White City, released 11 November 1985, was Pete Townshend’s fifth solo studio album, and fourth official solo album altogether. A number of the albums in my dinosaur collection have landmark anniversaries in 2015, like Help! and Under a Raging Moon, but WC is so criminally underrated, and I love Pete’s solo work so much, it just deserves as much love as it can get.
Pete got a huge amount of two new kinds of fans when he went solo, which really surprised him—women and gay men. It weren’t as though he suddenly stopped doing traditional rock songs, but rather that he was free to channel his gender-atypical feelings once he was only making music for himself. Let’s be honest, no one familiar with The Who could picture Roger agreeing to sing a song like “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stop Hurting People,” “And I Moved,” “Hiding Out,” or “Sheraton Gibson.”
When I became a serious Who freak in late 2000, I began realizing I might not be quite as gender-atypical as I’d always felt myself to be. Since the majority of fans have always been men, I was able to pick up on how many of us on my estrogen Who lists had much different reactions and tastes than the men on the notorious Odds & Sods and the less intense but still testosterone-saturated IGTC list. For example, we loved songs like “Sunrise” and “A Man Is a Man,” while most guy fans derided them. To say nothing of how I refuse to hate It’s Hard and Face Dances for not being exactly like their Seventies hard rock.
However, since I’ve always been rather gender-nonconforming and considered myself more masculine than feminine (though not in terms of physical presentation), I’m attracted to Pete because he’s so in touch with his feminine side and more feminine than masculine. Psychologist Daryl Bem’s Exotic Becomes Erotic Theory says we tend to be attracted to qualities we don’t have, the other, the foreign. Of course, nowadays a certain exploding trend is making it nearly impossible to raise gender-neutral or gender-nonconforming children, but I’ve got a huge rant planned on that in the new year!
Pete being Pete, he seriously billed WC as a novel. You’ve gotta love how pretentious the man can be, and to his great credit, he’s totally up-front about his pretentious inclinations.
“Face the Face”
“Crashing by Design”
“I Am Secure”
“White City Fighting”
“Come to Mama”
WC was also released as a 60-minute film, though the last I heard, it still hadn’t been transferred to DVD. Protagonist Jim is a grownup version of Jimmy from Quadrophenia. The story is set in, naturally, White City, the northern part of Pete’s native Shepherd’s Bush neighborhood of London. Jim has come home to the projects where he grew up, and discovers you can never really go home again. Along the way, he deals with other issues including racism, frustrated love, bleak memories, and the hopeful, idealistic dreams of his Sixties youth.
My favorite tracks are “Brilliant Blues,” “Give Blood” (which some people criticise for having such a long intro), “Face the Face,” “White City Fighting,” and “Come to Mama.” The album finishes with such a perfect flourish, really summing up the angsty, bittersweet, emotional journey we’ve just gone on with Jim. The ending rather reminds me of that of “In a Hand or a Face,” the closer on The Who by Numbers, which has been compared to water being sucked down a drain.
If you’re interested in Pete’s solo work, definitely give this one a try. You’ll soon see why his solo persona is like night and day compared to his Who persona you’re probably familiar with.