(All Album Reviews by AdmKirk)
Just what the world needs: yet another greatest hits collection from the Who. Then and Now is #8 in a seemingly never ending stream of U.S. compilations. Never mind that there are also numerous other packages available in other parts of the world. I'm not counting the 5 live albums released since 1982 (or the myriad of live albums available direct from guitarist Pete Townshend's web site www.eelpie.com, reissued albums with bonus tracks, the BBC album or The 30 Years of Maximum R & B box set.
Being the major Who enthusiast I am, I have all of this material and see no need to rebuy it. However a few have managed to work their way into my collection, either as gifts, or because they were dirt cheap. Out of these 8 compilations the best of the lot is probably Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy. The rest are an excuse for Universal to squeeze a few extra bucks from your wallet. Which brings us to Then and Now. This single cd set brings us all of the essential Who tracks. Nearly every album is represented with the exception of the underrated It's Hard. However this 20 track compilation does have something none of the other compilations have and that's two new songs. Just before bassist John Entwistle died, Pete Townshend finally decided to make the Who more than just a nostalgic touring band. The Who would return to the studio and start it's first album since 1982's It's Hard. Unfortunatly, Entwistle passed away before serious work could start. Townshend and Roger Daltrey decided to carry on as The Who. One can debate this decision until blue in the face. Ultimately, it was Townshend and Daltrey's choice. So with longtime keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, drummer Zak Starkey and Townshend's brother Simon, The Who hit the road with Pino Palladino filling in on bass. The tour was well received and since then the Who have decided to tour again this year and, apparently, have decided to go ahead with plans for a full fledged new album. Then and Now is their way to reintroduce The Who as a fully functional band. The two new songs, which are being performed on the current tour, are both Townshend compositions.
One is tempted to be a bit jaded after 20+ years of promises that The Who is going to make a new studio album, plus the fact that original drummer Keith Moon nor Entwistle are still with us. The question arises "How can this be The Who?". So I was not sure quite what to expect from the pen of Townshend. The first new song is called "Real Good Looking Boy" and starts with piano quoting an Elvis Presley song and once the band kicks in it's fairly obvious that the song has some promise. Townshend writes of his fascination, as a British teenager with Presley and recalls practicing his moves in the mirror. When he tell his mother that he (Townshend) is a real good looking boy, mom replies that he is an ugly boy, and he got every bad gene in the family with a few extra's thrown in. It's classic Townshend writing and Daltrey delivers it perfectly.
Greg Lake plays bass on the track along with Bundrick on keyboards and Starkey on drums. Starkey's drumming is terrific. Anyone who has caught the Who live since 1996 or heard a live record would probably agree that he's the best drummer they've had since Moon. His playing is a good cross of Moon, Kenny Jones, who replaced Moon, and Simon Phillips who toured with the Who in 1989. "Real Good Looking Boy" features some great power riffing that only Townshend can do. The song is top shelf material and probably the best song I've heard all year. I'm surprised as anyone that it's as good as it is.
The second new cut, "Old Red Wine" is nearly as good. Obstensibly, the song is a tribute to Entwistle. While not as catchy right off the bat as "Real Good Looking Boy", it's pretty darn good in it's on right. Piano anchors the song until the end when Townshed fires off those big power chords and Starkey brings it all home with his superb drumming. Another top shelf track.
Rumor has it that these two songs will also be on the new studio album. If these are an indication of the direction The Who will take in the studio, then maybe, just maybe, rock isn't dead. As for the rest of this compilation: Been there, done that. But if you are new to the band and don't have anything by them then I would say this is the compilation to have. It's a good overview of their work.