All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

Pete Townshend

Eel Pie, 1982

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Probably the most difficult of Pete Townshend’s solo albums to embrace, as well as the one with the worst title bar none, All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes is an even firmer break from the Who and as personal as Townshend had ever been on record.

As on Empty Glass, the songs here are better than what made it on the next Who album (in this case, It’s Hard, released later the same year) and as on that effort, these songs would not have worked in the context of the Who. It’s a melancholy affair, but not a maudlin one; it’s personal and vulnerable, but not whiny. It’s also not terribly accessible, coming off as a synthesizer-driven, mostly acoustic, occasionally quirky effort unlike much else in Townshend’s catalog before or since.

About half the record has staying power, and if little is as arresting as the best cuts on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Empty Glass or White City. Songs like “Slit Skirts,” “Face Dances Pt. 2,” and “The Sea Refuses No River” have become fan and composer favorites, routinely appearing on Townshend’s compilations and in his live show. “Face Dances” in particular is a spiffy little pop tune with an earworm of a vocal tic (“Face dances tonight / Fate chances moonlight”), even though it – like the rest of the album – betrays a melancholy vibe behind its façade.

To be sure, these songs have more depth, more twists, and more layers than the power chords and heroics of the Who in the post-Quadrophenia 1970s, and this music remains as separate from that band as Townshend could get while still being recognizably himself. Spoken word sections abound in “Communication,” “Uniforms,” and “Stop Hurting People,” the former also using a hiccupped-vocal and furiously strummed acoustic guitars to get its point across.

Problem is, the other half of the disc is rather ordinary; personal to its creator, no doubt, but not something really warranting repeated listens, as on “Somebody Saved Me,” “Stardom In Action,” and “Uniforms.” The latter sounds a touch like Genesis circa Duke and redeemed in part by an interesting middle section. But those synths are borderline corny-sounding, although by 1982 standards I suppose it was necessary. “North Country Girl” is along the same lines, sounding like an outtake from Face Dances.

The majority of the songs are set to melancholy yet arresting melodies and plaintive, confident vocal work. Knowing that Townshend was dealing with a lot of issues at this point in his life gives the lyrics some heft (when one can decipher them, that is), but the album just doesn’t resonate with the listener the way it probably resonated with its writer. Critics in the years since have called this over-produced, pretentious, and/or lyrically bereft…and it is none of those things, but neither is it a lost masterpiece. It’s a confusing, jumbled, difficult, and brilliant piece of work that proves Townshend had grown beyond the boundaries of the Who and was facing his life and struggles head-on.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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