Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Empty Glass

Pete Townshend's first official solo album, 1980's Empty Glass could be mistaken by casual listeners for an effort by The Who they may have missed. The soaring title track, "Rough Boys", "Gonna Get Ya", and others sport the rambunctious energy, the rebelliousness for which Townshend's primary gig was very well known. Emblematic of, even.

Roger Daltrey was apparently quite disappointed that his band mate chose to use some of these tracks for himself, rather than for The Who's Face Dances, a decent but forgettable effort. It is easy to imagine Daltrey's huge voice on some of these tracks. But on "And I Moved", a not so veiled love song to another man? Or even "Rough Boys", another far less than enigmatic ode to those of similar persuasion? The title track, a thoughtful, perfectly crafted rocker with strong theological undertones, may have worked best for Daltrey, and a version was in fact recorded during the Who Are You sessions.  "I Am an Animal", both delicate and ferocious, might've fit on that album as well.

"Let My Love Open the Door" is easily the best known song, a chart hit and still heard often on rock radio and in movies. It too delves into spiritual territory, perhaps the words of a man emerging from a few decades of excess and looking beyond his own windmill guitar arm, so well known to arena dwellers. "Keep on Working" would signal a trend to follow in Townsend's later work, of experimental rhythms and a move away from the more aggressive rock with which he'd long been associated. But the anger is still there in his middle finger to the press, "Jools and Jim."

Townshend would continue into the 80s with All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, White City, and other works, including several of the Scoop albums with alternate arrangements of Who and Townshend tunes. Each work became more singular, harder to categorize. All are worth exploring.

But Empty Glass, whose title track the author described as,

".... this idea that when you go to the tavern – which is to God, you know – and you ask for His love – He's the bartender, you know – and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there's no point giving Him your heart if it's full already; there's no point going to God if your heart's full of Doris."

is still the crown jewel. Essential listening.

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