Truancy: The Very Best Of Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend

Eel Pie, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Although Pete Townshend’s solo albums are all worth checking out, save for maybe The Iron Giant, neophytes are probably best advised to start with a compilation and see if the Who guitarist and songwriter’s solo path is worth pursuing. Unlike his work with that great band, Townshend’s solo work tended toward acoustic guitars, reflective pieces of a personal nature and songs that, at least for a while, didn’t fall into the idea of a firm concept or story.

You weren’t likely to hear a windmill guitar, a seven-minute face-melting rock solo, or heroic vocals on Empty Glass or White City, nor a rallying cry to disaffected youth on All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes or Psychoderelict. What you will hear are the musings, creative bursts, and fertile imagination of a restlessly creative, ambitious singer-songwriter, and grouping these together on a compilation only drives home that Townshend the solo artist was different than Townshend the rock legend.

Unfortunately, Truancy isn’t the ideal compilation, relying too much on certain albums over others and following the standard-yet-irritating trick of including two new songs to bait collectors. The ideal compilation is the two-disc Gold, which includes all the Townshend anybody needs outside of hardcore fans. Either this or the 1996 comp Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking will do the trick for those needing a crash course in what Townshend did between my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Who’s Next and the Who reunion shows/Broadway musical work of the ‘90s and beyond.

Presenting these songs chronologically is a detriment here, simply because Townshend’s solo career started proper with 1980’s Empty Glass, which doesn’t show up until track seven. The first three songs are from the little-heard Who Came First, a tribute album for Meher Baba (Townshend’s spiritual guru) that was notable only for its solo versions of aborted Lifehouse songs that the Who would record later anyway (“Pure And Easy” and “Let’s See Action”), and the Who’s versions are far superior. Three songs also show up from the 1976 collaboration with the Faces’ Ronnie Lane, which has the feel of a couple of friends letting loose; the jaunty “My Baby Gives It Away” is the best of these.

Then things get better. “Let My Love Open The Door” remains one of the smartest, catchiest pop songs of the early ‘80s, “Rough Boys” is a fun (albeit lyrically questionable) rock tribute to punk, “Face Dances Pt. 2” is a solid pop song that never got its due, and “The Sea Refuses No River” is deep and engrossing. Fans may quibble that “Slit Skirts” is missing from All The Best Cowboys, but the two songs selected are the correct ones. From the fine White City: A Novel comes the fantastic electro-robopop-swing of “Face The Face,” a song unlike any other in Pete’s catalog (hell, a song unlike any other, period) and “White City Fighting,” written with David Gilmour. The latter is a fine song but “Secondhand Love” or “Give Blood” would have been good additions here in place of those Ronnie Wood songs.

“I Won’t Run Anymore” ably represents the dull The Iron Giant and the music-only version of “English Boy” is the long song from 1993’s Psychoderelict, and while its inclusion is understandable, “Outlive The Dinosaur” really should be here as well for its creativity and thematic coherence to Townshend’s work. “You Came Back” is picked from Scoop and is a fine plaintive yearning; its opposite is the new song, “Guantanamo,” where Townshend growls a bluesy vocal that’s as gruff as anything he’s ever done. Both it and the new “How Can I Help You” are pretty good songs, not enough to warrant purchase of this entire disc but a nice bonus for those who do (if you can’t download them elsewhere).

That said, the songs picked are representative of their albums, so if you like the two from Empty Glass, by all means check that disc out. Truancy is not the ideal single-disc compilation but it’s not a bad way to familiarize the uninitiated who are averse to shelling out the dough for the two-disc Gold. Plus, some Pete Townshend is better than no Pete Townshend in your library.

Rating: B+

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