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Never understood all the fuss
on 18 March 2011
A useful yardstick with which to measure a record's quality is to compare it's lesser tracks with it's grandstanders. On 'The Who Sell Out' the finest and most original song is, unequivocally, 'I Can See For Miles' and it is in contrast to this monumental track that the rest of the album's merit stands in stark relief - it quite simply overshadows everything else on the album. Understandably a song of such quality would always leave lesser offerings standing in the shade, but the question has to be posed: would the same song force itself centre stage on 'Tommy'? Now there's an album which has lost a certain amount of critical acclaim, as the decades have passed, yet still boasts songs of the calibre of 'I'm Free', 'See Me, Feel Me' and 'Pinball Wizard'. 'The Who Sell Out' does not.
There are good songs on the album ('Tattoo', Mary Anne..', Sunrise'), but collectively lack a fullness of sound for a finished record, especially for a band as dynamic as the Who. Again, using ' ...See for Miles' as a yardstick, it's easy to hear how much effort and painstaking work, must have gone into producing that track. In comparison some of the other songs sound like they were knocked up on a Sunday morning!
As already mentioned there are good songs here but their effectiveness is diminished by the general skeletal sound that pervades the record. The lack of meat on the bone is not helped by the amount of time Pete Townshend gets at the mic. His voice was always more useful in the Who when colouring a song, adding character and as a counterpoint to Daltrey's lung-busting. Many of the songs here, admittedly, do suit his voice, but could have been handed over to Daltrey to flesh out. As well as the howls and growls Daltrey also had a very measured 'spooky' voice. Higher pitched with a weird, ethereal quality to it (think 'Amazing Journey'), he used it to great effect on a number of songs throughout the 60's and most notably here on 'Tattoo'. When I hear the Who I want to hear Roger Daltrey.
The Who were a band in the truest sense of the word. In terms of how much each member contributed to the overall sound of the music, few could match them and that is ultimately where 'The Who Sell Out' falls short. You get very little of the band at their full potential; we rarely get to hear the Who at full rip. True, they were capable of a delicacy and a finesse ('Behind Blue Eyes') as incredible as their jet proppelled rock n' roll, but possessing a great sense of dynamics would often temper their gentler moments with moments of great power. Sadly, not on this record.
One thing that does deserve praise is the overall concept of the record: music interspersed with radio jingles to give the feel of a mid-sixties radio show. The jingles are funny, inventive and would work brilliantly if only half the music didn't sound like demo recordings. Bah!