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Portrait of a troubled band
on 26 December 2012
This is by far not the Who's best album - apart from the rather twee "Squeeze Box," The Who By Numbers produced no hit singles at the time (I would personally have chosen "Slip Kid," as it's a much stronger and better track, and still gets plenty of air play on US classic rock radio). They had peaked commercially with the previous 3 studio efforts - Tommy (1969), Who's Next (1971) and Quadrophenia (1973) - and with a hat trick like that, how do you follow it up?
Sadly, it would seem, the Who were never quite able to manage that. The songs here are good, not great, to middling - Townshend's demons were getting harder to hold back, all four members were putting more effort into their solo albums (although Pete was much less prolific than Daltrey or Entwistle, and even Keith Moon had made an album) and other projects - and it really seemed as if the band idea was taking a back seat to everything else. It might honestly be said that the best Who album of the mid '70s was Odds & Sods, which collected non-LP singles and outtakes in a manner rarely seen up to that point and which were, on the whole, better-quality tracks. Still, however, By Numbers should not be completely discounted - if you're a Who completist, you'll want this album, as it is a part of their canon. Just be advised that you may be underwhelmed. But even the most dedicated Who fan can find something of value in this long-player; don't pass it up.