Truancy, The Very Best Of

Pete Townshend

We continue with more commemoratives and reissues. Next up is Pete Townshend, another gifted guitarist, or at least that is what many of the specialist 'encyclopaedias' would have you believe, ranking him among the all-time top-ten greats of the six strings. Such reverence comes as a surprise to many of the more common garden guitarists, perhaps because all they remember of his 'technique' is the famous windmill action of his pick arm – an everlasting and iconic image of The Who. His music will always be associated with such riffs as are found in My Generation. No stunning Clapton-style solos are to be found here, although Townshend's favourite guitar at present is the Artist Series Stratocaster with Slowhand's signature on the headstock, as this British musician and writer who has recently celebrated his 70th birthday is above all a creator in the broadest sense of the word.  

Apart from officially becoming 'old aged', the now almost deaf Peter Dennis Blandford, as he was christened, has decided to celebrate fifty years on the road by releasing not one, but two albums. The first, Truancy is a compilation with the subtitle "The Very Best" of his solo career, as "The Best" has already come and gone. The second, as much his work as any, is a new orchestrated recording of Quadrophenia, with Billy Idol (a magnificent choice) playing the part of Tommy.

In Truancy, two songs stand apart from the rest as contenders to qualify for his all-time best solo work: Guantanamo, a politically-charged protest song, and How Can I Help You, inspired by a friend's emotional problems. Apart from the music's quality, which is without doubt this record's strong point, it is well worth taking a listen to the technical shenanigans that went on in its production [click here], in which sounds of the past (for example, an old organ) are cleverly mixed with cutting-edge music recording software applications, while both six and twelve-stringed guitars can also be heard along with the customized bass of the passed away John Entwistle.

As an anecdote, Townshend has included a song inspired the first instrument he ever played and, along with the piano, one of his favourites – the banjo. This musical distraction, called Sheraton Gibson, comes from another of his albums, Who Came First.

The solo career of the leader of The Who will not go down in history as one of musical brilliance. Townshend has always written his music with the super group's followers in mind. There are no operatic pretentions or demonstrations of mind-bending guitar technique here, just seventies and eighties rock a little saggy at the edges and road weary at this point in his life – apart from the aforementioned two tracks, that is. To listen to the real Pete Townshend, neurotic warts an' all, we have to go back to the superb masterpieces recorded decades ago that left their indelible mark on rock music. To discover him as a man, indispensable is his magnificent autobiography, Who I Am, published in 2012, which is so much more than just a book for his many fans.