both discs are all post-Keith Moon and recorded after 1980, and it shows – in both ways.
There are few bands that could put together a disc of hits as well-known and as catchy as this – my girlfriend commented that she knew a lot of the songs, but didn’t realise they were by The Who. If you treat the two albums as separate entities for occasional listening, then both are good; the ‘Live’ disc has a little more personality and more balls to it but won’t appeal to perfectionists. This isn’t something I would buy – I’ll stick to my original vinyl, thanks – but if you like what little of The Who you’ve heard, then this is probably as good as you will get without spending a lot of money.
Release Date 08/02/2010 (Division)