Released 21 April 1980, Pete Townshend’s first proper solo album, Empty Glass, is now 35 years old and still stands up as an awesome, timeless, quintessentially perfect classic. It’s one of those albums which is so awesome, I’d rate it a 6 out of 5 stars. I love this record so much, I used to listen to it every single morning, and often played it multiple times a day.
The album starts with the gritty classic “Rough Boys,” whose lyrics suggest homoeroticism to some. Pete typically hasn’t helped the matter by his rather ambiguous statements about it over the years, which can be interpreted more than one way. However you choose to read it, and whether or not Pete falls anywhere on the bisexuality spectrum, it’s still an awesome song. I frankly don’t care whether or not he’s ever slept with another man, or how many or few. It’s all about the music, not what he may or may not have done in his intimate life!
“I Am an Animal” deals with our conflicting dual nature, at times vulnerable and at other times animalistic. I always used to smile at the lyric “I am an angel,” since Pete really did have, in my opinion, the voice of an angel in his vocal prime.
“And I Moved” is such a gorgeous, erotic song. Pete has more guts in his pinky finger than many modern-day singers for singing such a song, let alone writing it. He originally wrote it for Bette Midler, since he was told she liked dirty songs. Her handlers never even showed it to her, and told Pete, “This isn’t dirty, it’s smutty.” Not one to let great material go to waste, Pete proceeded to sing the song himself, even though it’s about a sexual encounter from a female POV. Can you imagine many other guys voluntarily singing lyrics like “And I moved/And his hands felt like ice exciting/As he lay me back just like an empty dress”?
Most people know “Let My Love Open the Door,” his biggest (and most overplayed) solo hit. It reached #9 in the U.S. It’s definitely more poppy and upbeat than the other songs on here.
“Jools and Jim” is about gossip-mongers and their clacking typewriters, people who don’t care about the real lives of their subjects. In this song, Pete ably demonstrates his ability to sound both angel-sweet and more traditionally masculine.
“Keep on Working” is an awesome little rocker, showing he was capable of solid rock songs as well as just personal, introspective numbers. “Cat’s in the Cupboard” is also a great rocker.
“A Little Is Enough” is about Pete’s difficult marriage to his now-ex-wife Karen, with whom he had enjoyed one of rock’s longest-lasting marriages. It was also inspired by a conversation he had with Adi Irani, the secretary of Pete’s late guru Meher Baba. It’s one of my favorite songs from the album.
“Empty Glass,” the title track, is such an anthem for Pete in this period of his life. He felt so out of control regarding his alcoholism and depression. This is also one of three songs from this time period with lyrics about falling or jumping off of a ledge (the others being “Love Is Coming Down” and “Street in the City”). The demo version included as a bonus track on the remastered Who Are You contains the line “Killing each other, then we jump off a ledge,” though by the time of the solo album, it had been changed to “Killing each other by driving a wedge.”
This is just such an awesome song about Pete battling his demons and winning, and celebrating what really matters in life. “Don’t worry, smile and dance/You just can’t work life out./Don’t let down moods entrance you/Take the wine and shout.” This is also another fine example of Pete alternating between his angelic tenor and a more traditionally masculine range.
The album closes with “Gonna Get Ya,” which shows him in a totally manly role, no more ambiguity about his sexuality or feminine-leaning nature. It’s an awesome rocker and perfect closer.