Then And Now!
t’s been said that one of the high crimes of rock criticism is “reissue nostalgia”, where your moist-eyed correspondent recounts the time, walking through study-hall/the pub/their grandfather’s funeral, when their virgin ears first clapped drums upon The Beatles/Stones/Pixies and they suffered an instantaneous epiphany. The good news? My university only played Machine Gun Fellatio, I don’t have a local pub and my grandfather likes Kiri Te Kanawa. This reissue of The Who’s (slightly abbreviated) greatest hits is remarkable not for its having played a major role in my formative years (it didn’t), but as a touchstone that so many of today’s bands refer to—and for how many of today’s bands it still trounces with both hands tied behind its back.
The danger here, of course, is subscribing to “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” revivalism, which is completely beside the point, not to mention irrelevant. They do make them like this; you only need to look at bands like The Hives and Libertines, or in Australia, The Pictures and You Am I to see that the garage band is still alive and well, if not more so than ever. But it’s so easy to go gaga about today’s nu-mods, forgetting that they’ve been handed a “How To” guide in the form of The Who’s back catalogue. It’s quite hard for a young band to separate itself from its beloved record crate, as the unfortunate—yet celebrated—Jet have discovered. It’s also easy to dismiss The Who thanks to the Golden Hits radio favourites they’ve become. Then put on “I Can’t Explain”, their first single and listen to Keith Moon’s incredible drumming, Pete Townshend’s intricate, chiming guitar solos, John Entwistle’s simplified bass riffs and Roger Daltrey’s captivating mod god persona. Can you imagine Jet or The Pictures dropping such a bomb on the listening public as their first shot? “They’ll get better”, everyone harps, but The Who were already “better”—and with “My Generation”, they upped the bar. It is simply an unbelievable creation, largely due to the call-and-response virtuosity pinged between Entwhistle and Moon. Hell, you could leave the greatest hits at these two tracks and still cream the competition.
Still, early works like “Substitute”, “I’m A Boy”, “Happy Jack” (the drums!!), “I Can See For Miles” and “Magic Bus” continue to ice the cake. Again, though classic hits programming may have tarnished its glow somewhat, the material from Tommy is still impressive. There are some small disappointments; the lack of the great “Baba O’Reilly” is glaring, and the intro to “Who Are You” is so fabulous it renders the rest of the song unnecessary and rushed. The two new tracks, “Real Good Looking Boy” and “Old Red Wine” are impressive, but do miss the chemistry that Moon and Entwhistle brought to the equation. But if there’s a highlight, it’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which remains one of the most exciting songs ever committed to record despite the fact that Keith Moon might have been on the brink of pickling himself and the band’s inner turmoil at its height.
Ultimately, I have to be honest—there is not a single band doing the rounds at the moment that I can see amassing a collection of songs this incredible down the track, not now at least; maybe something will slip up through the cracks in the next year or so. Despite still coming third to The Beatles and Stones in the popularity stakes, looking at their output as it is laid out on Then And Now! you can’t deny that The Who were the band who hit their straps earliest; while they played “My Generation”, the others were still caught up in dinky pop ditties and milky R&B.; And while today’s young bands do need encouragement and nurturing, they don’t need the fervent hyperbole that is being lashed upon them by the trowel-load. Then And Now! is a benchmark that many will struggle to top, and a reminder to all the kids who recently packed out The Forum not to celebrate false idols. Don’t get fooled again.
Reviewed by: Clem Bastow
Reviewed on: 2004-05-19