Throw tomatoes at me if you wish, but I’ve always genuinely loved The Who’s final studio album, so much so I even later got a vinyl copy. I’ve never listened to the album Pete and Roger put out in 2006, and don’t have any plans to do so anytime soon. For all intents and purposes, I consider IH their real last studio album, the perfect swan song to go out with.
During my first two years of being a serious Who freak, after years of just being a casual lawn seat fan, there was no real rhyme or reason to which albums I bought when. That depended upon which CDs were available at Mystery Train Records, Newbury Comics, and B-Side Records when I stopped in. This explains why Odds and Sods ended up as only my fourth Who album and almost turned me off from getting more, and how I had to get A Quick One and Face Dances before The Who by Numbers. I remain proud of how I snagged their boxed set, 30 Years of Maximum R&B, for only $35 in April 2001.
It just feels right IH ended up my last studio album by them, since it was their last too. Everything else I got after that, like the remastered 2-disc My Generation, was just an awesome bonus. But it hadn’t shown up at any of the three music stores in my university town, after almost a year of regularly going to the record stores. Even the out-of-print rarity collection Who’s Missing showed up before IH! I finally had to special-order it from Newbury Comics, and paid the hefty price of $17 when I picked it up on 3 September 2001.
After paying $17, which was a lot for a CD in Amherst, and that long wait, it would have to be absolutely stellar. And I wasn’t disappointed at all. From the very first listen that night, I was blown away by all this musical energy, a very early Eighties sound to be sure, but a good sound to my ears. Gone was the depressing, less than A-game mood of Face Dances. The only IH song I don’t like is “Why Did I Fall for That?”
You cannot expect them to have gone on remaking Who’s Next and Quadrophenia for the entire rest of their career. Bands evolve and try different styles. Musical eras come and go. People change and grow. It’s not fair to expect them to have made the exact same type of album in 1982 as they did in 1971 and 1973. That’s really unfair and ridiculous. And though no one could ever replace Keith, Kenney does a decent job of trying to fill his shoes. The military drum rolls in “Cry If You Want” are some of his best work with The Who, almost feeling as if Keith is back there with them.
The CD was stuck so tightly in the jewel case, it took what felt like forever to finally finagle it out. After the second time doing this, I decided to just leave it loose in there. I wasn’t going to risk snapping a $17 CD in half.
“Athena” started life as “Theresa,” which appears on Scoop 3 (an album I don’t yet own). It reached #28 in the U.S., #5 in Canada, and #40 in the U.K. Like many IH songs, it has a genesis in Horse’s Neck, a strange book of stories Pete published in 1985. I got a copy of the book from a secondhand bookstore in Amherst.
“It’s Your Turn” is unusual for being a John song sung by Roger. It’s addressed to the younger generation, with lines such as “I was a face in a magazine/While you were still playing with your Plasticine.”
“Cooks County” is about the suffering and hard times in Cook County, Illinois.
“It’s Hard” is an awesome early Eighties anthem, and started life as “Popular,” which appears on Scoop. I love the chorus line, “Anyone can do anything if they hold the right cards.”
“Dangerous” is another John song sung by Roger. He always had such great material.
“Eminence Front” was the only song I knew going in, from the boxed set. Pete sings lead, and it reached #68. This is one of the most famously misheard songs, as people have mistaken the title in the chorus for things such as “Living in a truck” and “Baby, let’s fuck.”
“I’ve Known No War” is a beautiful, profound antiwar anthem, though a lot of older guy fans hate it. When I became a serious fan, I discovered a lot of fans process and react to certain songs differently, along sex-based lines. Another example of this is “Sunrise,” and…
“One Life’s Enough” is a gorgeous, lush, erotic song, short but powerful. I can’t understand why a lot of men hate this song.
“One at a Time” is another John song, which he sings. Yet more strong material from him.
“Why Did I Fall for That?” is the throwaway. It has a noble message (worrying about nuclear war and other concerns of the era), but the execution just falls flat. It’s too mid-tempo and boring.
“A Man Is a Man” is a really beautiful, sweet song, with the genesis in “Fish Shop” from Horse’s Neck. Again, a lot of guys hate this song, while women love it.
“Cry If You Want” is such a perfect swan song. I love the tension, military drum rolls, Pete’s middle-eight (“Let your tears flow/Let your past go”), Roger’s vocals, the lyrics, the everything. I initially misheard “propping up the bar” as “fucking at the bar,” and one of the women in my estrogen Who lists said Roger wouldn’t mind that at all. He might even demand it be rewritten so he could sing that!
There are four bonus tracks, live versions of “It’s Hard,” “Eminence Front,” “Dangerous,” and “Cry If You Want” from a 1982 Toronto show. Now that’s the kind of top-notch material their handlers should’ve put on the disappointing Who’s Last.