The Iron Man

Pete Townshend

Atlantic Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Over the course of the last two weeks, I've been seeing advertisements for the movie The Iron Giant, and each time I saw the ads, I thought to myself, "This sounds incredibly familiar. Someone else has told this story."

Sure enough, the first ad I saw that had the Iron Giant say the name "Hogarth," I knew. The motion picture makers might think they've fooled the general public, but anyone who is a music fan - especially of Pete Townshend and The Who - knows that Townshend took on this story 10 years ago with his musical The Iron Man (which was also based on the 1968 short story by the late Ted Hughes).

I don't believe that Townshend's musical was ever produced in any fashion. Too bad, 'cause trying to follow the story by the music alone is pretty difficult - and that's the sticking point I have with this album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

To be fair, it is not completely right to call this a Townshend album; Townshend, besides writing the music, becomes an actor in this musical play, along with John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, Chyna (whom I'm embarassed to admit I know nothing about) and - egads! - The Who, performing their first new music together since their 1983 breakup.

But Townshend does take on the role of the main character, a 10-year-old boy named Hogarth, who befriends the Iron Man (played by Hooker) after he crash-lands in Australia. The Iron Man is not understood by the adults, who work to put down the beast, while Hogarth becomes his friend and rescuer. The story takes on a different twist when a dragon (Nina Simone) threatens to destroy the earth, leaving only the Iron Man to save the planet.

The one single from this album, "A Friend Is A Friend," is a pleasant little number that simply brings to mind the importance of the subject. It's not his greatest solo work, but it's definitely not his worst. (C'mon, you don't expect to hear "Let My Love Open The Door" during a children's short story, do you?) The difficulty is that the story line - even with the descriptive narrative in the liner notes - is very difficult to follow; it almost feels like cramming the story into 50 minutes doesn't do it justice.

Hooker is an odd choice to play The Iron Man, but in retrospect, his delivery of the material proves that he was the best choice for the role. It's a shame we only get to hear him twice, on "Over The Top" and "I Eat Heavy Metal" - the latter an interesting song, seeing that the movie is being promoted to the tune of "Rock You Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions.

Of all the characters, only Nina Simone's seems like incorrect casting. The song she sings, "Fast Food," also doesn't seem to fit the mood, so errors are made all the way around.

The Iron Man almost feels like a musical without a story at times, and just becomes a reason for Townshend to not only reunite with The Who (who do sound brilliant, though their glory days are long gone) but to also jam with some of his musical friends. Here's hoping that the movie does a better job with Hughes's tale.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.