Half of this album consists of a ‘mini-opera’, ‘Wire and Glass’, a collection of ten short songs, which is actually very good, but it has been penned by the master of the ‘rock opera’, so we couldn’t expect anything else.
The first half is made up of ‘non-opera’ songs, with varying degrees of success. ‘Fragments’, the opening track, is reassuringly familiar with its ‘Baba O’Riley’-esque beginning. From a band that pioneered the use of the synthesiser, it is interesting to note that what still feels fresh today on 1971’s ‘Who’s Next’ album, somehow feels slightly dated on ‘Endless Wire’. The guitars are partly to blame on tracks like ‘Fragments’ and ‘It’s Not Enough’.
Thankfully, acoustic songs such as ‘Man In A Purple Dress’ and ‘God Speaks Of Marty Robbins’ work tremendously well, reminding us of Townshend’s greatest ability as an artist - writing fantastic tunes.
‘Mike Post Theme’ is easily the highlight of the album. A standout track that has comfortably sat with the hits on this summer’s tour, and with good reason - it’s what The Who do best. A rousing anthem that Daltrey must’ve been dying to get his teeth into all these years, and he makes the most of it.
Alas, once you are basking in the glow of how ace The Who still are, things take a sudden nasty turn. ‘In the Ether’ is a nice song that is ruined by Townshend’s mind-boggling idea that he should sing it Tom Waits style. As Townshend’s own voice has an honesty and gentleness to it (which sometimes feels like a welcome break in amongst listening to Daltrey bearing the world on his shoulders), the song being sung in such a forced manner makes it, frankly, unlistenable. Do yourself a favour and pretend it isn’t there.
Unlike previous Who epics, there’s not a lot in the ‘Wire and Glass’ story that the listener can relate to. Yes, ‘Tommy’ was also never fully explained as a story, but there was more coherence. A casual listener with no knowledge of Townshend’s novella (‘The Boy Who Heard Music’, which the opera is based on) is not going to have the foggiest what is going on. However, The Who’s power never lay in the lyrics - more in the manner in which they were delivered. Unlike the eloquent ‘Quadrophenia’, a charge of banality can also be levied against some lyrics in ‘Wire and Glass’ - only Daltrey’s earnestness saves them.
Such quibbles mean nothing when your ears are hit with the actual music - ‘Sound Round’ kicks things off, and reassures us this will go down in history as classic Who, unlike the last two studio albums. Townshend takes over vocals for the soulful ‘They Made My Dream Come True’, this time using the voice we know and love.
This summer’s single, ‘Mirror Door’, continues the standard, then the album ends with possibly one of the most beautiful songs Townshend has ever written. ‘Tea and Theatre’ is deceptively low-key, but Daltrey grabs you with a simple hookline and shift in vocal range, which tugs at your heart-strings.
‘Endless Wire’ really comes into its own with the actual mini-opera. You can’t help but wish that the short tracks were extended into a full-length rock opera, and a select few songs of the remainder of the the album were added as bonus tracks. As it is, it’s still a triumphant return of one of the greatest rock bands in history. I guess it’s true what they say - it’s best to be left wanting more, and in this case we can only dream of the album ‘Endless Wire’ could’ve been.
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