Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Underrated album: Pete Townshend's "White City: A Novel"

For an artist with a rich history like Pete Townshend, it is easy to overlook a lot of his work.

Townshend, who was guitarist and main songwriter for The Who, has written hundreds of songs for that band and his solo career.

However, given what commercial radio has become, listeners usually only hear 10 or 15 of his most popular songs because of the stagnant formats many stations have. And, usually, none of those songs are from his solo career.

In 1985, Townshend released White City: A Novel. The record is actually the music from a long-form video written by Townshend of the same title. Even though he is a rocker at heart, Townshend has also shown considerable ambition when it comes to his music. After all, The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia were both rock operas that were eventually adapted into films.

But, like most of his solo work, the music on White City does not sound like The Who. Of his solo work, 1980's Empty Glass is the only record that is reminiscent of that band. Still, White City does rock and has several memorable songs. The most well-known song is "Face the Face" which hit the Top 30 on the Billboard singles chart. Also, "Secondhand Love" and "Give Blood" rock with gusto.

"Hiding Out" and "I Am Secure" visit recurring themes in Townshend's work: alienation and isolation. While both these songs are gentle when compared to his angry classic "My Generation," they both convey the melancholy feelings of those two themes. Maybe that is part of getting older. Instead of having the anger of youth when we feel isolated or outcast, we feel more wistful later in life when we confront these two issues. I don't know.

The bottom line is this is an underrated but memorable record. If you ever stumble across it in the bargain bins, it is well worth having.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

"In 1985, Townshend released "White City: A Novel." The record is actually the music from a long-form video written by Townshend of the same title."

I have a cassette of "White City" that I bought in a used record store when I was in college. I reckon I've listened to it 1,000 times. I think Pete Townshend is a very underrated songwriter and a very underrated vocalist (see: "Immanence Front" and "Let My Love Open the Door").

You is soooo right 'bout "White City," dude! Keen insight, indeed.