I really need to take this album off the shelf more often. I tend to play the older Who albums fairly regularly, but I mostly ignore this one. Every time I listen to it, however, I find it enjoyable and have come to respect it for what it is.
Close to three years had passed since the release of their last studio album, The Who By Numbers. This 1978 release, Who Are You, finds the group and their music in a very different place. It seems as if Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and especially Pete Townshend were accepting the fact that they were aging and that it was okay for their musical vision to age and change as well. The trio may not have been as angry as in the past nor was their sound as raw but the energy and creativity would remain.
This brings us to Keith Moon. Addictions and hard living had begun to erode his skills. His drumming would still show flashes of brilliance in places but overall his performance on this release would be a shell of his former work. It was so bad on the song “Music Must Change” that it was erased from the track. He would die shortly after the album’s release which would give Who Are You poignancy and a sense of loss.
Pete Townshend was dealing with his own problems during this time period and while he would produce some solid songs and even a couple that bordered on brilliance, bassist John Entwistle would step forward and be responsible for three of the nine tracks on the original album. He was always an excellent songwriter and certainly underused within the groups context. Here he produces one good song, “Had Enough,” one very good, “905” which was typically quirky and interesting and contained a finely crafted melody and one excellent song, “Trick Of The Light,” which is one of the better rockers of his career.
When Townshend was active he was very good. The title track is probably the best known song from this album as it was a successful single release. It also captures the new Who sound with a catchy melody yet has a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation. “Sister Disco” is his and the group’s re-action to disco music. It is an excellent rock song with intricate keyboards and smooth production. It has remained a concert favorite down through the years. A couple of other songs of note are the edgy “Guitar and Pen” which should be played loud and the wonderfully constructed “Love Is Coming Down.”
Finally, it should be noted that Roger Daltrey’s singing really shines throughout the album as it is one of his most overall consistent works.
Who Are You remains an honest and interesting album of a group adjusting to the passing of time. They prove that they had the talent to remain relevant despite the changes. This may not be The Who of Who’s Next or Tommy, but it was one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time turning toward the future.