Tag Archives: Pete Townshend

Rush – Clockwork Angels

RushClockwork Angels (Anthem)

Prior to the release of Rush’s twentieth album, Clockwork Angels, the band had an opportunity to visit with Pete Townshend after receiving the Governor-General Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Performing Arts.

The formal gathering provided the Canadian trio with some face time with one of their acknowledged heroes after the event, and the conversation eventually led to the “What’s next?” question. When Rush responded that they were putting the finishing touches on a new album, Townshend scoffed, hinting that the format that he helped secure as a legitimate art form with Tommy has evolved into a seemingly extinct outlet.

“Waste of time, making albums these days.” He pointed out rather correctly, and even the band was forced to admit that maybe so, but they had to.

You could look at their response as yet another example of a band from a different era failing to acknowledge modern realities. Or you could accept the fact that Rush has operated exclusively in their own reality for four decades now, navigating trends and genres in a silo of loyal fans who appreciate the independent spirit of this band’s history.

A big part of that history happened with their 1974 release, 2112, a record that found them at the end of a record deal after three consecutive commercial failures to their resume. By all means, 2112 should have been the band’s clear bend towards their label’s desire to have a hit record. Instead, it’s a record in which half of it is devoted to a concept corny enough to alienate the placid record buyers it was trying to capture.

As we know now, 2112 became an enormous record for the band, inexplicably connecting them with an audience who appreciated their excessive tendencies and geeky excursions. It also became the record that fueled their fans’ future expectations, the benchmark for new conceptual meanderings.

With Clockwork Angels, they’ve returned to idea of a concept album once again, even coyly putting the hands of a clock on the album’s cover, that–if you consider the hands in military time–clearly spell out 21:12.

To be honest, I don’t have the patience to figure out what the concept is, exactly; all I know is that I think I heard a few songs reference timepieces and that the performances within the record’s hour-long running time are probably the best thing they’ve done since Signals.

It’s also the most varied, alternating between complex arrangements and textures that effectively demonstrate a wide pallet of sounds that could only come from a band that’s spent a great deal of their existence continually trying to move forward.

Whether or not you’ve personally been a part of this journey isn’t relevant. Those of us who’ve had a relationship with Rush at some point in our life will find Clockwork Angels to be not only a continuation of the band’s recent upswing, but one of the premier entries in what’s not only been a long, storied career, but a somewhat choppy one at that.

The band wisely chose to work with producer Nick Raskulinecz again after giving the band a flattering mix for Snakes & Arrows. His role is vastly expanded here, giving Clockwork Angels a perfect blend of the band’s progressive background with their more recognizable synthesizer years, all while making sure that the material has a distinctively modern sound, capable of scaring off any younger contenders trying to surpass these elder statesmen.

They do it by not just focusing on the complexities of their craft, but in casting a wide net over its very definitions. Guitarist Alex Lifeson channels his best Robert Fripp at points where atmosphere and texture rule over guitar worship soloing. The acoustic moments are compelling, and when the material calls for a bit of big power chords, Lifeson responds with memorable attacks and distinctive tones.

Geddy Lee’s vocals are more palatable than they’ve ever been, with hints of emotional qualities that were not present when his voice was more of a distraction than an instrument. And speaking of, his bass duties are pushed up high in the mix, suggesting that he’s never stopped building his low-end craft even when his hands left the fretboard for the keyboard.

Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart also deliver some of the best work of his career, with the words providing evidence of added focus and his drumming showing signs of intentional spontaneity. Credit Raskulinecz here too, as the pair purposely avoided unnecessary exposure to the songs so that when the time came for Peart to perform the rhythm tracks, he was only familiar with the song’s outline, approaching it with only a basic notion of how he would address each fill or tempo change.

Clockwork Angels‘ most telling moment may come with its title track, beginning with progressive layer of atmospheres before turning into churning bit of double-timed frenzy. The trick goes back and forth, until it turns into an acoustic Zeppelin shuffle right around the five-minute mark. It’s well thought-out, expertly delivered, and it suggests that not only are Rush still trying to deliver career triumph to us, they may still be able to accomplish it.

“All the journeys of this great adventure,” Geddy sings, looking back on the band’s history and noting the struggles of their early years with “It didn’t always feel that way.” As the track progresses, Lee finally admits, “I wish that I could live it all again,” while the band performs as if the last four decades haven’t slowed them down a bit.

Waste of time? Judging from Townshend’s twilight output, maybe. But for the members of Rush, Clockwork Angels is a late career triumph that sounds like the band’s time was put to excellent use.

Video: Rush – “Headlong Flight”

The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection

The Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia ConnectionThe Who, The Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection (Sexy Intellectual)

Like most youth movements, Mod fashion and culture is cyclical. What started as a response to traditionalist jazzboes has been hashed and rehashed again and re-imagined every ten years or so. While some of the music and fashion designers change from one wave to the next, the one thing that doesn’t is the pure Britishness of it all.

As an artist, Pete Townshend has a particular eye for revision. He also has a particular eye for trends and the Mod movements have been critical to The Who‘s development and legacy over the years. The band’s initial rise in England can be traced to its adoption of Mod clothing and attitudes. It’s ability to not simply wash out to sea like so many of its British Invasion contemporaries in the early 70s can be traced to it’s masterful recording of the era in another Townshend “rock opera” that helped spawn another Mod wave in 1973.

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Quadrophenia Recording Notes by Pete Townshend

QuadropheniaA cool discovery! GLONO message board regular DJ Murphy has dug up Pete Townshend‘s Quadrophenia Recording Notes from 1973 that were included with promo copies of the album sent to reviewers. Pete, a notorious over-explainer desperate to be understood, certainly can’t just let the music speak for itself:

Learning, very much the hard way, about making albums that “flow” I have decided, after listening and listening, that your first listen might be aided by a bit of preamble. It would probably be aided by a stiff drink and a comfy chair as the album is long and we want you to hear it all.

The concept of the album is pretty simple. It’s really a series of reflections and memories that a young mod kid is having while sitting on a rock he has ended up on after a miserable and disturbing week. The boy whose name, hold your breath, is Jimmy, has four distinct sides to his personality. Each one bothers him in a different way. One side of him is violent and determined, aggressive and unshakeable. Another side is quiet and romantic, tender and doubting. Another side is insane and devil-may-care, unreasoning and bravado. The last side of him is insecure and spiritually desperate, searching and questioning.

Each facet of the boy’s personality was adopted by a member of the band, originally with a little type casting, we thought we might all play “parts.” This didn’t happen in the final version, although the type casting still fits. Roger is the first, John the second, Keith the third and myself the last. […]

Each facet of his character also represents what I feel to be a particularly marked trait of the “Rock” generation.

The whole thing is definitely worth reading for any fan of The Who.

Previously: This is a Modern World (2001), Is It Me, For A Moment? (2001), Blame Pete! (2005).

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1968 Pete Townshend Interview

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Rolling Stone is posting audio from some of its classic interviews, including this excerpt from Pete Townshend’s famous 1968 sit-down with Jann Wenner.

MP3: 1968 Pete Townsend interview.

Blame Pete

According to the NME, our man Pete Townshend still smarts over the kiddie porn charges from a few years ago and marched out of a scheduled interview with Howard Stern after another member of the show took a stab at the old boy. According to the story, Stern later apologized and Pete responded on his website by inviting Howard to lunch.

In other Pete bashing news of another surname, Oasis leadman Liam Gallagher mocked Pete Doherty’s drug problems by calling him (and Keane lead singerTom Chaplin, who recently completed his own rehab stint) “posh lightweights” who can’t take drugs. Gallagher told the Sun that Doherty is “cabbaged,” which is a great put-down even if I don’t know what it means.

The Gallagher brothers, themselves well known for having a taste for the drink and the drug, have yet to see the inside of the famed Priory rehab clinic.

“None of us have been in the Priory, ” said Gallagher. “Not like these little idiots today. They have one little line, they have one burn and they’re all in rehab.”

Cabbaged, ideed!

Pete Townshend Interview in Rolling Stone

Pete Townshend tells it like it is: “I don’t think that the big boomer bands are going to be able to do this much longer. I really don’t. We’re fucking lucky to be able to do it, but I don’t think we’ll be able to do it much longer. I don’t want to go out and see Bob Dylan. I don’t want to go out and see the Stones. I wouldn’t pay money to go see the Who, not even with new songs. I wouldn’t pay money to go see Crosby, Stills and Nash. They fucking make me sick. When I say that, what I mean is I’m ageist about it. I don’t want to look at these old guys in their self-congratulatory mode.”

Blame Pete!

Guilty!Brothers and sisters, I gotta testify; my name is Tom, and I’m a rockaholic.

I place the blame squarely on Pete Townshend’s shoulders. Roger, John, and Keith are just as guilty, complicit as they are in catalyzing my conversion. But the songs were Pete’s, so he gets the lion’s share of the blame. I was only seven—my resistance was already low—when an album pushed me completely over the edge of rock fandom from which I will never emerge.

My very own rock opera

In 1979, my father received an 8-track recorder from my uncle, who had just made the upgrade to cassettes. At the time, Saturday Night Fever was still huge, so my parents borrowed the soundtrack record from my uncle and taped a bunch of Bee Gees, Tavares, and Yvonne Elliman onto the first two sections of the blank 8-track tape that came with the recorder. [FYI for the kids: 8-track tapes were divided into four sections (“programs”) with room for several songs on each program—Ed.] But on the remaining two sections were the greatest songs I’d ever heard in my seven years of life: a deaf, dumb and blind kid who had an evil cousin, the Christmas he couldn’t appreciate, a quack doctor who couldn’t cure the kid, and of course, the kid was a pinball wizard.

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Flyin’… Across the Ocean

Let’s face it. Things have been pretty disturbing of late. There was the awfulness of the Columbia horror. We have been on the precipice of war for some time now, and it seems as though each day brings us millimeters closer to the free fall. Some of us have been wondering about Townshend’s ISP, and whether he’s been flung from the system at a velocity faster than a windmill move. Phil Spector has signed on part of the O.J. defense team. Things are disturbing. But there is a ray of, er, hope. Thanks to Courtney Love.

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