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The Who – Then And Now

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How many times can the Who repackage their hits? They’re apparently going to try and figure that out. There are, currently still in production, no less than four different “best ofs” available for the Who. Is there really a need for the 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection when there’s also My Generation: The Very Best Of The Who, which packs twice as many tracks? Is there a need for either when there’s a spectacular collection in the form of The Ultimate Collection, a two-disc retrospective of truly every hit the band produced? If not, then what’s the point of yet another compromised one-disc compilation such as Then And Now? Maybe you could argue that the exclusive inclusion of two new Who tracks (we can argue about the validity of that name applying solely to Pete and Roger another time) . . . but do they make up for having to re-purchase all those same songs again?

“Real Good Looking Boy,” an unfortunate title in light of Pete’s arrest last year for child pornography, ranks up there as a pretty great Pete Townshend song. Somehow, it just barely misses the mark for truly becoming a Who “classic.” It’s a catchy rocker with just a touch of melancholy that lends the song a bit more weight and one of those great Townshend piano motifs that rings in your head for days (plus, to help it stick that much more, it borrows, uncredited, from the Elvis Presley classic “Fools Rush In” for the intro and steals the lyrics for the bridge,) and the rave-up toward the end of the song really propels it into “near greatness.” I like it – I really, really like this song. Rounding out the album is the John Entwistle-inspired “Old Red Wine,” a ballad fueled as much by Pete and Roger’s loss of a great friend as it is by the anger that loss engendered. I don’t like it as much as I think I’m supposed to like it, given its prominent status as the album closer, but I have to admit – hearing these two tracks together really whets my appetite for more from Pete and Roger. I just don’t know how I feel about them calling themselves “The Who” to do so. But I want more, that’s certain.

The rest of the album is made up of exactly the big Who hits you’d expect to see. Frustrating is the lack of detail in the liner notes to help you determine which issue of which album they are coming from. Unfortunately, the band chose to use the non-Deluxe Edition remaster tracks, for whatever reason, so anyone hoping to pick up at least a few songs from each of the four Deluxes so far are out of luck.

What would I have liked to have seen? How about a “best of the Deluxe Editions”? I’d much rather have seen a collection of a few choice non-album cuts from each of those four paired with these two new songs. And really, wouldn’t this have served the band better anyway? If you like a few of those bonus tracks, you might make the big investment in the expensive Deluxe Editions to hear more. Instead, the Who and Geffen dropped the ball big-time in an effort to rush out something for the Who’s 40th anniversary. Too bad.

Die-hard fans are obviously going to want this – the appearance of “new” music makes it essential. Casual fans, save your cash and buy The Ultimate Collection – you really cannot go wrong. I would steer any casual fan away from any of the three single-disc bests – none of them do the Who’s legacy any good. What you hear on a one-disc retrospective is a handful of hits, not the thundering, emotional beast that the Who really was. Or is – depending on your perspective.

(Hope you check out Unproductivity before you get old.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • This album is essentially two songs for – what? – about $20. What a pair of piggie capitalists. Power to the CD-burnin,’ mp3 downloadin’ people! One copy – straight to the internet – and tell everone that Abbie sent ya!

  • Eric Olsen

    Very clear assessment of the collection – thanks Tom! It is astonishing how many ways the band and label think they can get away with packaging the same songs. It really does sour me on their legacy and especially the current state of the “band.”

  • Barry: It was two songs for $9.99 at Best Buy last week, which was the only way I was going to buy this thing new. 🙂 I call that price a bargain, but certainly not the best I ever had. Why didn’t they just release a two-song EP, instead? (Well, when’s the last time a rock EP sold well? I guess they figured they might as well slap on the same old hits.

    Eric: I totally agree – I don’t think this re-packaging of hits does the band well at all. Where the Who looked still vital and fiercesome, they now look weak and greedy like all the other dinosaur bands. The Who just held out a little longer. Sad.

  • Eric Olsen

    And not to beat Trigger yet again, but this state of affairs, coupled with the fact that the last Who studio album I REALLY liked was Who By Numbers is why I ultimately decided to leave the band off my top ten list, even though their ten years from ’65-’75 is as good as almost anyone’s.

  • Yeah, but is it really fair to mark a band down because of their state of affairs today? I think the Who is most definitely top-10 material – the sound, the attitude, the concepts, everything the Who indulged in influences rock today. And especially with regards to stuff that was hitting big in the past few years – White Stripes and their ilk, they all sip from the cup of Who, among others.

    As repackaged as the Who has been – both in CD and band form, I still think Led Zeppelin’s selling out to Cadillac to be far sadder and makes me far angrier. Hearing “Rock And Roll” paired with the most bloated, ugly, ridiculously overhyped automobiles outside of Hummers destroys a lot of the power of Zep for me. It’s like how Harley Davidson is now the choice for execs and their glossy wives to show that they’re bad-asses at heart – we all know it’s a put-on, but still, somehow, they think they’re making a statement by pretending to reinvigorate their boring executive lives. Why does Led Zeppelin need to play into that? Why not leave that legacy alone, and remain that one huge band who never gave in. Instead they gave in the biggest way they could, with one huge statement – “Rock And Roll” and Cadillac, of all things they could peddle. It just seems so ridiculous and pointless to me.

  • Eric Olsen

    I ended up with the Who at 12, which isn’t very far from the top ten.

    I don’t even really notice when songs are used in commercials anymore, it is so commonplace. The juxtaposition of Cadillac in 2004 and Led Zeppelin seems a very ood pairing – I don’t see much of a connection.

    I discussed a very interesting story on the Cadillac legacy and music about a month ago here.

  • JR

    Aah, that little rant against Cadillac/”Rock and Roll” sure hit the spot. I get pissed off every time I see that commercial. Man, I hate Cadillacs.

  • I don’t know how I missed that, Eric, but it’s great. My wife and I were just talking about the odd Cadillac/hip-hop equation last night.

  • Justin

    I like your review. Being an avid WHO fan, I’m sorry to say that I agree with you. The Who have EIGHT greatest hits albums (MEATY BEATY BIG AND BOUNCY, HOOLIGANS, WHO’S GREATEST HITS, WHO’S BETTER WHO’S BEST, MY GENERATION – THE VERY BEST OF THE WHO, THE MILLENIUM COLLECTION, THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION and now THEN AND NOW), which is ridiculous especially when you consider a) most of them have the same songs and few, if any, rarities, and b) six of them were released AFTER The Who stopped recording. On the other hand, THEN AND NOW is worth the price just for the two new songs, which I think are both terrific. However, you are wrong about one thing: the writers of “Fools Rush In” are indeed given co-song-writing credit for “Real Good-Looking Boy.” Other then that, great review.

  • apparent bad guy

    Great review, Tom.

    >>>> to show that they’re bad-asses at heart – we all know it’s a put-on, but still, somehow, they think they’re making a statement by pretending to reinvigorate their boring executive lives.

    I guess you could say it’s an “emminence front” then??? ROFL (surely someone will get that…)