It’s Hard review

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.

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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.

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“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.

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4 comments on “It’s Hard review

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    This is a good album that I like as well. I didn’t realize it was their last studio album and how long ago it was recorded. I remembering listening to the cassette a lot when I was on the road.

    I did get Endless Wire on CD. I think I liked it okay, but honestly I don’t remember. The Who albums I listen to the most are Tommy and Quadraphenia.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Road trippin’ with A to Z
    Tossing It Out

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  2. Chrys Fey says:

    I haven’t listened to that many songs from The Who. I’m tempted to find the songs on this album to give them a listen.

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    • Carrie-Anne says:

      They’re seriously underplayed on the radio. When I finally made the move from casual lawn seat fan to serious, hardcore fan late in my 20th year, I had only heard maybe 15 of their songs. Since they were still releasing albums when I was really young, I probably heard them on the radio way back when, but have no memory of which songs those might’ve been.

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  3. David Pohl says:

    Nah, this album is rubbish. I would not trade even the first ten seconds of “I Can’t Explain” for anything and everything on this album. Maybe the problem is, if you were growing up with late 1970’s or early 1980’s music, you were already in a situation where the bar was set pretty low… and thus an album like “It’s Hard” became sort of acceptable. I sound like a compete ’60’s music snob… and maybe I am… but this album completely lacks energy (save perhaps for “One at a Time”) and melody (save perhaps for “Athena”). The other ‘highlights’ of the album are shabby re-writes of their past glories. “Eminence Front” is a shoddy re-write of “Baba O’Riley” – but nowhere remotely as energetic or dramatic – and “Cry If You Want” is an ersatz re-write of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (which was already sort of a rewrite of “We’re Not Going to Take It”). Pull out your copy of “My Generation” again – though the 2 CD set actually isn’t the ‘real’ mix – and give it a few more spins. It has so much more energy… so much more melody… so much more raw aggression than anything you’ll ever find on “It’s Hard”. And it makes you want to sing along, dance or play air guitar! Honestly, would you trade the lone song “The Kids Are Alright” for the sum of the “It’s Hard” album? (I know I certainly wouldn’t)!

    My theory is that the Who were the outsiders… the guys who never quite fit into the ‘popular’ crowd… and therefore made a hell of a lot of noise to try to get noticed by the insiders. And unfortunately, when they finally did make it as insiders, their music got soft. They became a parody of themselves… still making a racket… but with none of the desperate, inventive, almost anarchic spirit that made their music magic when they still weren’t quite acceptable to the insiders. Once they were finally became insiders, they could get away with rubbish releases like “Face Dances”, “It’s Hard” (and “Who Are You” for that matter) that breezily entered the top ten… while works of genius like “Tommy” and “Who’s Next” had to fight and claw their way into the top ten.

    Of course, music is totally subjective. So if you enjoy “It’s Hard”, good for you. (I’m not being cynical – seriously – it’s great if actually like the album) But I think you’re settling for third or fourth rate material. Jump back into their 1960’s catalogue, because – at least in my opinion – their raw, aggressive energy back then was really what the band was all about… and to my ears is a VASTLY more rewarding listening experience than any of the half baked rubbish (in my opinion) on “It’s Hard”.

    P.S. At least they were trying a bit on “Endless Wire”… but it’s not really the Who anymore is it?

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