Album reviews: The Who | Neil Young | Rod Stewart

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who
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There’s life in these old rock dogs yet with three tilts at the Christmas album market

A trio of rock stalwarts throw their hats into the Christmas market ring with new releases which rage against the dying of the light to varying degrees.


Firstly, meet the new Who, same, to some degree, as the old Who on their first album of new music in 13 years. Guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend welcomes us in, via his gruff but game mouthpiece Roger Daltrey, with the words “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song.” All This Music Will Fade is a decent riff on classic Who – defiant, crotchety, with a hint of bitterness, and it augurs well for this concept-free collection of “Who-ish tunes.”


Townshend claims that he set out to avoid romance and nostalgia – not entirely successfully on either count. Leaving aside the Peter Blake sleeve, with its patchwork of classic Who references (scooter, Union Jack, baked beans, pinball machine), I Don’t Wanna Get Wise’s rollicking statement of intent sounds like an old man’s take on “hope I die before I get old,” while I’ll Be Back and Break the News are heart-on-sleeve paeans to companionship, the latter a semi-acoustic canter which wouldn’t be out of place on an Ed Sheeran album.


Fulfilling their self-styled remit to produce “music to fight to,” Ball and Chain is a hoary prog blues rewrite of a Townshend solo song called Guantanamo (“that pretty piece of Cuba, designed to cause men pain”), while Daltrey is in fine testifying voice on the rousing Street Song and backed by muscular strings on Hero Ground Zero.


But they also allow themselves a rheumy-eyed peace ballad Beads on One String, while an old campaigner writes in fear of obsolescence and in defence of freedom of speech on Rocking in Rage.


Fellow hip young gunslinger Neil Young strapped on the oxygen mask to record Colorado, his first album in seven years with his most consistent compadres Crazy Horse, convening a series of high altitude “open rehearsal” concerts with longtime drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot to welcome former Crazy Horse guitarist Nils Lofgren back into the fold after a 45 year absence.


Following Young’s instruction that “it doesn’t have to be good, just feel good,” the quartet capture a spontaneity, as if each song will never quite be played that way again. And it is an emotional album, thrumming with anger, vulnerability and warmth, against a backdrop of bereavement – Young’s second wife Pegi and his longtime manager Elliot Roberts both passed away this year.


There are a handful of quieter, personal songs, such as Olden Days, showcasing the fragility of his falsetto, and Eternity, a love song to new wife Daryl Hannah, but mostly Young continues his noble environmental crusade. The title of the ballad Green Is Blue says it all, acknowledging “we heard the warning calls, ignored them.” The requiem is followed by the rage of Shut It Down, but the centrepiece is She Showed Me Love, a bruised, burnished 13-minute eco-jam about passing the torch to the next generation.


Rod Stewart is not one for such explicit political pronouncements, though his elegy for a gay friend, The Killing of Georgie, makes it on to the deluxe version of You’re In My Heart, a collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra orchestrating many of his best loved numbers to mark his 50 years in showbiz.


There is no disputing the quality of the songs and Stewart’s soulful rasp but the orchestration often tends to the tasteful or the bombastic, all but overwhelming the intimacy of I Don’t Want To Talk About It. Robbie Williams guest duets on It Takes Two, guaranteeing an overblown performance and the one new track, Stop Loving Her Today, is a mawkish country song wrapped in the Nessun Dorma melody which compares poorly with the beautifully pitched storytelling of I Was Only Joking and the cheeky flourishes of Young Turks. Fiona Shepherd



CLASSICAL


Schubert: Symphony No 9 in C major, “The Great”  (Linn) *****


What an impressive debut CD from Maxim Emelyanychev and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Initial live performances under the young Russian principal conductor have revealed a mind driven by sensitivity, precision and individual insight. From the outset of this Schubert warhorse – the “Great” C major Symphony – nothing is routine or predictable. Everything is fresh and rethought, though never at odds with the music’s stylistic integrity. The horns get straight to the point with an opening theme rich in character and meaning and the ensuing Allegro is set vividly alight by ingeniously simple inflexions. The slow movement is nothing of the sort, its “con moto” direction cushioned by the warmth of the wind solos and incisive wholesomeness from the strings. The Scherzo is crisp, without brashness, leading to the triumphant Finale. To achieve such perfection so early in this conductor-orchestra relationship is exceptional. Ken Walton



FOLK


Julia Dignan:  The Tea Wifie (Brechin All Records) ****


Fiddler Julia Dignan had been about the Scottish trad and country dance scene for some three decades before recording this warm-spirited first album under her own name, joined by two dozen of her associates from over the years. Each of its crisply delivered tracks encapsulates a stage in her playing career. Two sleek 9/8 pipe jigs in The Tron set, for instance, see her accompanied by old associates Simon Thoumire on concertina, mandolinist Iain Macleod and guitarist Kevin MacKenzie, while elsewhere there’s the snare-driven country dance sound of Maisie McClue’s with drummer Michael Meehan and Jason J Dove on piano and accordion. The Ensign Ewart trio of pipe jigs with accordionist (and album producer) Sandy Brechin, is a cracker, while some winsome Gaelic airs hearken back to Dignan’s time with the popular band Tannas, and her wistful composition The Half Pipe Lament mourns – wait for it – a broken thumb due to a roller-skating accident. Jim Gilchrist