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'Then And Now' is a superb collection of most of The Who's finest work, and hearing it from start to finish tends to make this listener think that The Who were Britain's best rock band after The Beatles. What grabs you is the musicianship, Roger Daltrey's flexible vocals, the diversity of the songs, and the witty and intelligent lyrics of Pete Townshend, notably on 'Substitute' and 'I'm A Boy'.
We are taken through The Who's Mod beginnings, via 'I Can't Explain' and 'My Generation (though that could be said to be a punk record ten years before its time)', and the sweet pop sound of 'The Kids Are Alright'. Then it's psychedelia with 'I Can See For Miles', followed by the eccentric 'Magic Bus', then a dip into the concept album 'Tommy', with 'Pinball Wizard' and the emotional, uplifting, but very simple 'See Me, Feel Me' - a contender for their best creation (also a confusing song history! This page explains more: See Me, Feel Me by The Who Songfacts). A raw version of Eddie Cochran's 'Summertime Blues' captures the energy and power of their vaunted live sound, and, from the acclaimed 'Who's Next' album, 'Behind Blue Eyes' sees Daltrey stretch his vocal range, as he shows his prowess for switching from balladeer to rocker, and back again, effortlessly. 'Won't Get Fooled Again' is a song for our times. Beginning in a prog rock style it then really rocks, and is arguably the defining song for The Who, and the musical talents of Daltrey, Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Townshend's guitar work coruscates, perfectly complemented by Entwistle's looping, pleasant, melodic bass, and it's a song made for Keith Moon to go on the rampage, attacking the drums as if they're his worst enemy. Daltrey delivers one of the great vocal performances in rock history, and, as a teenage brat, I remember scaring my Grandmother by playing her Roger's horror film scream...several times. Also obviously notable, Townshend experiments with a synth on this track (and others on 'Who's Next'). '5: 15' is underrated, but there's some interesting heavy brass and clever mood/tempo changes, and 'Love, Reign O'er Me', the closing track on the 'Quadrophenia' album, has some amazing Daltrey vocal gymnastics. The quality then begins to dip with 'Squeeze Box' and 'Who Are You', but picks up again with the sentimental, but endearing 'You Better You Bet'. The same can be said of the two stunning 2004 tracks, 'Real Good Looking Boy' and 'Old Red Wine'. The former incorporates 'Can't Help Falling In Love', and the latter is a very poignant tribute to lost bandmate Entwistle.
'Then And Now' would have been even better as a 24 track album, which would have allowed for the inclusion of the likes of 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere', 'Pictures Of Lily', 'I'm Free', 'Baba O'Riley', 'Let's See Action', 'Join Together', 'Relay', and even some High Numbers songs such as 'Zoot Suit' or 'I'm The Face'. But, it's a well balanced and well put together compilation, carefully going through the years from 1964 to 2004, when, it could be argued, anything post Quadrophenia doesn't quite match the earlier work and could have been excluded. The liner notes in the attractive accompanying booklet by Matt Kent are also excellent and enlightening.
Who - Then And Now Track listing
- Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.
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