Of course, many would have you believe that these two new songs, "Real Good Looking Boy" and "Old Red Wine" are the first new Who songs since The Who's "farewell" album It's Hard (1982). This isn't the case, however, as The Who contributed two songs to Pete Townshend's solo Rock Opera The Iron Man: A Musical (1989), in an attempt to boost the record's sales. It failed miserably, and the only person I personally know who owns a copy is named J.C. Mašek III, and he's the World's Greatest Critic.
The answer to these wishes is truly in the eye of the beholder, because, while these new tracks do sound like The Who, and sound pretty good... they also show a much less edgy or classic air than the same guys who declared that they hoped they'd die before they got old. Do I, as a fan of The Who, like the new songs? Yes! But are they truly the best of the Who? Well, no, not really.
"Real Good Looking Boy" is a sad rumination on the Rock Idolatry that surrounded Elvis Presley, among others (like The Who). The Elvis-theme continues as more than once the song delves into an "interpolation" of Elvis' "I Can't Help Falling in Love" (Pete shares a writing credit with that song's authors). While on first listen it feels somewhat Pandering and vaguely silly, it actually proves out to be a pretty good and heart-felt song, even when Roger Daltrey (arguably the most dynamic classic rock voice) apes Elvis' Rock-A-Billy vocal Crooning. It might not be as enduring as "See Me, Feel Me" or "Behind Blue Eyes", but it's no slouch. While there is no replacement for Entwistle on Bass, The Who has recruited no less a stand-in than Greg Lake on the old Four String, and they've wisely retained John Bundrick for the keys and Zak Starkey for the drums (not to mention Simon Townshend helping out on Six String).
"Old Red Wine" features veteran session Bassist Pino Palladino joining Pete, Roger and Zak. Feeling like an over-produced middle ground between The Who Sell Out and Who's Next, this track nevertheless feels more like The Who than it does a Townshend Solo tune. While this is probably mostly because of Daltrey's incredible voice, the musical breaks and bridges take the song beyond Bundrick's light piano to an almost Tommy-esque overture. Again, it's not the best thing they've ever recorded, but the song has legs and might grow on you!
The rest of the record is fine for a retrospective, but isn't anything phenomenal, considering the sheer number of The Who Compilations that have hit the market over the past few decades. Clocking in at a total of an hour and seventeen minutes, this single disc collection hits some of the peaks of The Who's career! It also misses a great many of the best songs of The Who.
On the bright side, look what did make the cut. Starting with 1964's "I Can't Explain" and including some of the classics like "I Can See for Miles", and "Won't Get Fooled Again" (the FULL length version), and ending (as most Who collections do) with "Who Are You" and "You Better You Bet" before giving us the new stuff, this is a very fine album that gives a lot of the highlights of what this gang has pulled off over the years. Brother... It's a lot!
The danger is this showing up in Christmas Stockings and fooling casual listeners into believing that this retrospective really is the "best" of the Who. The diversity and experimentation that happened when Keith, John, Pete and Roger all got together, each of whom set the high water mark in each of their fields, has caused every album with all four of them to be rife with classics, both hits and non-hits. My hope is that Casual listeners who hear The Who - Then and Now will focus heavily on the "Then" part and do what I did... go buy more and more of The Who's catalog and see what's really out there. If this is the seed and the albums on the whole are the tree new listeners climb, then this collection's done its job. Not to mention reminding people that The Who is still here (or at least half of them still is) and there's new material on the way. Gangway, fans!
For anyone out there, like me, who has not only the original albums in their collection, but also a number of Hit Packages as well, The Who - Then and Now is pretty much "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"! But with the addition of two new songs, and some incredible (and sequential) classics, this is still one to have among the collectables! It's a well-mastered and great sounding listen, but this single disc is by no means All Inclusive. There's no such thing as Bad Music from The Who, so if you start here, be sure to continue! More greats in the collection might have made this a better record, but the greats that are here make this worth Four Stars out of Five. Five Stars for the music... Three Stars for the comparison between this one and other retrospectives... Four Stars total. Have I mentioned... The Who Rules?
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